Dear Graduates of South Africa
Perhaps, like me, you shook your head when you first saw the hashtag #FeesMustFall. You empathised with the expense of tertiary education, but you had lives to save or exams to mark or bridges to build and you thought, “Why do young people in this country want to make everything FALL?”
I’ll tell you what went through my mind, as I was on call in a busy ER when I first heard of the protests. “Goddamnit. I don’t need more casualties in here.”
I’m here to tell you that you have every responsibility to the students of the country, and I’m here to hold you accountable to that.
I graduated just last year. And do you know what I did in the week before my final exams? I studied in banking waiting halls, because the bank wouldn’t approve my loan, and I would not get my degree without settling my student account.
(No, really. If you have outstanding fees at graduation, my alma mater hands you your account instead of your degree.)
It was a small miracle and a big fight to get it approved, and it caused a lot of undue stress that could have been better spent on the last lap of my studies. Anyway.
If you have a degree, or a diploma, or a whatever, you have a responsibility to support those students who are fighting for the continued right of young South Africans to get a higher education (because indeed, by our constitution, tertiary training is a RIGHT).
You should wish them all success because as a graduate, you know the doors that your degree has opened for you. You know how much your tertiary education has meant in your life and you should wish that for all young people.
You struggled too, you say, but YOU didn’t protest?
Well, sorry. Maybe you SHOULD HAVE.
Five years ago, we protested. We protested silently and peacefully AND NOTHING CAME OF IT.
Universities didn’t take you seriously when you were students, and they still don’t.
As alumnae, be the first to take students seriously.
Are you still paying off your student loans? How long will it take you to settle your debt?
Don’t have any debt? How sure are you that your children will have the privilege of saying the same thing?
Because I bet you when you were born, no actuary could have predicted that the cost of tertiary education would have increased as steeply as it has.
A university is not a building. A university is a community of students past and present. And future.
As alumnae, you are the elders. You should be safeguarding tertiary education in this country. Who are you sucking up to by decrying these protests? Which lecturer are you still trying to impress?
This is my call: hold university management accountable. Remind them that they exist for students, and not vice versa. Hold YOUR POLITICIANS accountable, and remind them that they made promises that need keeping. As the workforce of this country, you have a voice. So use it.
Stop leaving the vulnerable to fend for themselves, then letting your children piggy-back off their gains.
You have a brain, so use it to encourage critical discussion.
Alumnae, you have worked so hard. As students, you often felt alone and at the mercy of university management. It stops here.
Don’t let these students fight alone.