Change the world



This opinion piece appeared in the Herald of 4 October 2016.

Disruption to academic year

I TOO attended the mass meeting at NMMU on Saturday, as a concerned academic. What a pity that many were denied the opportunity to learn as described by Linda Williams.

KEEN TO STUDY: NMMU students who want the university to reopen held a silent protest this week. Picture: EUGENE COETZEE 

Regrettably, race has entered this space and so I shall briefly share my story in the hope that it lends some credibility to my plea and that I am not simply dismissed as “a privileged white voice”.

The fortunes of our family did not change within the course of one generation. I was a firstgeneration university student.

My grandfather, the third youngest of eight children, was raised by a single mother on a farm and walked miles to the local school.

He never matriculated, being forced to give up schooling at age 16 due to financial constraints. He joined the army, where he learnt his trade.

Both my parents trained at a teachers’ training college. They could not afford to pay for my university education.

After matriculating, I was able to secure a full-time job (market conditions were different then) and commenced my studies as a part-time student attending evening lectures at NMMU.

I was fortunate to be able to borrow a car to attend my classes and return home at 10pm at night to a safe neighbourhood.

While it may have taken me six years to complete my three-year degree, I was able to avoid the large study debt so many of my school friends had incurred during the three or four years it took for them to complete their degrees.

As an English-speaking person, lectures in Afrikaans were a challenge. Thankfully, they were limited to one or two courses.

The content and context of many of my subjects were foreign to my background and experience.

Fortunately, I was a product of a school system that provided me with skill sets that enabled me to find a way through these challenges. My parents’ experience at training college gave them some understanding of what I was experiencing and they were able to provide the emotional support I needed through these trying times. So despite my financial challenges, there were many surrounding factors (for example, a schooling system and parental support) that enabled my journey to success and I guess that makes me privileged relative to so many of today’s students.

Linda is correct, that #FeesMustFall is so much more than financial emancipation.

As a member of the teaching and learning communities at NMMU, I have been privy to the many and varied interventions introduced in an attempt to enable student success, and I am inspired by the tireless efforts of so many colleagues across the institution.

The challenges are great and varied. Understanding them and developing mechanisms to address them take time and money (both of which are in short supply).

Have we done enough? No. But from my perspective, there is a commitment from senior management through many in the ranks to better understand these challenges and respond accordingly.

But students need to understand that change cannot happen overnight.

The NMMU of today is a very different institution to the one I attended, one that endeavours to embrace a humanising pedagogy.

My appeal to students is to PLEASE return to class. Failure to complete the 2016 academic year in 2016 is simply going to add further challenges to an already overburdened system and divert time and energy away from addressing existing problems.

Let us find ways to work together towards meaningful and lasting solutions. Shouting from the sidelines is not going to get us anywhere.