Open Letter to The President of the Republic of South Africa.

Dear Mr. President

It is with great respect, honor and sincere humbleness to be writing you this letter as a young student activist – an ordinary member of the South African society.

Mr. President, allow me to first and foremost extend my sincere gratitude and applause for such an impeccable, positive and inspiring address to the South African nation. You have inspired hope and confidence in our ability and readiness to deal with the many challenges we are confronted with. You have revived our confidence in the august Parliament, thank you! I hope even the debate that will unfold in response will be as robust and constructive.

However, Mr. President, I am quite concerned that you did not emphasize our agency to resolve and deal with the challenges that are facing our education system enough. I believe our education requires more attention as it is a primary need, a basic right enshrined in our constitution. I am also quite confident that if we fix our education we’ll be at better position to meet the economic prospects we so envisage and desire.

Mr. President, I am not going waste your honorable time outlining what I believe the challenges facing our education system are, because I am quite confident that you are well aware and better understand those challenges. I will instead outline what I expected you to say, as a humble and sincere request.

You have done an outstanding job in hosting summits as an initial response to some of the persistent and stubborn socioeconomic ills such as Gender Based Violence and Unemployment. It is in this light that I expected you to pronounce an intention to host a similar summit on education. I have no tiny doubt that such a pronouncement will send out a strong positive message to affirm government’s will to respond to the challenges in the education system; challenges that remain the main instigator of a plethora of the learner and student protests throughout the system.

I understand the summits as a consultative means to better equip the state with possible solutions to be explored in responding to the politico-socioeconomic challenges we are faced with. I believe such a consultation process is imperative to meet our agency to revamp and improve our education system. All stakeholders, including learners and students, in the education system must be convened by you Mr. President, to give their respective inputs on possible way forwards.

Mr. President, I make this submission not only as a Fees Must Fall activist, but moreover as a young African citizen of this beautiful land of ours. I can boldly and confidently put to you that we are not criminals, we are not hooligans, we are not terrorists; we are active and patriotic sons and daughters of the soil who have the best interest of South Africa at heart. We have progressive and pragmatic ideas on how to better improve, massify and ensure that education is accessible, and it would be a great honor to be given an ear by you Mr. President, together with other stakeholders in the sector.

We also want to lend a hand in building South Africa into a more united prosperous nation. Please hear us out Mr. President. Through us, institutions that will serve Africans in the country, the entire continent and the diaspora will be born; we are just pleading to be heard.

I hope my humble submission will be well received.

Thank you!

With Respect

Kefentse Mkhari
Former Wits SRC President

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DECOMMODIFY TO RESOLVE FOOD INSECURITY

Kefentse's Blog

Food insecurity is a deepening and widening problem in South Africa and the entire African continent. This is a problem that affects mostly the African poor working class majority across the entire continent. It is a challenge that is sustained by the perpetually widening politico-socio-economic challenges suffered by the continent. While this article will focus on food insecurity among university students in South Africa, it’s extremely important to characterize and contextualize this problem on a continental scale to emphasize the scale of the problem and more significantly, to reiterate the fact that universities and institutions of higher learning and training are microcosms of society. Therefore, the challenges they face are that of the general societies they exist in. This contextualize is extremely important for this article to fully and effectively achieve its purpose.

Recently the Western Cape Province hosted a National Colloquium on Access to Food for Students and dreadful…

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African Spirituality: The Single Thread that Ties Us Together.

Lately I have been having strong, loud and vivid revelations and conversations about spirituality. It is those revelations and conversations that inspire this piece. Spirituality is usually is a very complex phenomenon that takes many forms and dimensions. This is not surprising because spirituality is subjectively experiential – we all experience it differently and hence we can only give a subjective account. In this piece I will give my own subjective account of what I understand spirituality to be. I will pay particular attention to African spirituality, the identity it bestows upon us as Africans, how it can be used as an instrument of unification among us as Africans and lastly how we can we can navigate ourselves towards decolonization drawing inspiration from our African spirituality.

