Protesting on campus

Tygerberg Campus is not the most politically active campus in South Africa.

Earlier this year, the student council organised something called “courageous conversations” in order to address concerns about homophobia on campus [courageous conversations can address any issues, though]. The audience consisted almost solely of the student council and the media.

This campus is one of the only university campuses in South Africa where the election of student government is not influenced by national politics; where a candidate’s political views will not affect the elections.

In light of this, it was surprising when the peaceful protest held on 18 October was attended quite well. My surveying abilities are poor, but I am going to guess about 200 students participated. That constitutes about 15% of undergraduate students.

The protest was against undue increases in student fees – for 2011, 11% and 14%. Take note that the South African inflation rate is currently 4.4%. ALSO, it has been made public that this university will be receiving a $10 million grant specifically for medical education. So the mass action was definitely with good reason.

Before the protest, I was asked whether I truly think that it would be a peaceful protest. “South Africans do not know the meaning of a peaceful protest.” Sadly this is not even an overtly pessimistic view. I cannot remember the last time that I heard of a peaceful South African demonstration.

While we walked through campus with red and black clothes – to mourn the death of intellectual development through tertiary education, due to unaffordable fees – students seemed way too relaxed to be protesting. I know I was talking and laughing away.

At a few points in time, students chanted things like, “Hell no, we won’t pay,” but they never lasted very long.

I loved the atmosphere, though. Not once did I feel unsafe. Also, we knew that we had support. The Faculty of Health Sciences met with students and committed to future co-operation with students as well as endeavouring to make more bursaries available to future students. We even signed a commitment document.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t an opportunity to ask faculty management questions and most students had been under the impression that they would be able to do this. That is probably one of the biggest things I would have liked to change.

While I thought that the Faculty tried very hard and did share a few rays of hope, I heard that a lot of people were disgruntled and felt that nothing truly new had been said. The feeling is that any new bursaries made available would still only assist a minority of students. Furthermore, students feel that they are simply paying too much and running up too much debt.

To be honest, I don’t have an answer to that. I do think that the Faculty is trying very hard… and that they can’t conjure money out of thin ever.

However, I also think that educational institutions often forget that they only exist BECAUSE OF students and so they should be much more considerate of their well-being than the levels which we currently experience.

Our campus has some real issues besides finances and academics. We are an isolated, far away from other Stellenbosch students. It’s a rather dull campus, aesthetically. Students here are often overworked, and thus often uninvolved. With this goes a tendency to be apathetic. Also, Tygerberg campus really struggles with establishing a tangible sense of campus unity.

These are always issues close to the hears of the student council, residence councils and other committees, but without the input of the average student, it has always been impossible to make a real change.

I think the protest was important for more than just the fight for more affordable education. I think it may have brought students just a little bit closer together.

It feels good, having participated in something political. I am not exactly apathetic or uninvolved – I have voted in national, provincial and student elections, I have been the editor-in-chief of a campus newspaper, I signed a petition against the Protection of Information Bill 2010 (see a copy of the bill in the box to the left of this page) and I am currently a member of student government…

But I never thought I would participate in a protest, mainly because of the bad reputation it has in South Africa. I would wager a guess that it was a first for many students. On Thursday, Main Campus on Stellenbosch will be hosting a similar event, and on Friday they’ll be marching against violence.

There was a really bad picture of me in Die Burger, but it is so bad that I can actually argue that it is not me. I would have that terrible picture taken all over again for this protest though.

In a year’s time, we probably won’t even talk about it anymore (that is the sad thing about non-violent protests), but I saw some students who hardly ever do anything besides study and work, standing up or their right; standing together for a cause.

And I thought that was immensely cool.

P.S: this is my personal opinion about the protest and yes, written rather crappily at this time of the morning… so don’t be surprised to see some edits later today!

Also, I will be adding a photo later, as well as a link to a more factual/objective article which I wrote for Youth Journalism International.

Edit: click this link to read the article on The Tattoo for Youth Journalism International. 🙂

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8 thoughts on “Protesting on campus”

  1. You make reference to a sum of ten million dollars (assuming US dollars) that will be given to the faculty.
    Why then do you say faculty must not be expected to pull money out of thin air?

    1. Oh I like, I didn’t notice the seeming contradiction.
      Bear in mind that I made reference to that sum because I find it funny that the university receives such amounts and yet our fees continue to increase.
      At the same time I don’t think that any administration should be expected to draw money out of thin air – although I agree that in this instance, those two points don’t go very well together.
      The ideal would be for Faculty or the SU to be more transparent (a term often thrown around by students, but never by administration) by giving students access to the budget and details of how the 10 million USD will be spent.
      Thanks for picking up on that.

  2. I agree it was a great event for campus unity but I don’t think there were any answers to the issue at hand. More money is great but who is going to receive this money? It’s of no use to fight for more bursaries if the students who need them can’t get access to it. Logic stands that if we are receiving more money why not use that funds to decrease the sum total increased proposal thus all students will benefit and not only the students who the US finds ‘financially needy’. Even if the decrease is a lousy 1% it will have a great effect for all the financial class thereby providing a fair and accessible tertiary education. Does this logic not answer the protest call to provide affordable tertiary education to all students?

    1. I LOVE the idea of lowering all our students’ fees – it is more in line with the idea of equal rights and opportunities.
      I am wondering, however, how big a subsidy would be necessary to lower the fees of 1500 undergraduate students enough for it to actually make an impact. Because if one decides to do this, it should be a sustainable effort and not just something that happens a single year.
      It would be good to see this idea pitched to Faculty Management; to see what they make of it. I think if properly managed (and funded!), it could work well.
      Lastly though, I don’t think we should do away completely with bursaries… there are those students whose families wouldn’t be able to send them to university even if it only cost R10 000 a year.
      Still, being able to lower all fees by a certain amount would certainly decrease the number of middle-income families who can’t afford higher education, and so perhaps decrease the number of bursaries necessary…

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