Tag Archives: student protests

The Horizon Hunter #2

mandela21.jpgMo, the man of such mixed ancestry and culture, had never doubted that his passage through life would be an arduous one – to understate the obvious. His very name already suggested  – in fact: implied – a lifetime of being an In Between Man; the huge misfit in a society so diverse that even the norm was impossible to define.

So, as he walked out of the little town of Rolbos, one can understand that he felt somewhat elated. The time he had spent in the bar with the townsfolk was quite possibly the best respite he had had for a number of years; for they all sat down together, debated (without resorting to heated arguments) and tried to make sense of what passed as civilisation at the time. They had their differences, of course: Servaas, as the arch-conservative and Gertruida who tended to be more liberal (open-minded, as she termed it), could not agree on the principle of free tertiary education for all.

“Look, if you have the potential, you should be able to obtain a degree,” Gertruida had been adamant about that.

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Credit: laafriquemedia.biz

Servaas could not be swayed. “Yeah? Then you’ll have more riff-raff burning down university halls and libraries! Tell me, Mrs Know-it-all, how does it make sense to protest in favour of education while you destroy the very facility you want to study at? Those kids aren’t students – they’re hooligans. You want to hand out free, substandard degrees to everybody – just to keep the youths happy? What do you think the international acceptance of our degrees would be? I’ll tell you: they’ll smirk and ignore our graduates as idiots. No, you have to earn a degree, Gertruida – that involves time spent on your backside, studying… and not jumping around to some moronic chant, brandishing a box of matches.”

Vetfaan then asked the question they could not agree on: “Is tertiary education a right…or a privilege?”

Boggel had intervened and told them to relax – it wasn’t the students fault. “It’s a question of monkey see, monkey do, guys. Those students grew up in households where protesting was the only way to survive. At first they protested against apartheid – and we all agree that was a justified cause. Then the country settled down for a ‘new democracy’ and everything went pear-shaped all over again. The politicians promised the world and delivered a pebble – and all the while they helped themselves to the goodies in the state’s candy store. So, the parents took to the streets again. Nothing happened. They burnt municipal buildings. Nothing happened. They murdered politicians…and still nothing happened. Despite everything, the poor people had to put up with inadequate hospitals, inferior and overcrowded schools, almost non-existent service delivery, horrible sanitation and a future filled with worse conditions than they ever had in the past. Protests were the only way to draw attention to their lot and that’s what they did.

“So these kids – the students – have this as the template for change. Burn, destroy and intimidate. It’s proven successful – to various degrees – for their parents, so why not do it themselves? It is another form of township justice, a social kangaroo court of a society frustrated beyond all reasonable bounds.”

“But that doesn’t make it right, Boggel. Why must Rhodes fall, fees fall, tolls fall…and Zuma remain unscathed?”

“Wrong, Servaas. Zuma will fall. If history insists on remembering Verwoerd as the architect of apartheid, then future generations will read about the corrupt king who destroyed Mandela’s legacy.”

The conversation drifted this way and that until they all agreed that the country was in an in-between state. Gertruida summed it up.

“Death and birth share certain similarities. It may be painful. It may be slow. To the impatient it takes far too long. To the optimist, it may hold hope. In the end, it’s an inevitable process with a certain outcome. The only answer is patience – and the expectation of change. It’ll come, you’ll see.”

Mo sat down under the big old thorn tree next to the road with a smile hovering about his lips while he contemplated an unexpected thought.

“Why do I have to keep on searching for answers? Why slog away day after day, hoping for an answer beyond the horizon?  Did Gertruida not say something about the vulnerability of mothers?”

Yes, he can recall her exact words:

A mother is most vulnerable at birth. She is stripped of all dignity and completely defenseless. What is happening in the country today? I’ll tell you: she’s giving birth. It’s a painful process without dignity or respect. She’s crying out for help and understanding. The infant she’ll bear, will be a helpless struggler, unable to comprehend the challenges it’ll have to face in the future. It’s a bleak picture – but not without hope.

“So we’ll just have to be midwives, Mo. Instead of condemning her, we should ease the pain; support her in her hour of need. Understanding the process is already half the cure. And if we do, we’ll have to lend a helping hand to rear the newborn infant and guide it to maturity.

“You see, Mo, the country is just like you – an unenviable mix of rich and poor; an amalgamation of gene pools, cultures and beliefs. It is unique but at the same time, a picture of what is happening across the globe. We’re in the process now – it cannot be stopped. 

“The future? Ah, my dear Mo, it’s as bright – or as dark – as we choose it to be. It’s up to us.”

Mo got up slowly, the smile wider now. Why journey farther in a futile search? No, he finally had found the other side of the horizon. He gathered his few belongings and returned to the road. Not for a moment did he wonder what the Rolbossers would say when he – once again – pushed open those swing doors of Boggel’s Place.

