Just Another UKZN Student

Today my lectures were cancelled and my test this weekend postponed because the SRC threatened us with violence. My initial reaction was indignation ‘how dare you infringe my right to education’. Then I realised something needs to be done.

I am tired of passively watching my university getting trashed and being a victim to my circumstance. Someone once said you cannot complain about the darkness until you attempt to light a candle. So this is my candle.

I am a third year law student at the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of KwaZulu Natal. I feel compelled to qualify my identity with ‘white’, however I despise doing so. I believe in our Constitution and I fervently believe in equality. I am appalled, even disgusted, by the ignorance of my ancestors who felt race was relevant when really it is not. We are all human and we are all beautiful – I love Steve Biko’s saying “Black is Beautiful”.

Black IS beautiful and we do need to reclaim the dignity and esteem of our brothers and sisters. Nevertheless I still feel it necessary to say I am white because I know 20 years on ‘white’ still has many connotations like privilege, wealth and ‘bad guy’ and I know somehow this will affect the manner in which this is received.

Yes I am privileged but not because of my race. I am privileged because I have a family, I am loved by my husband, I have an IEB quality basic education and have the privilege of studying at university. Yes I say I am privileged because I have an education and the opportunity to study - because that is what education is – it is one of the most incredible privileges.

Every student who has the opportunity to study whether it is a degree, diploma or trade – it is a privilege. We need to change our mindset when it comes to education. Politicians often confuse us saying there is a RIGHT, which connotes entitlement, to study or further education. Actually it is a privilege – not a right.

Only certain people can study regrettably. Further education is not for everyone – no matter how important or desirable it is. Unfortunately you have to meet certain justifiable criteria such as academic ability and yes even financial ability in order to be accepted to study.

I do not want to minimize this issue of access to higher education because I know as a result of Apartheid most of the white population is able to study further and most of the black population is not financially capable. I also know that many people are not academically able because of poverty and very low quality of basic education which I think is the gravest injustice of all. (Unlike university students, children do have a RIGHT to basic education guaranteed by the Constitution).

This is a real problem and needs to be addressed as we need our future generation to be educated in order to move forward and develop into the country we dream of. I also know there are many students who are academically capable and eligible for financial support yet because of whatever reasons (maladministration, too many applicants) such students are denied the privilege to study even if they are in the middle of their degree or other form of study.

Again this is a legitimate injustice and needs to be addressed. The issue raised this week (September 2014) is the dramatic increase in registration fees for 2015. Again this is a legitimate issue that needs to be addressed.

So we agree that there are many issues that need redress. Every year the same or very similar issues are raised and every year students try to be heard. Every year there are violent and destructive protests which get broken up by SAPS with water cannons and court orders. Every year lectures are interrupted and students get hurt, feel intimidated and feel unsafe at university. This begs the question what are we doing wrong?

Clearly there is a systemic problem which is not being addressed. There must be a serious breakdown in communication between students, the SRC and the management of UKZN. Because if we were communicating properly there would not be a need for violent protests (at the very least not annually!).

My suggestion is that a mediator be appointed. An independent third party who can assist in the communication process and attempt to find common ground in order to avoid future violent protest. My other suggestion is that students, like myself who do not agree with the manner in which the SRC raise issues, should rally together and use other means like petitions, sit ins or silent protests in order to address legitimate issues. Because violence is the absolutely LAST resort and never the first response to frustration.

Violence is avoidable if issues are not ignored and where the passive majority are not “more devoted to order than to justice” (Martin Luther King Jr) by allowing injustices and issues to go unnoticed and unacknowledged. We need a revolution. South Africa need a cultural transformation which reverts to PEACEFUL protest.

Umkhonto weSizwe
was not the initial aim for the ANC - it was a product of years of not being heard and the result of the Nationalist Party getting violent, culminating in the Sharpeville Massacre. We do not need MK any more because we have a democracy where everyone is heard and able to speak. We need to thank the MK veterans for their contribution to our democracy but leave their mandate to the past.

We have a new mandate- to live in freedom, respect the dignity and freedom of every person and to actively participate in developing our democracy. It is a long walk to freedom but it seems it will be an even longer walk to economic freedom. We need to band together and remember to acknowledge each other’s humanity before reaching for arms at the hint of frustration.

I appeal to the UKZN management, the SRC, to my fellow colleagues and fellow South Africans (for this is an issue which extends beyond UKZN) Let us MAKE PEACE NOT WAR. Let us make a difference by building a new South Africa and not destroying what we have. Let us go forward and not backward. Let us listen before we speak.

Let us work together, for Madiba said “if you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” Let us partner together and focus on the multitude of issues raised by students and TOGETHER find solutions.

Samantha Walford