Change the world



This opinion piece appeared in the Herald of 31 October 2016, written by Executive Mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay, Athol Trollip.

A PROPER education is regarded as the foundation of opportunity and the best route to independence and prosperity. This is why parents are prepared to make the sacrifices that they do to educate their children and send them to university. 

A parent’s devotion to sacrifice for their child is a natural instinct that is also informed by a wish for them to have more opportunities than they as parents might have had. When the first child in a family’s history graduates, the next generations are more likely to follow suit and be independently successful.

This is why this university crisis must stop.

Parenting is about love and caring for one’s own flesh and blood, it’s also about taking the responsibility of imparting values and being exemplary in everything you do. The adage of “do as I say” just does not suffice.

Parenting is also about being able to say “no!” and showing that you mean it.

I believe that the time is now long overdue for parents to say “no” to this unbridled hooliganism at our universities.

It is high time that parents, religious leaders, communities, business leaders, academics and political leaders all get involved in a non-partisan and principled manner to say, “Enough is enough!”

We can’t afford this crisis as a city, as a nation or as a modern knowledge milieu. We cannot afford this impending academic hiatus that will, if allowed to continue, tragically lead to another lost generation in our beloved country.

The irony of students already at university calling for fees and everything else to fall, and destroying property such as libraries and laboratories, is frankly confounding.

There is no such thing as free tertiary education anywhere in the world. There are, however, various funding models, and in our country it is ostensibly designed to assist deserving students from poor and disadvantaged families to access tertiary education.

The deficiencies in the system should be the target of the students’ attention, not the very institutions that they have or seek access to.

It should be self-evident for academically qualifying students to understand that, the cutting off of one’s nose to spite one’s face is devastatingly counter-productive. This truth, however, seems to have escaped the understanding of the wanton minority who seek to destroy not only their universities but their own futures and those of their fellow students.

The violent and destructive behaviour of some students on our university campuses seems to have mesmerised everyone.

These students display a rude and rowdy arrogance on campus that they wouldn’t at home. Perhaps some got away with this kind of behaviour at school while their parents were desperately trying to make ends meet at work.

This worrying antisocial behaviour, irrespective of its genesis, cannot be allowed to become the norm in civilised society. We all must take responsibility and say “no!” to this behaviour.

Saying no should not be the responsibility of the police. Expecting the police to do so is tantamount to “passing the buck”. The responsibility to say “no” is that of the university management, the parents and community leaders. We cannot expect the police to do a job under command that we should be doing out of care, compassion and love. This crisis now needs tough love.

In The Art of War, the art of war is famously described by the ancient Chinese warrior philosopher Sun Tzu as “winning without fighting”. These protesting students are fighting with the management and the police but they won’t fight with their parents, priests and pastors.

The success of the Arab Spring uprising, which spread across the Middle East in 2011, was based on the sheer weight of numbers who couldn’t be stopped. In the case of our crisis, for every protesting student there are two parents or at least more than one direct family member who is responsible for sacrificing for them being at university.

These people and the family members of the so-called “silent majority” far outnumber the destructive minority.

It’s time for this majority to stand up and be counted and to protect our universities and the futures of our children.

In gang-ridden areas of the city of Cape Town, where schoolgoing children were being preyed on by gangsters, the parents started an initiative called, “safely to school”. This required the parents, mostly mothers to walk to and from school with their children. This has achieved what the police could not adequately provide – safe passage from home and back.

We as responsible parents and community leaders should be doing the same thing at our universities. We should stand up in unity to ensure that our children can go safely to university, safely to and from exams, safely into the future and for the matric class of 2017 to go safely into orientation week next year at our university.

I believe that it is time for us all to sacrifice our time and make a bold statement so that our children can have a brighter future.

Let’s do this together for them – they will thank us one day, but only if we show them guidance now.

I appeal to every parent, family member and community leader to involve themselves in finding a lasting resolution to the funding crisis at our universities, but at the same time we must do what must be done now to allow this academic year to conclude with our children writing their exams.

This could mean us having to ensure their safe passage onto campus, every day, by being present at the universities’ gates in numbers, being present outside campuses or municipal exam halls while they write their exams and, lastly, just being there to show that we as parents will do what is necessary for our children to get ahead in life.

This mobilisation can start today, in every home and every community, if we want it to.