Speech by Executive Committee Member Daisy Matlou on 7 October, National Day of Action

Amandla, Amandla, Amandla, Matla ke a Rona

Good morning Comrades, fellow unionists, academics, support staff members, students and all.

Comrades, I have to confess:

When I was asked to speak on the fees and funding crisis in education this morning and the way forward, my immediate reaction was Not Me; because, I did not want to travel the memory lane of my generations’ schooling and University experiences of having to fight as children, an unjust Apartheid system which used the Bantu Education Act of 1955 and the University Education Extension Act of 1959 to segregated schools and universities along racial and ethnic lines.

Ours was long distance travel of over 300 – 800 kilometres to our ethnically designated Bush Universities; when we could travel only 20 kilometres from Soweto to Wits or 30 kilometres from Mamelodi to University of Pretoria and so on; mind you; this academic exclusion from universities in our forefathers’ land and birth country. The historically black universities were located in far flung places away from any modern developments to enhance our educational experiences. Like Basic education, the universities were extremely underfunded with an aim of providing Black children with an inferior education that aimed at preventing Africans from competing in the labour market.

It took the youth in 1976 and later supported by the civil societies from the late seventies, into the early nineties to take up to the streets and fight for a better education and justice for all. Many died from the police brutality, other were imprisoned while some went into exile. This painful history is a constant remainder of where we come from and it should not be in vain for what we fought for.

Students, while you cry and express your pain for being financially excluded; we and many generations before you identify and relate to your pain and cries because we have been through similar experiences.

What is the relevance of a historical context that I have just referred to? History and experience must be our best teacher in guiding us towards persuasion of an ideal society; to make progress from primitiveness to modernity, from unjust to inclusive social justice and in becoming a caring nations.

We must ask fundamental questions; what have we as South Africans learnt from the practice of the past unjust dehumanised society, inferior, inaccessible, educational experiences and the circle of poverty? Is our government using our suffering and pain to address social injustices? Are our Universities transforming from being elitist to universities which caters and speaks to the needs of the local communities? These question brings me to why we are gathered here today.

Our context is now different; we elected a government that has made endless written and verbal speeches about providing basic needs for all; while as a nation we have high expectations given many years of socio-economic deprivation and perpetual circle of poverty.  One of the many promised fundamental rights is education.  

Twenty-two years into South Africa’s democratic dispensation, not much has changed in our basic and tertiary educational system; this despite the fact that we have a Constitution which guarantees citizens the right to quality education coupled with the Freedom Charter’s endorsement of free quality education for all.

The promised free quality education remains elusive for the previously disadvantaged communities and South Africans at large. The rich access good basic education from well-resourced public and private schools and are adequately prepared to play the ground rules and demands of university education; while the poor remain in under resourced schools and come out underprepared with little or no learning skills for epistemological access; and yet; there is an expectation that students from these diverse educational backgrounds and experiences must compete and attain same grades; if not they face academic exclusion.

Student numbers across South African Universities have dramatically increased requiring additional teaching staff and resources. Despite this, universities remain underfunded to can carry out quality teaching responsibilities. Academics are overstretched and teach large classes making individual academic support difficult.

Soft non-cognitive factors negatively impact on our students’ academic performance. Wits for an example has inadequate students’ accommodation given that it was originally established for local commuter students from the Joburg suburbs.  Poor government funding has not enabled the university to build more student residences. Some students from outside Gauteng province, struggle to secure accommodation and sleep in libraries and lecture halls, while those from places like Orange Farm and Tsakane commute, leave home at 5am and arrive late for the first lectures and are still expected to fully concentrate the entire day; they are back home after eight at night extremely exhausted and still have to study and write projects. The lucky ones will have granny’s pension money to pay for transport and on some day’s miss lectures because there is no taxi fare. Food security is prevalent given the circle of poverty making it very difficult to study while hungry. These unmet Maslow’s hierarchy of basic needs are too many to mention and do impact negatively on students’ academic performance and the graduation rates.

Wits like other universities rely on student fees to fund different educational operations and as such hike tuition fees thereby making education an expensive unaffordable commodity hence the financial exclusion of many students.

Like the youth in 1976, it was our Wits students who took a firm stand in 2015 to demand free quality education by initiating the historic #FeesMustFall campaign which spread across the country and are currently sustaining it together with students at all South Africa tertiary institutions.

As South Africans, as a University, as academics, as the private sector, as support staff, as parents, and all stakeholders, what are we doing about the current financial educational crisis at Wits and the entire country?   We can no longer afford to be on the fence and use semantics to debate the current crisis. We need to relentlessly ask government to do the right thing.

All academics ASAWU members and none members, we need to take a firm stand and support our students in their call for #FreeDecoloisedQualityEducation; which is possible; given billions of rands spend by the government in building the 2010 soccer world cup stadiums on agreed FIFA time lines. Lack of a clear stand by academics will continue to make our teaching roles difficult while the provision of free education will enable us to focus on teaching.

Our support staff, your support of our students’ call for #FreeDecolonisedQualityEducation is appreciated. We urge you to continue with this support. We must grow and nurture this partnership in the same way that students supported outsourced workers.

Our international students and staff, do not feel left out. Like South Africans we urge you to make Wits your second home. Our demand for more University funding must provide an enabling teaching and learning environment together with the required funding for your research.

