Sthembiso Ka Shandu: Black students should not have to rely on luck

For one to respond to the question, “what must rise if fees do fall?”, we need to understand a few things concerning #FeesMustFall as a movement.

It must be said that #FeesMustFall has been a fragmented struggle for too long, since 2015. By fragmented, I mean that the way the movement has been carrying itself from its inception has been in slices.

You would find #WitsFeesMustFall, #UCTFeesMustFall, #TUTFeesMustFall and so forth. All these institutions call for free decolonised education, as well as a variety of other demands specific to their campuses, and responded to by their vice chancellors. For example, the memorandum of TUT students to their vice chancellor was very different from the one of Wits, seemingly because they are from different environments. Both groups, however, demand free decolonised education and reject paying fees.

For a long time, #FeesMustFall was effective without structured top-down leadership. Because it has always pushed its struggle on a flat structure, it is often difficult to understand the character of this movement and the principles it stands for as a whole. However, it is safe to say the movement seems to be dominated by ideas of Black Consciousness, Pan Africanism and Black Feminism in most historically disadvantaged universities (TUT, UL, Fort Hare) across the country, while at universities like UCT, Wits and Stellenbosch there is an addition of intersectionality. The intersection of Black Feminism and queer politics has been mostly welcomed in the movement as well.

Of course, #FeesMustFall goes beyond fees. It speaks to the content of what one is given as education at universities, as well as the unequal socio-economic conditions black and white students have to face. For example, access to education for a white child is an entirely different concept than access for a black South African student. I am not playing the race card, but it is safe to catalogue this scenario for these are true realities where we study.

For example, for a black student to get into a university, luck has to be on your side. During January registrations, you will visit a number of financial support offices to apply for Edu-loans or NSFAS loans. Sometimes you will not receive NSFAS funding, even if you qualify, because NSFAS will have insufficient funds for that academic year.

If you’re lucky and do receive NSFAS funding, you will have to provide papers again explaining how poor you are, year in and year out. Each year you have to pray that the following year you will be included in the system again. If luck is not on your side, the following year you will lose your NSFAS assistance and will have to struggle again, trying to find alternative ways to fund your education.

NSFAS is not a solution to inequalities facing people of this country. Rather, it is an extension that seeks to create more inequalities. While those who are privileged go to a workplace and start their life, those who were NSFAS beneficiaries have to start paying off their NSFAS loan. Of course, this is a different case for those who are privileged. The truth is that access to education for blacks is always a struggle. The commodification of education makes it a struggle, as it rejects the poor. This is the biggest cause of continued inequality and poverty in our country.

The #FeesMustFall movement is calling for a reformed pedagogy that will address the South African experiences and help to heal the emotional and psychological scars left by apartheid and colonialism. This includes legitimising African modes of thought and theory and presenting South African students with an African centered education that seek to recognise our own indigenous history. It also speaks to practical changes which must be made in historically white universities for the education space to be transformed for all. For instance, #WitsFeesMustFall submitted their “transformation memorandum”, which highlighted four main concerns: a lack of black African staff; a lack of student representation in decision-making structures of the university; limited academic development; and poor African and global south scholarships.

The reasoning is that colonised education is so misleading that by virtue of simply being trained in a colonised institution, by the time you leave the institution your mind will be captured and when you go back to the community, you will deliver its mandate through developing selfish tendencies. So long as the university culture is very white, elitist, patriarchal and heteronormative, black bodies must strive for a space that does not oppose black success.

Back to the question of what must rise. Afrocentric education must rise to advance the interests of Africans since Eurocentrism does not serve our interests culturally, socially and economically, nor does it resolve the issues of Africa. Fee-free education must rise. Black students should never have to access education by means of luck. Education must be a social benefit for everyone and must never be a commodity to be received by only those who meet the financial requirements. The call for complete democracy and freedoms for all must rise, equality and equal opportunities for all must rise, and that starts with every child receiving free, quality, decolonised, Afrocentric education.

Surely, this is my opinion. Nonetheless, #FeesMustFall is just a component of a greater idea of the Fallist movement, which is a movement dominated by young people who are determined to bring about change in this country. These are young people who want to define freedom and democracy on their own terms.

I dare say that the decade 2015 to 2025 will be a decade of groundbreaking changes in our country.

12 thoughts on “Sthembiso Ka Shandu: Black students should not have to rely on luck

  1. And herein lies the problem. We are too busy calling ourselves “activists” and referring to looting and plundering crowds as “movements”, to focus on uplifting ourselves at a personal level. Perhaps this requires a MOVEMENT too…Any ideas for names? I have one, how about the GATMOUFTBWAEV – Government And The Minority Owe Us Free Things Because We Are Eternal Victims.

  2. Amazing how countries like China, India, Signapore, Malaysia, Indonesia – all former colonies – and countries like Japan and S.Korea were able to not only adapt the colonisers education system, but actually make it their own. Now 50 years later they are all technological giants and leaders at what they do.

    Yet here in SA, we need a “reformed pedagogy…. to heal the emotional and psychological scars left by apartheid and colonialism”.