More often than not spirituality is confused with religion. This misinterpretation is facilitated by our strong attachments to the religions we subscribe to and practice. We often think that being religious automatically means that we are spiritual and that is not the case. In laying down my subjective definition of spirituality I purposefully want to distinguish between spirituality and religion just to clear this long standing stubborn confusion between the two. What is spirituality? I understand spirituality to be a deeper essence of our being – spirituality is a state of being; while religion on the other far end is a dogmatic institution confide to set principles, laws and practices. There are no set principles, laws and practices for spirituality, spirituality is not a dogmatic institution and hence we all define, experience and embrace it differently regardless of subscribing to the same religion or not. Religion is an institution that may assist us navigate through our spirituality and perhaps give it a more comprehensible meaning, but it is not the essence of our spirituality.

This distinction is extremely important to us as Africans as I believe our spirituality, while we may define, experience and embrace it differently, is that one thread that ties us together. African spirituality is the essence of our identity as Africans. We find and identify ourselves through our spirituality. In primitive Africa our cultures, traditions and customs were informed by our spiritual experiences more than anything else. The custodians and authorities of a particular tribe would consult those who were believed to be spiritually superior and powerful on the traditions and customs to be followed which would then constitute as the culture of that particular tribe, and hence it was a norm to find Sagomas, Seers, Witch-doctors and Herbalists in every tribe who were held in high regard and honor. It was the spirituality that gave the tribe its identity more than anything else.

It is not a surprise at all that this is the case because spirituality is all about wholeness. It is all about our interconnectedness to the universe, creation and nature; it is the total sum of our lived experiences and relations be it close, distant, natural, physical, supernatural or/and metaphysical. It is never about a deity as many would like to believe, it is instead more about ourselves, our total consciousness and our contribution to the universe in all its forms. That is why we are able to have insightful conversations with our ancestors, distant relatives, stars, water, plants, fire, the moon and the sun either through dreams or revelations that can manifest themselves physically, and perhaps that is why this phenomenon is so complex yet so beautiful.

For the purposes of unification among us as Africans the key words are “wholeness” and “interconnectedness” – these words are a guiding compass to our identity bestowed upon us by our spirituality more than the birth lottery or anything else we can think of. While we may define and navigate ourselves differently in spirit it is our spirituality that ties us together, an irrefutable fact we need to embrace as the center of our unity. I believe the moment we start accepting that as Africans we are all connected in the spiritual realm regardless of the different religions we subscribe to, is the very moment we will draw towards one another as one; that is what will make us a formidable force spiritually and otherwise. Our spirituality bestows upon us our Africanism, we are Africans in spirit first before anywhere else – that is the north start to our unification.

Our African spirituality if well embraced and understood can also lead us towards the process of decolonization. The process of colonization began with the demonization of our spirituality which result in vilification of our African identity, cultures, traditions and customs – we were robbed of our spirituality before anything else. The colonizers had to deal with our spirituality first in order to gain access to everything because they had seen that our attachment to our being, our names, our songs, our land and all that we are was informed by our spirituality above all. Our entire way of life was guided by our spirituality and hence it was extremely important for the colonizers to launch an offensive on our spirituality in order to successfully colonize and enslave us.

I strongly and proudly believe that the process of decolonization will commence the very moment we begin to navigate ourselves back to our spirituality in the most truthful sense as Africans. This would require us to acknowledge and embrace our African spirituality beyond our religious attachments and practices. It would require us to tap deeper and deeper into our African selves in the sole purpose of locating that deeper essence of being that was distorted and dismantled by the colonizers over centuries of passing time – that is what I regard as going back to the roots. This is indeed a very difficult and perhaps the utmost tormenting process but its necessity is beyond any reasonable doubt; it is the most fundamental way towards decolonization.

Upon finding that deeply hidden unknown treasure that is our true essence of being, we need to document and translate it into our way of life. By this I am not suggesting that we should reverse back to the primitive ages, I am arguing that while evolution and civilization are irrefutable and consistent, our spirituality is constant – it forever remains our essence of being and hence it can be experienced anywhere at any time.

The documenting of our African spirituality should find an uninterrupted expression in our education, it should form part and puzzle of our curriculum so that it can be handed over to future generations to successfully continue with the legacy of decolonizing Africa. In a focus group meeting on decolonization hosted by the Former President of the Republic of South Africa and the Patron of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation, Cadre Thabo Mbeki narrated to us a story of how a white man who was diagnosed with cancer or some incurable disease was introduced to a Sagoma/Herbalist by a friend, and upon weeks of consulting and receiving indigenous treatment from the Sagoma he was healed. When he went back to the hospital for tests, all the tests were negative and he was declared completely fine and healthy.

