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What students involved in #FeesMustFall can learn from the students of ’76 and the UDF.
Cape Town – 21 September 2016
The Bantu Education Act of 1953 was the fuel for a country wide blaze that eventually led to the now infamous photograph, of a gunned down Hector Pietersen being carried through the blood soaked streets of Soweto on June 16,1976.
The Bantu Education Act enforced the apartheid principles of racial segregation into the education system,making it clear that black people were not entitled to an equal quality of education.Hendrik Verwoerd,then Minister of Native Affairs,famously stated : "There is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour ... What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice?"
When Afrikaans was made compulsory as a language of instruction in 1974,alongside English,students infused with a fresh breath of Black Consciousness started rising up against what they saw as the language of the oppressor.The heightened political awareness of students at the time was deeply affected by the rising popularity of Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM).Suddenly for the first time since the banning of anti-apartheid movements in the 60’s,young people stood up in their masses to once again act in defiance of the apartheid regime and their policies.
In 1983,the United Democratic Front (UDF),was formed to oppose the “pragmatic changes” instituted by PW Botha and the National Party,in the form of the Tricameral Parliament. The Tricameral Parliament was basically a misguided and farcical attempt at political “reform” in which only Whites,Coloureds and Indians were represented,with whites holding the majority of seats.Blacks were excluded from this tricameral system on the basis of them supposedly being represented in “independent” homelands or Bantustans.
The UDF was a broad front of political,religious,civic and sporting organisations that in a sense, for the sake of liberation,decided to set their differences aside,and focus on the core strategy of fighting a common enemy.That common enemy was the apartheid regime.
That is exactly what the #FeesMustFall movement requires: a broad front,and a unified strategy.They too have a common enemy: prohibitively expensive tertiary education.
Student protesters need to co-ordinate strategy and mobilise on a national basis.With social and digital media it is quite easy to implement a nationwide strategy in both protests, and negotiations with university managers and government officials.
They must REFUSE to be divided.This is where most activist movements start to lose traction,because a faction in the movement is suddenly offered a proverbial 30 pieces of silver in order to stall the movement on behalf of the powers that be.
Get civil society on board for assistance on all fronts.This includes everyone from the NADEL (National Association of Democratic Lawyers) to the media.Every revolution needs to be fought on all fronts and with various resources.
Use all digital and social media platforms to highlight your plight.Publicise EVERYTHING,from police brutality to political arrogance.
Endeavour to protest peacefully,as far as possible.Understandably,it is not always possible,to continue protesting peacefully when faced with harsh brutality by the SAPS and private security on campuses.
Understand that this campaign,as much as it is urgent,is about persistence.Students have to understand,that speaking truth to power does not mean that they are listening.Your revolution and defiance needs to make them sit up and listen and recognise the validity of your struggle.
By Wesley Fester
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