    No my friend, we dont need a reformed pedagogy – we need an enhanced pedagogy, enriched and augmented with African ideas and knowledge, and teachers that actually have the skills (as opposed to the SADTU specials) to impart knowledge to their students so that those students have the ability to cope with the material presented to them when they reach varsity.

  3. Alright, so this decolonized education, does it exclude maths and science? What’s your plan on turning this 20% “pass mark” around via Africanness?
    Are you going to decolonize geography, biology, accounting and woodwork or are you just ashamed of history? Where are these black academics and are you not short changing yourselves just to have a “black face” standing up there? I know cloudy eyes take on experience, but are you really willing to place the integrity of your qualification on his logic?
    How far have you investigated this “Afrocentric education” idea? What are you basing it on? Do you have sufficient verifiable content, or are we talking firelight stories here? And in closing, you don’t even know you are being racist yet quickly claim not being racist? That’s about exactly how contradictory this whole decolonized education ramble is! You have no idea how to get what you want because there isn’t an “Africanness” worthy of being put up as education!
    PS: That white child is as much an African as your black student. So before you can claim Africanness anything, maybe you should learn that Africa isn’t blacks only???

    1. Great . Someone needs to remind the majority that like it or not the white minority is very much African albeit privileged . Do we want to go the Rwandan genocide route . They’ve been there and with all the violence and killing the minority have not been wiped out as was intended and the country today is moving steadily ahead . SA just needs to get the majority on the same level as the minority groups .

  4. As a student myself I know the struggle of paying tuition fees as I had to wait at least 4 years before I could study at varsity. Not becauese I’m an “African” but I didn’t have the fees to do so. I’m a white, born and raised in South Africa and proud to call myself an African, so does this not make me African by default? As for the fees of varsity, you can not wish for free tertiary education and not pay a dime for it if you want quality education because even in the most developed countries the poor have to pay for quality. Yes I understand the NSFAS situation but on the other hand if you as a white person apply for it you get listed and forgotten because there is this stigma going around stating that whites are “privileged” and can manage to pay for their tuition fees. Well I wasn’t able to do so and had to start working after school as a waitress and save to pay and at the end had to make various loans for my studies.

    As for African centered education, please go and do your homework properly because what it realy is, is only helping the black African youths in the normal “western / european” subjects by bringing it home to by incorporating black culture to help learners understand it better. For example in biology, botany department, you will be taught about how traditional healers make use of certain plants for certain medical benefits, and this is only one to speak of.
    So, if you want to talk about decolonialising education make sure what it is that you want to chance and that it isn’t already being done in schools and at varsity but you’re just not recognizing it because you don’t know exactly what you’re talking about. And the fees situation will not be resolved because if every person with the minimum requirements to qualify for varsity can study for free there will be an influx of tertiary educated people and no skill trained persons in the work place which in result will have a negative result on our economy.

  5. Who said Math is not African? Pythagoras theorem came after the pyramids were built. The theory was built to construct them. Imhotep was the founder of modern medicine and not hippocrates. Decolonising means acknowledging other contributors to modern day knowledge not only the colonialists.

    1. And yet the Egyptians waged war against the nubians (Africans) and decimated them, I think they hardly considered themselves african.

  6. Sthembiso thank you for your article. I have read a lot from Fallists and Non alike and intimately affected by the protests. Your article is one of the most measured I have read to date. You summarised the tensions and inequalities and challenges quite well in so short a paragraph without descending to the racists hate speech that sadly is found in Fallists elsewhere, justified or not. To my fellow white South Africans it is very clear to me you have little understanding of what is at stake here. Maybe we just can’t see past our own blinkers.. maybe we would just wish the legacy of inequality experienced by black South Africans and the contrasting privilege we have away . But even these responses just show how hopelessly out of touch we are with what is happening in our own country. My advice to you is to really try and listen. Go and sit and listen.. Feel this anger, the root of the pain, just try. You don’t have to rationally understand it. But until you can feel the raw bitterness you won’t begin to understand. Otherwise, as Sthembiso has said, the next decade is likely to come as one hell of a shock. Don’t vent, rant or squeal the usual seemingly random attempts at logic. The rules have fundamentally shifted. The underlying assumptions we have built our future on are going through a seismic shift, and by and large we don’t even see it coming. If for no other reason other than our own survival, it is time to get to grips with these issues and listen. Sadly, having sat in numerous forums on this subject with white South Africans, I know from experience the voice of denial is loud and strong. But to stand in the path of an impending storm and to just say it is not so does not make so. It will rain down on you anyway.

  7. Free decolonised education? Ridiculous concept. If you want quality education, get quality educators, not educators picked by race and geography. I hope that you do not end up being an educator…

  8. You clearly completely misunderstood the question of “what must fall?”. The fact is-for education to be free to the student, it has to cost someone else something. The question is, what taxes must rise for fees to fall? Surely, as a graduate, you wouldn’t misunderstand the question? Regardless, your “article” oversimplifies the situation and shows a massive lack of understanding of basic economics. You are using emotive words but not supplying any useful information towards a solution. If Eurocentric education does not meet your needs, build something better. Everyone seems to have the energy to tear down, yet no one has the energy or dedication to build.

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