Education of poor black students cannot wait any longer
And neither can the end to outsourcing university labour.
The year 2015 has been appropriately called the Year of the Student. This year we witnessed a high level of collective socio-political consciousness displayed by a generation that has always been accused of being born free from struggle and injustice. The many events leading to the October 2015 student protests towards free quality education and ending outsourcing of university support staff went unnoticed by the media and many of our leaders. Instead, some politicians joined the media to echo anti-student movement sentiments in a bid to protect the comfort of the privileged.
Many times the students took to protest in their campuses on issues of transformation it was conveniently dismissed as hooliganism. It had to take a radical national shutdown of campuses for leaders, university management and people to wake to the crisis in South Africa’s institutions of higher learning.
The #FeesMustFall movement resonates with me. I did not think it would take me this long to get my first degree after matriculating with two distinctions and an aggregate of at least 70% in 2009. I soon found out that not only do we not have enough universities, the fees were insanely exorbitant. I started working, hoping to save enough money for registration and monthly instalments towards tuition.
My calculations were very wrong. I discovered that ‘saving’ is not a privilege I had as a first born of a semi-skilled outsourced single mother of three. I earned R1,200 per fortnight and 50% of that went towards transport costs. The remainder went to toiletries and some of it was shared with my mother and siblings. I spent the rest of the years applying for funding and getting my soul broken in the American fast food restaurant I worked at.
I tried the University of Johannesburg in 2013 but I could not even sit for final exams because I was too depressed from going to school hungry, not having textbooks and missing lectures because I did not have money to get to campus. I am now at Unisa through a sponsor and I weep when I think about how long it took to get here.
The mandate was clear from day one: fees must fall and insourcing must rise. I am inspired by the students’ intersectional fighting spirit. The students made a sober decision to fight alongside university support staff against a system of exploitation. A victory for students is half the battle won if it is enjoyed on campuses cleaned and maintained by an exploited labour. The students pulled my heartstrings because their voices affirmed that the future of this country is in good hands.
The movement has exposed that the outsourcing of university support staff is anti-black lives. Well, of course the workers are still breathing among us but they might as well be dead. Who among us would celebrate life after having to take up to a 40% pay cut on an already exploitative salary? What kind of human being should you be to be denied the right to use the toilets you clean? Show me one person who would celebrate forfeiting the benefit to have their child study for free at the institution that takes away so much of the worker’s time and dignity?
The youth will no longer accept being treated like passive agents in their communities. While some universities have made commitments to end outsourcing, the students agree that they will only retire their fight when the exploitation of workers in their universities comes to an end. It is clear that many of us have resolved to use our agency to influence positive change for ourselves, our parents and children not yet born.
Lerato Mlambo is a BA International Relations and Diplomacy student at the University of South Africa. She is interested in youth development and is currently a member of the Youth Policy Committee at the South African Institute of international Affairs (SAIIA).
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