Cadre Thabo Mbeki continued to narrate how he had the privilege to meet the Sagoma, who revealed to him that in fact there’s an indigenous school that one must go through to be qualified as a Sagoma. Upon hearing this the former President established a task team to document this education in the sole purpose of integrating it in the education and the health system of our country like in China. He narrated how his intentions were inspired by the Sagoma’s sentiments when he told him of how multinational pharmaceutical companies would exploit this indigenous knowledge for profits. Although the intentions were not successful due to some unforeseen circumstances that he shared with us but I won’t mention, I saw this as a very progressive and revolutionary move towards decolonization. This is precisely what needs and must happen.

Our African spirituality is not only a guide towards ourselves but also towards decolonization of the status core. We therefore need to take our spirituality serious, hold it high regard and honor. We need to be more attached to our spirituality more than we are to our religions. In fact our subscription and practice of religion should, as any aspect of our lives, be informed by our spirituality and not the other way round. We are spiritual beings and that is what grants us our African identity. Our African spirituality is that unbreakable thread that ties us together as one and we should embrace it without holding back!

 

Kefentse Mkhari

Former Wits SRC President

Youth Assert Yourself!!!

Kefentse's Blog

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There is no given doubt that South Africa and the entire continent are experiencing historical moments. Moments that not only have the ability to be written in history, but also possess with them an opportunity to change history itself. These moments come as result of the severe challenges we are faced with as continent.

History is being written indeed. For the first time young Zimbabweans lived to see a new president, while Kenyans witnessed the swearing in of two state presidents in the form of Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga. Young students in historically white institutions of higher learning got to experience for the first time in their lives, rubber bullets, stun-grenades, teargas, handcuffs, the most vicious police brutality and jail cells. First time as South African youth we got to see white people protest. I mean Zuma Must Fall actually happened; the first campaign of its kind since the…

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Africa Thuma Mina: Reaching for the Roots

On the 16th of February 2018, in a parliament joint sitting, President Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa cited the late bra Hugh Masekela’s song – Thuma Mina (Send Me) in the State of the Nation Address (SONA). He cited the song to amplify his clarion call to all of us, south Africans, to come together and take full advantage of the opportunities that come with the “New Dawn.” The citation was welcomed with an uninterrupted standing ovation and applause by the joint sitting and the entire audience in parliament.

On the 18th of May 2018 the governing party, the African National Congress (ANC), inspired by the President’s citation in the SONA launched the national Thuma Mina campaign in Tembisa. This campaign was launched strategically to rally people behind the banner of the ANC and restore the confidence among the masses that the ANC is still the people’s movement. It was a strategic move given the fact that elections are around the corner. The campaign was met with mixed reactions: Others welcomed it as a positive breath of fresh air that inspires the masses to actively participate in finding solutions to the many challenges that are facing the country; while others saw it as an electioneering campaign strategy that has no impact on the lives of the people.

I personally and principally form part and puzzle of the former – I believe in the campaign and hence I took my time to produce this article to articulate my understanding of the campaign and lobby young people to own and participate in this campaign as a tool of mobilization and organization to combat the adamant and escalating challenges that pose a serious threat to our self-determination and development as the youth of this country and the entire African continent. In my lobbying, I will further show the imperativeness of defining and participating in this campaign from Pan-Africanist perspective in emphasising the fact that the challenges that we are confronted with are not unique to us as young South Africans; they global challenges that are apparent throughout the continent – they are suffered by all Africans throughout the continent and in the diaspora.

In my lobbying, it is also important to keep in mind that the youth is not homogenous and it suffers different challenges in its heterogeneity. Therefore it’s only fair that I declare the position I will be lobbying from – I am university student from a working class background whose main objective is to reach out to a significantly large portion of the African youth in its diversity. This declaration is extremely important for this lobbying to optimally reach its objectives.

