This generation isn’t so apathetic after all


After the tumult of all of the #MustFall issues last year, it’s becoming obvious that people are fed up and that youngsters are starting to wake up and get active (does using the word “youngsters” make me old??)

University students in South Africa recently protested across the country, under the hashtag #FeesMustFall.

The poor quality of education afforded to black students has left a lasting legacy.  Students now at university trying to make their way through the system are plagued by the fact that their parents had very few opportunities and are often unable to help financially, and competition for bursaries are stiff.

Many bursaries assist previously disadvantaged people, but if over 70% of the population can be classified as previously disadvantaged, this means that only the best of the best black students have a shot at financial assistance.  But white students, and also privileged Indian students and others, with assistance from their families, their inherited privilege or easier access to other forms of funding, need not reach these academic highs to get a degree.

We can be mediocre if our dads pay for our education, but not if we rely on bursaries (plus many students also have to work a part-time job to cover the cost of rent and food etc).

Lamenting the apathy of the youth post-apartheid, it seems that each generation just needs to find its own struggle.  Seen as obsessed with social media and inward looking, this 2015 group of students managed to unite, mobilising around the #FeesMustFall slogan and rising up to fight for a cause they could finally identify with.

Being “born free” we are not only free of the apartheid government and its racist laws, but also unshackled from the blind faith and loyalty that our elders seem to have for the ruling party, who are seen as the liberators by many who lived through the struggle against Apartheid.

The surprisingly uncaring attitude that our democratic government took was pathetic.  It was only when the movement became a big enough threat and the elders started feeling scared that the issues were partially addressed.

The hashtag #FeesMustFall became so ubiquitous that one clueless opponent actually filed court papers to have the hashtag interdicted.  How can you try to take a hashtag to court?

Many political parties tried to hijack the movement, but were rebutted by students who couldn’t care less which political party you come from.

Students united across different universities and also against the employment policies for staff at universities.  Workers (like the cleaners) at many universities stood in solidarity with students, while students took up the cause of outsourced workers (who have less protections and benefits than they would have if they were treated as employees).

But this is not just a story about South African students.  Why are US students, who supposedly grew up in a different world to South Africans, protesting these same issues?  These are not just third world problems.

Black students in the USA were protesting against racism too, but unlike in South Africa, they are not the majority.  The USA has been non-racial for not much longer than South Africa.  The civil rights movement of the 1960s may have succeeded in creating formal equality, but people are still prejudiced.

The three issues of racism, fees and outsourcing of university workers, issues that were protested against by South African students, are the same issues that were being taken up by students in the USA barely a month later.  It seems that our majority still lives like a minority, facing the issues that minorities in other countries face even though they should have more power.

When your father was a garden boy, and his father a garden boy, how can you expect to compete with the sons of the CEOs of big corporations, even 20 years later when everything is supposedly rosy?

The legacy of apartheid has not yet been overcome.  Just this past week there’s been more reports of clueless racists talking about “monkeys” on the beach.  Life sometimes seems too ridiculous to believe.

Matric results are out – the usual good news that is a little suspicious.  Like the Daily Vox says, “the battle for education starts long before University.

Expecting to reverse the history of…forever (or at least since the first day white people stepped foot on South African land, so many decades ago) is ambitious.  It will probably take a few more generations to overcome.  Let’s not trash affirmative action etc yet…I’m excited to see what the youth will do in 2016.  But also scared to see what other crap will emerge from lame racists all over the internet and elsewhere.


2 thoughts on “This generation isn’t so apathetic after all

  1. It affects me directly so I’m also curious about what will happen. I see it’s already warming up at Wits….

    Yes, the movement shows the youth are not so apathetic, but can they take the fight to one of the biggest obstacles to solving all this? I.e. the corruption and self enrichment of the current government.

    With the current economic free fall, I really don’t see completely free education as a reality. And under the moral decay and selfish values of the current rulers, do you really expect any real progress or success?


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