It’s more than just the child, it is a feeling of utter hopelessness for a family. And one has to wonder whether Minister Nzimande knows that.
#FeesMustFall has exposed this hard reality. And that is a good thing. Surely in years to come a lot more will be done to make South Africa’s universities more accessible to all deserving students.
It must be frightening to be a Vice-Chancellor or part of management at any SA university. But they have had the grace to listen to the students and show sympathy and the utmost restraint. Particularly when the demand is to close the universities, seemingly by whatever means.
Now let’s bring this home to Rhodes University and the community that is Makana.
More than 200 years ago Colonel Graham established a military base in a desolate valley. Perhaps he wanted to send his children to a good school. There can be few other reasons. There is no natural resource on which to base a city. There isn’t even enough water.
Then came the clerics
Then came the schools
Rafts of civil servants, the lawyers
And plenty of fools. (Sorry Mark Knopfler)
Somehow Makana has, over 200 years, evolved into an ecosystem of education. Otherwise Makana would have remained a marginalised dorp, the same as surrounding towns that are far less fortunate.
So today SARS statistics reflects that the +- 8000 registered taxpayers of Makana earn about R1,5 billion per annum. Most of the after tax earnings are spent within the Makana community and, together with the spend of the visiting students, this drives the local economy.
The #FeesMustFall campaign has adopted the stance of ‘ Liberation before Education’ and seeks to close the university until their struggle is won.
The Rhodes staff currently consists of 325 academic posts and 1030 support staff. Collectively their pretax earnings total approximately R600 million per annum, about 40% of the earnings of Makana.
If the university closes, the academics will drift away to other posts around the world or take early retirement. The support staff will be retrenched and join the statistics that make up Makana’s 32,5% unemployment rate or 42,3% youth unemployment rate.
The earnings of the currently employed university staff will be lost to the Makana economy together with the spend of more than 8000 students.
A university and a local economy is similar to an ecosystem that takes decades, even centuries to evolve and cannot be switched on and off at will. Even a temporary shutdown of the university will devastate the Makana economy leaving only the civil servants, loan sharks and maybe a few lawyers. Makana would take decades to recover even if the university buildings survive.
This means that the call to close the university can be delicately put as ‘Devastation before Liberation.’ Or a modern ‘scorched earth’ ideal.
So let’s put the challenge another way by looking 50 years into the future when I have hopefully joined the choir invisible and today’s students will be grandparents.
Now the Good Lord is looking at you, answer the question ‘Are you really going to tell your grandchildren with pride about your student struggle and the collateral damage you inflicted on the entire Makana community of the 80 000 people of 21000 families? A community, where many had already endured a struggle to get to 1994, about the time when you were born.
In the controversy surrounding the confederate flag and the Galveston killings in 2015, US President Barack Obama had what some say was his finest hour. He spoke about having ‘The Grace’ to call it a day and move forward together.
That time has come. Right now.
One final word. For those who think that the students’ call is not legitimate. Listen to what they saying. Then think about the contribution you need to make for a better South Africa. History will not be kind to those who ignore what is the right thing to do.