Before I get to the heart of the lobbying, it’s paramount that I express my understanding of the Thuma Mina Campaign and I shall do so by first reflecting on the song itself, specifically the lyrics that were cited by President Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa in the SONA:
“I wanna be there when the people start to turn it around
When they triumph over poverty
I wanna be there when the people win the battle against AIDS
I wanna lend a hand
I wanna be there for the alcoholic
I wanna be there for the drug addict
I wanna be there for the victims of violence and abuse
I wanna lend a hand
Send me.”

These lyrics, beyond beautifully portraying an ideal, bestow a responsibility, a responsibility to actively participate in the struggle of championing the social-ills expressed in the song. This means that the Thuma Mina campaign’s sole mandate is to invoke that sense of responsibility to actively participate in the struggle of championing the challenges confronting us.

I believe, however, that for us to take full advantage of this campaign as a mobilization and organization platform we need to first appreciate our African identity in the most truthful sense, without any reservation. We must appreciate the fact that we are Africans confronted with African problems that require African solutions by Africans. Yes, some, if not most, of these challenges may be global challenges but this appreciation of our identity will certainly express our urgency to conquer these struggles.

This appreciation dictates that we give the Thuma Mina Campaign a Pan-Africanist outlook for us to effectively own and use it as a weapon to deal and finally conquer our struggles as young Africans in the continent and throughout the diaspora. By Pan-Africanism I am not merely referring to dogmatic and ideological set of principles to be rigorously followed, I am advocating for an attitude – a state of mind that we must invoke in analysing, understanding and confronting our struggles, and most importantly how we relate with each other. By so doing we will also be expanding the wings of this campaign beyond the borders of South Africa, which will be a revolutionary achievement.

For us to achieve this objective we must analyse these challenges – what are they? Where do they stem out from? Who are the instigators and perpetuators of these challenges and why? What do they stand to gain from our struggles? What are the repercussions of prolonging these struggles? What opportunities are offered by these challenges to us young Africans? How do we mobilize and organize ourselves to seize these opportunities? Most importantly, what solutions are we proposing and how do we implement those solutions? These questions are important guidelines for our participation in the Thuma Mina campaign and giving it the desired Pan-Africanist outlook. Throughout this article I will be giving answers to some of these questions to amplify my lobbying.

  • Exponential levels of youth unemployment.
  • Teenage Pregnancy.
  • Alcohol and Substance abuse.
  • Depression and Mental health.
  • Gender Based violence.
  • High Levels of Illiteracy.

Are among the most adamant challenges confronting us. These challenges are as a result and contribute to the high levels of poverty and inequality.

But to get a broader understanding of the source of these challenges, it is important that we borrow wisdom from our Pan-Africanists forefathers so that we do not lose touch with the defined state of mind that we need for our strategic mission. All of the Pan-Africanist freedom fighters defined our struggle as one against capitalism and imperialism in whatever form they may take. Imperialism and capitalism are human injustices that must be fought against at all cost, because like yesterday, they still haunts us – they are the main culprit that we must fight against!

This is what the founding father of Mozambique’s independence, former President Samora Machel had to say about our struggle against capitalism and imperialism in one of his speeches: “So long as there is capitalism and imperialism in the world, its propaganda and subversion will make itself felt against us, and the winning of independence and power will be no guarantee of our invulnerability to degenerate values.” He and his fellow Pan-Africanist freedom fighters, were prophetic in their recognition and acknowledgement that capitalism and imperialism would persist as enemies even after we gain independence, which inherently meant that our struggle and fight against them must never cease – it must be intensified instead. We find ourselves at cross roads where we have to choose between succumbing to the dehumanizing values of capitalism and imperialism in our society, or to intensify the fight that was long initiated by our forbearers. We have no choice but to choose the latter for our determination as Africans.

In this war we must be militant – vigilant, strategic, organized, disciplined and completely patriotic. We must be true comrades, cadres and patrons who offer their lives, talents, skills, intellect and most importantly love our people and land as Africans – sons and daughters of the soil. We must be willing to learn from one another, communicate, mobilize and organize ourselves unapologetically and militantly in this fight – an endless revolution of asserting our human dignity, our capability, superiority and ability. A revolution that was long started and fought by our forefathers and mothers in our defence, our emancipation and above all the love they had for us! The fight that has never ceased; it has been handed-over to us – their children. It is entrusted to us to hand it over to their grand and great-grandchildren.