It is good for Wits to aspire to be a leading research-intensive university and one of the top 100 in the world because there are many gains and competitiveness from this vision and mission. However, the pursuit of intellectual excellence in education and global recognition should not overlook students as our main citizens. Wits must be like a country that is judged by how well it takes care of its student-citizens and staff members. We must not strive to be Harvard at the expense of our students and staff while Harvard is not striving to be Wits or University of Venda. Progress towards top ranking will come with time from the extent to which we nurture our students.

Wits and all its stakeholders must call on government to put a plan in place with specific time lines to provide #FreeDecolonisedQualityEducation for our children; Our quality education must be decolonise by teaching pedagogies that respect our values, cultures and addresses challenges faced by South Africa and the entire continent.

We are aware that the private sector pay tax some of which fund education. This is inadequate given the extent to which our capitalistic economy creates vast inequalities; we urge you to offer financial support to our students. Companies advertise jobs to recruit graduates when they have not even sponsored a single university student. Given companies’ huge profits, it is possible to reach out and sponsor more students, we urge you to invest in developing the industry required skills by sponsoring our students.   

As parents we must hold the government that we elect accountable and insist that it deliver on the promises of its election manifesto of #FreeQualityEducation. We must organise provincially based parents’ structures that must approach government and support our students to access free education. This will ease the financial burden of struggling parents.

As government, universities, parents, academics, workers, parents and the private sector, we have failed our youths by letting them to take on the struggle and lead the call for free education. Our failure to transform our tertiary institutions by opening up dialogues to recognise our privileged and deprived past and to allow the expression of our pain and appreciate our diversity has further lead to polarisation of our student body as evident on Tuesday. With proactive action, this could have been avoided. We must have conversations about these issues by acknowledge our history and use our diversity to enrich rather than divide ourselves.

Our university staff members must be democratically transformed to match and reflect our student population and the realities of South Africa.  Conversations about the funding that Wits can provide must not be about trade-offs when the university’s monetary purse is closed and leaving staff members with lack of knowledge about the value of the quantum. Transparency is a must if trust is to be the bases of building good working relationship with the university management.

We must also condemn the destruction of property and violence while making a call for #FreeDecolonisedQualityEducation. The existing infrastructure must be persevered for generations to come and to benefit from their use in the same way that you as students are enjoying their use. 22 years of contained anger and pain is understandable BUT as future leaders and students you must act with restrain by not being violent and destructive; that way you will be good role models for the younger generation. We lost a precious life and have injured staff and students, this must not happen again. As students, remain disciplined and focused to the cause that you are pursuing.

We also call upon universities across the country and Wits to instantly cease from militarising our campuses by having police and private securities to co-exist with us in our spaces as their presence create tension that is not conducive to teaching and learning. Government and university management must refrain from collaborating in using the police as state repressive apparatus in suppressing genuine legitimate call for an overdue #FreeDecolonisedQualityEducation which government failed to prioritise immediately after our young democracy from 1994.

To the SAPS, your role outside universities is stressful requiring services of psychologists, you do get sick and require medical doctors and counselling, when you are in trouble you seek legal representation; In the whole world, there is no University of the Police Force where you will source doctors and lawyers for these services excepts from graduates of the very Universities where you apply maximum force and injure our students and staff members. As the police force you must act with restrain and be mindful of the fact that the Presidency, the Ministry of Higher Education and University management are using you to fight battles of responsibilities that they failed to engage with and implement by providing free education as per the Freedom Charter. Women police officers I urge you to not shoot and injure any student, think of the 9 months of pregnancy and the labour pain that women go through; your shooting may kill a soon to be doctor who holds key to the cure of cancer or breakthrough technology.  

The private securities that are currently blocking entrances at our universities, you must cease to provoke our students for the sake of sustaining your presence and earning more money from universities. It is unheard of, for a hired paid security force meant to control the crowd to compete with the youth in stone throwing. The public must no longer use services of such security companies.

The media, we appreciate your presence and coverage of this unfolding and developing story of our students’ demand for #FreeDecolonisedQualityEducation.  Your reporting must not suffer from ‘the tragedy of a one sided story’ where, even in the face of provocation our students are portrayed as provocative and dangerous. We appreciate and want more coverage to create awareness and to inform the public about these issues but we urge you to balance your reporting and to give two sides of the coin.

In conclusion, as Academics, Students, Support staff, Alumni and the University management, we must work together by speaking in one voice in pursuit of adequate funding from government and in support of #FreeDecolonisedQualityEducation for our students. We do provide services to our students and staff BUT with inadequate funding our services remain unsatisfactory.

President Jacob Zuma and Minister Blade Ndzimande, you had 22 years to implement the promised free education, please act on the students’ call for #FreeEducation and also increase university funding. Free quality education is possible given the millions and billions or rands wasted in corrupt activities and poorly managed government’s expensive projects. The provision of #FreeQuality education should not be seen as an expenditure but rather as an investment in developing our students into future leaders who will run the country and develop our economy for national growth and global competition. Our democracy and economy can only thrive if we educate and adequately care for our citizens and empower them to play a meaningful role in society with the aim of reducing circles of poverty in families. #Free education is possible make it happen.

Thank you!

Amandla!!

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