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Freedom’s just another word…

Credit: cnn.com

Credit: cnn.com

“Free education? What’s next? With 25% of our workforce without a job and 16% of the population paying taxes, that’ll create an unbearable situation.”  Vetfaan scowls at his empty glass while he remembers how he used to work as a stoker on the railways in order to pay for the time he spent at the agricultural college. “I had to work eighteen, twenty hours a day during the holidays to pay for my studies.”

“Different times, Vetfaan.” Gertruida almost manages to sound sympathetic. “Back then the education system was subsidized – properly, as it should – by the government. Yes, there was an unacceptable racial slant and yes, the policies of the day prevented many promising students from attending universities…”

“Oh, come on, Gertruida! There were the universities of Fort Hare, Western Cape, Cape Town, Wits and Medunsa…!”

“Now, don’t you go shouting at me, Vetfaan!” The angry glint in her eyes makes Vetfaan back off. “I didn’t make the rules back then, nor do I make them now. But…we can’t ignore the fact that many, many lives would have been vastly different if the Nationalists put more emphasis on education. Apartheid remains a fact of history, no matter how much we want to erase it from our memories.”

“I’m not talking about that, Gertruida.” Vetfaan sounds resigned, beaten. “All I’m saying is that we can’t go on with social grants, a huge salary allocation for government officials, free water, electricity, medical care, AIDS, services…and the rampant corruption we read about in the papers every day. What does government do? Every time – every time – they say the private sector must come on board! The EFF wants 51% of shares on the stock exchange transferred to the workers. The ANC wants the farmers to hand over half of their properties to the farm labourers. And you know who is paying for those politicians? You and I, my dear Gerty. You and I. We’re paying them to bankrupt the country. Now that’s irony for you!”

“Two sides to that coin, Vetfaan. As much as we’d like to ignore certain facts, we cannot deny the inequalities in the country…”

“I’m not saying that!” The veins on Vetfaan’s neck stand out as he tries to control his temper. Taking a deep breath, he continues in a calmer voice. “The inequalities need to be addressed, that’s for sure. The feeling I get is that we are continuously being punished for a policy the English forced down on us when they wrote to old constitution for the Union of South Africa in 1908. Now, suddenly, everybody is pointing fingers at us whiteys. Why does nobody question the decisions of Queen Victoria?”

“They do, Vetfaan. That’s why the Rhodes statue was removed.”

“Oh puleeez! Whether Rhodes stands at the foot of Table Mountain or in some heritage park, is of almost no significance. At least he’s being blamed for something – but he’s not being abused as a taxpayer. Our government is increasingly adamant about ‘redistribution’. In my book it means: ‘bankrupting society’. Have you seen what happened to the farms they already allocated to previously disadvantaged individuals? Or have you forgotten the reason why SAA, Escom, Water Affairs, Telkom, the railways and even our army and police have degenerated over the last twenty years? How can you ignore the effect of appointing people with inadequate skills to positions they simply cannot handle?

“Yes, Gertruida, I agree that there are still imbalances in our society. And yes, the one key is education. But the main lock to open, is the bolt that’ll free government to rule in a focussed, logical way. The private sector has been taxed to death by a government that can only remain in power by handing out freebies to the masses.” Vetfaan sighs this thanks as Boggel pushes over a fresh beer. “What we need is a contructive approach – not one that’ll destroy the fabric of society and which continuously emphasises race as the major dividing factor. What’s happening now, is a recipe for anarchy, hatred and violence. Look at the crime stats.”

Gertruida remains silent for so long that Vetfaan thinks she’s ignoring him. When she eventually addresses him in her quiet tone, he sees the tears in her eyes.

“You know, Vetfaan, we’ll never live down the injustices of the past. We need to recognise them, learn from them. That’s what Mandela said and it’s true. But he also emphasised the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. He said: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”  And he said: ‘…the day the ANC does to us what the Apartheid government did, we should do to the ANC what we did to the Apartheid government.’ Maybe that’s what is happening: the students have lost their fear for the securocrats and are doing exactly what Madiba proposed?”

“But, Gertruida, where is all this leading up to? Another Zimbabwe?”

“Possibly. Even…probably. We have one, single chance – and that is that democracy will prevail. People aren’t stupid. The poor is getting poorer. The previously disadvantaged masses are even more disadvantaged now. We have elections next year… We need a leader…no, many leaders…to stand up and get to work. We won’t build a better South Africa by doing nothing. We need good, honest men and women to tell the nation the honeymoon is over. Forget about demanding this and insisting on that, if you haven’t contributed anything. People must get used to working hard…and then be rewarded for their efforts. A student doing well at university should be allowed to continue his or her studies as far as possible. People with skills should be appointed to the right positions and then reap the rewards of their hard work. And the many unskilled labourers should be paid fairly – because their contribution is absolutely essential in the workforce. Maybe it’ll take a generation – even longer – but there can be no doubt that we have the potential to be a great country. Capitalism may have it’s shortfalls and it’s wise to acknowledge that. But socialism can’t exist in a vacuum; then everybody has an equal share of nothing. The answer is education, work, productivity and …love.”

The last word makes Vetfaan look up sharply. Yes, he wonders…what happened to that?