We must acknowledge that the enemy has developed itself, it is sophisticated and modernized as we have been warned by the founder of Ghana’s independence, former President Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, when he said in the book ‘Neo-colonialism: The Last Stages of Imperialism’: “The neo-colonialism of today represents imperialism in its final and perhaps its most dangerous stage.” He further defined neo-colonialism as: “The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.”

We are in that state where we are declared and pretentiously celebrated as independent and democratic States when in reality we do not have full claim to our sovereignty and authority. Our policies are systematically dictated by imperialist forces. We do not control our production, we do not regulate our markets and we are still deprived to actively participate in the main stream economy. Our micro and macroeconomic policies are set and regulated by imperialist institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Our politics are dictated by the five permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations in New York in their scrabble for Africa. We daily suffer the injustices of this game of thrones because as a result of propaganda, subversion and force we are made to believe that we are eternally indebt to our exploiters and oppressors! We are slaves to imperialism.

At the peril of capitalism and imperialism we suffer the most severe human injustices and atrocities – racism (pragmatically, systematically and institutionally), poverty, malnutrition, diseases and hopelessness. Institutions that are supposed to protect and aid us in this revolution are agents of capitalism and imperialism; they unashamedly participate in our exploitation, our suppression, division and ultimately destruction. Our education system does not sever our interests, it instead delivers us to master on a silver platter and we gladly pay for this transition. The law enforcement agencies occupy the responsibility of protecting the imperialists and capitalists from us. We are what they must tame and suppress – they are policing us from any rebellion against these entrenched enemies. The only tragedy they are securing us from is revolting against capitalism and imperialism.

Religious institutions have long abandoned the responsibility of being custodians of our morality. They are used as propaganda machinery to divide, confuse and subvert us. They have become criminal syndicates and networks to rob us every little dime, to rip us of our African morals and values, and to steal whatever little is left of our political consciousness and activity.

Taboo and calamity are normalised in churches. Our churches today are characterized by superstition, human exploitation and abuse, propaganda and complete immorality. Our sisters are raped, trafficked and abused by the men who parade themselves as pastors on church alters. Prophets have mastered the art of rigging havoc and sowing divisions amongst us through false prophecies that are based on senseless superstition.

The law is there to suppress us. Our constitutions, celebrated as they are, are Afro-phobic and xenophobic! Our judiciaries are racist in form and practice – they are dominated by white-supremacists who go at all ends to protect and defend white privilege and supremacy; traits of capitalism and imperialism. The courts are ran against us – we are arrested, charged, prosecuted and judge by capitalism and imperialism. Prejudice is the order of the day in our legal systems. We are held hostage and captive in a state of conformity by the very same law that is meant to shield us from the capitalist onslaught. We are still at the peril of the colonizers.

Government institutions are fuming with corruption, maladministration, compliancy and incompetence. Public resources are looted and squandered by the so called public servants and officials, while the facilities are left to absolute degradation and destruction. The public purse services the opulent lifestyles of government officials and their associates. The cost is billed to us, we bear the brunt of this insensitive industrial scale looting and corruption. The poor working class majority gets the largest share of the rotten pie. Imperialists and their capitalist forces and agents on the other hand are the biggest beneficiaries of our misfortune. Our resources and commodities are left to their exploitation. Our government officials have become imperialist agents and petty bourgeois; they do so without any remorse. You would swear that these officials know nothing about our struggle. It’s really hard to believe that most of them were freedom fighters who picked up arms against capitalism and imperialism just yesterday.

The state of our families as the nucleus of our African society is violent, depressing and hazardous. Our families are dominated by domestic violence, fatherlessness, alcohol and substance abuse. There’s miscommunication and very little inspiration in our homes. Our children’s dreams and imagination are limited by this violent state of our families. A state that is not inherent, but is as result of the very demons called capitalism and imperialism – it is the manifestation of their antagonisms that results in this state. Hence it is extremely important that our mobilizing and organizing begins within the households – we must mobilize our parents, siblings and relatives to organize themselves and actively participate alongside us in the Pan-Africanist Thuma Mina campaign.

