Change the world

#FeesMustFall

11/10/2016

This article apppeared in the Herald of 11 October 2016. 

WHEN one embarks on a course, it is always about attaining something that one believes is just and legitimate – some norm (in this instance, policy) that exists and where change is expected to take prevalence.

That is my opinion on the #FeesMustFall campaign.

When one embarks on such a courageous and noble path, one must be mindful of the strategic tactics, planning and methods to achieve such a feat.

Standing up against authority, policies and norms of the day requires inspirational charismatic yet matured leadership, blended with unity, the same values, sacrifices and moral integrity of the masses that participate in such endeavour.

The latter cannot be said regarding the recent spate of violence, intimidation and destruction of government resources by protesters of the #FeesMustFall campaign.

The cause, however just, can never be justified when intellectuals, the country’s finest future leaders, doctors, advocates or even future cabinet ministers decide to resort to violence, destruction and intimidation.

What is currently happening is totally unaccepted and must be condemned in the strongest sense.

Never can it be condoned or accepted as it is criminal and speaks volumes about our civil society. For me, the alleged high-fee increment can be contested and fought on a better battleground other than university premises and the method and tactics utilised should be anything except violence or destruction of resources and infrastructure.

Here I would to encourage protesters to resort to peaceful mass action, simultaneously ensuring that an academic year is not lost along the way.

This is possible, same way that the #FeesMustFall notion is possible. Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon and is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man or woman who wields it.

Mahatma Gandhi led a successful decades-long nonviolent struggle against the British rule in India. Martin Luther King adopted Gandhi’s nonviolent methods in his campaign to win civil rights for African-Americans. It is possible, because the foundation has been laid and the example set.

South Africans (at large) anticipated danger and, in fact, feared civil war with the unbanning of the ANC and the release of political prisoners.

Instead, we witnessed a miracle, when our leaders opted to sit around a table and, through vigorous debate, articulated and paved a path for a democratic society with free and fair elections, underpinning and bringing to life the Freedom Charter.

It is the same charter that depicted that the doors of learning should be open for all.

Today it might be argued and debated that the Freedom Charter does not note free higher education; on the contrary, this should propel us to wander into the unchartered territory of seeking the possibility of free higher education.

This will require strong and intellectual minds, progressive debate by all stakeholders including the finance and treasury departments. But through violence, we can never justify such a noble and just cause.

George Orwell noted that “the nonviolent resistance strategy of Gandhi could be effective . . . not merely to appeal to other opinion but to bring mass movement into being or even to make your intentions known to your adversary”.

This is exactly what the #FeesMustFall campaign wants to attain – to let the government listen and explore all avenues to make free education a reality. The time of addressing or briefing the masses has come.

It must always be borne in mind that the #FeesMustFall campaign is not an event but a process which requires participation from all stakeholders, including the clergy, parents, academics and student representatives.

Following the long, protracted, destructive course of the #FeesMustFall campaign, I have no other opinion than that the relevant government institutions, business and civil society must engage in serious, frank and robust debate with the goal to come up with a win-win conclusion.

Currently, there is just total mass destruction with an inevitable, unjustified lose-lose conclusion.

Calculating the costs incurred due to destructive strategy and method, we could have gone a long way with money that eventually will have to be spent rebuilding infrastructure and replacing resources and amenities.

The time has long arrived to sit down and resolve the crisis, concurrently allowing students to return to classes and not lose the academic year.

Christian Martin, ANC MPL, Bhisho