A frank conversation with student leader Nompendulo Mkhatshwa
Equal Education (EE) had its second National Congress at the University of the Western Cape in July this year. The congress resolved that EE will stand in solidarity with struggles of students at South African institutions of higher learning. In the month of October 2015, the country came to a standstill when all students united against the proposed increment of fees for the 2016 academic year. Alongside these demands was the demand to end the outsourcing of staff at universities, an issue that has been ignored for years. In an effort to not only live up to its resolutions but to express support for an important cause, Equal Education was very active in the protests held around the country. We provided refreshments for the students and actively engaged in the #FeesMustFall conversations on social media. The EE Law Centre, who flew lawyers around the country, also provided legal assistance for students who were arrested or suspended.
While the protests have managed to win a 0% increment of fees for the following year (2016), it is important to note that the struggle was not only against fee increments or outsourcing, but ultimately that of free education in higher learning institutions. The larger struggle has always been that education should be free. This demand raises many questions. Is it economically sustainable to provide free education for all? Does free education mean transformed education? Will the call for free education answer the problems of inequality, poverty and unemployment?
Recently facilitators in Gauteng engaged on this debate. Among us, as a guest speaker was the 2016 Wits University SRC president Nompendulo “Ulo” Mkhatshwa. She was one of the students at the forefront of the #FeesMustFall protest at Wits.
The journey to education is not always what it seems and at universities the SRC and other progressive formations play a huge role in helping students with registration and other challenges they may face.
“There is red tapes to the access of education” said Nompendulo. She explained how the #FeesMustFall movement came about and the meeting that set everything off. “We had thoroughly prepared for the meeting with the council at Wits. We did everything to ensure that we were up to speed with all the debates and angles. When we got to the meeting it was a lily white board and as the meeting went on it seemed as though no one was willing to talk about the item on the agenda that discussed fees. When the agenda item was finally tabled, the atmosphere suddenly changed and the space for discussions was obviously closed.”
It is clear the students have riled up the entire country and put free education on the agenda of every politician and every political party. Nompendulo warns that the struggle should not be taken as a movie which can be resolved in a single action but rather it should be seen as a series and that we must prepare for episode 2 next year as part of a sequence of steps to achieve success. For now, she asks that students study, write and pass their exams as an act of revolution in itself. There is a hope that whenever decisions are taken on the future of higher education there will now be pause to think about how the students will react to such a decision and who it really benefits.
A luta continua
By Zanele Modise