I elude to these institutions to give a reflection of our society. The challenges in these institutions are nothing by a clear mirror image of our society and it challenges. After all, they are microcosms of society. In this reflection I was also displaying the extensiveness of imperialism and capitalism, and how deep they influence our daily lives. We are at their mercy as much as we are at their peril. We need to stand up and fight against this evil with all that we have. We must rid ourselves of their values. We must counter their propaganda and subversion. We must unite as young Africans to defend ourselves from imperialism and capitalism. They are our sworen enemy and we must wage war against the without restraint. A campaign like Thuma Mina must be used as our ammunition.

Now that we have defined the enemy that is responsible for our struggles, it is equally imperative that we provide some wisdom and intellect on measures to counteract. Mobilizing and organizing are, without doubt, the ultimate measures to be taken but the big questions are: What should be the centres of our mobilization and how do we organize? These questions are imperative to guide our cause in the right direction and there are no straight forward answers. However, I hope that we can be captured and agree on the light that I am about share in providing my subjective answers guided by the wisdom of our forebears.

We have surely, in my humble observation, mastered the art of mobilizing ourselves around what is antagonistic and divisive. We endlessly rent and rave about what is not fair to us. Our rhetoric and slogans are developed around what we find wrong with our societies without fair analysis and comprehension in most instances. There is absolutely nothing wrong with speaking and creating awareness about our societal-ills, but for us to win the war against capitalism and imperialism we must be far reaching. The proposal of possible solutions should be the centre of our mobilization. We must speak and articulate the society we envisage beyond the one we hate. Our rhetoric must flooded with possible methods to build that envisaged society.

Our organizing must be for construction purposes. We must organize ourselves in the construction of institutions that will service our needs and wants. Institutions that are centred on our core African values, ethics and morals. These institutions must have African blueprints in their form and practice. We must construct, own and labour them to serve humanity. They must benefit us.

We must organize ourselves for production – we must produce what we consume. Our resources must be exploited by us – we must produce, manufacture and consume them. We must regulate our own markets – be in full control of the exchange of our own commodities. We must trade amongst ourselves before we trade with rest of the world. We must organize ourselves for our own development, our own determination and emancipation. We must do it for Africa.

We have an Africa to build. Speaking about the African renaissance, the former President of The Republic of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, in his installation speech as Chancellor of the University of South Africa said: “For us citizens of Africa, of which South Africans are a component part, that renaissance means eradicating the legacy of centuries, and perhaps a millennium, of a demeaning European perception of Africa and Africans, as well as the stubborn material and subjective consequences of slavery, imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism. The eradication of that legacy necessarily means the corollary possibility to construct something new, such that, as Africans, we define ourselves according to our image, exercising our inalienable right to self-determination.”

This, simply put, means that the deconstruction of the current ill society can be successfully be achieved by the construction of a better one. Surely constructing is tedious, challenging and takes longer than deconstructing but it’s definitely worth it. This process of construction will require us to utilise all our skills, talents, intellect and energy. We must put our differences to good use as complements rather than substitutes that are there to divide us. We are a people rich with diversity and that must work to our advantage. We must use and participate in the Thuma Mina campaign as a construction campaign rather than an electioneering campaign and hence it is important to give it this Pan-Africanist outlook.

To the students like myself we must embrace and live the words of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe when he said in his speech on behalf of the graduating class at Fort Hare University in 1949: “You have seen by now what education means to us: the identification of ourselves with the masses. Education to us means service to Africa. In whatever branch of learning you are, you are there for Africa. You have a mission; we all have a mission. A nation to build we have, a God to glorify, a contribution clear to make towards the blessing of mankind. We must be the embodiment of our people’s aspirations. And all we are required to do is to show the light and the masses will find the way.” These words must be our oath to Africa, her sons and daughters.

We must pursue academic excellence for purposes far beyond privilege and prestige, we must do so for self-reliance and sustenance. Our education with its limitations is only as good as its contribution to our construction of a better society. Education must be a weapon that is used to find solutions to the many challenges we are confronted with. We should not just study for our individual selves but for Africa, its development and prosperity. Today we have access to formal education at a far better scale than our parents, access that, I must acknowledge, needs to be widened to accommodate all of us in this process to alleviate ignorance.

We must draw inspiration from the Fees Must Fall movement and keep fighting for access to education for our fellow African brothers and sisters who are, as a result of capitalism and imperialism, a majority of the working class population. This means that we must be willing to teach our fellow African brothers and sisters including our own parents who were denied the opportunity by imperialist forces. We must carry out that responsibility not as act of charity or as burden, but as an act of patriotism. We must make it fashionable to share knowledge amongst ourselves.

We must unite across all sectors of our education system – as learners, students (in TVETS colleges and Universities) and researchers we must come together and engage in projects of teaching one another in our various communities. We should be willing to stretch ourselves beyond the comfort of our campuses in reaching out to the masses with sole purpose of teaching and learning from them. We must do research on issues that affect our communities and offer practical, systematic and sustainable solutions. Our certificates should not just be passports to the exploitative labour market that continues to enhance the legacy of capitalism and imperialism, they must instead be golden tickets to the society we envisage – an innovative society, a safe society, a clean society, a healthy society, an educated society, a peaceful one and a society that is completely independent from imperialism and capitalism.

This process must also include a transfer of skills and hence it is important that all students must be on board, especially those in TVET colleges. To expedite and ensure an effective transfer of skills we must also engage in community projects that require physical labour. We be found labouring alongside our parents in communal farms especially in rural areas. We must be hands on when a school, a clinic, a library, a sports centre or/and a community hall is built – we must lend a hand. We must initiate and be in the forefront of projects and campaigns to clean our environment in our communities. We must promote hygiene and healthy lifestyles. This, I repeat, must be done out of nothing but upright patriotism.

It also important to pursue post-grad studies; research is very important. It a seriously massive weapon that we must master and put to good use. Knowledge is produced out of research and we must not just be knowledge consumers, we must also be producers of knowledge. Our education won’t be decolonised by imperialists agents on our behalf, we must decolonise it ourselves for ourselves. We need more and more African researchers and academics. We need more black professors, teachers and lecturers. Our education must be African in its content, pedagogy, language, epistemologies and values. We must ensure that the research and knowledge produced add significant value in our construction mission. Scientific research must capacitate us with proactive ways of responding to some of the prevalent challenges such as:

  • The harsh environmental and climatic conditions.
  • Endemic diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis.
  • Water scarcity.
  • Deforestation.
  • Energy shortages.

Our research must be extremely concerned with seeking solutions to the challenges that have become the reality of the poor working class African majority. It is through extensive research that we can take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the 4th industrial revolution for our benefit, not only as consumers but as competent innovators who contribute significantly in fields such as Artificial Intelligence and Big Data Analysis. Research is most certainly a fundamental instrument in this revolution.

We must value, participate in, produce and fund research; research that speaks to our commitment to construct a better society. We must celebrate, embrace, appreciate and honour African researchers, academics, lecturers, teachers and the entire African intelligentsia, especially the youth. This we must do, not for the sake of privilege and prestige, but in the total recognition and acknowledgement of the irrefutably significant role these learned African brothers and sisters have in helping us shape society. While we honour them, it is equally important to reach out and bring them closer to the masses so that they can shed light on solutions to the challenges confronting the masses, and mostly importantly to be an inspiration – our masses must aspire to be professors, researchers and academics. Research alongside education must be made fashionable.

Students, these are critical times that require enormous determination, sacrifice, focus, discipline and sweat. It can no longer be acceptable that the only value of education we see and emphasis is access to the exploitative labour market, excessive debt and funeral covers. Our education must pay a vital role in enabling us to build a desirable society as a legacy for our children and theirs. We need to ensure without failure that education is compulsory in whatever form it may take. We must live and breathe the Each One Teach One principle.

We need to be at loggerheads with solid constructive ideas to achieve this society under construction. In our exchange of ideas we must have upright rules of engagement that will enhance cohesion amongst us and the entire African society. We must be exemplary and inspirational in our conduct, approach and confrontation. We must be the source of hope for the poor working class African masses. Indeed a nation to build we have.

Lastly to my fellow student comrades, it important to note that without political education, our education is not complete. Political consciousness is also irrefutably fundamental to our cause of constructing the society we envisage. We must engage in political schools to equip ourselves with revolutionary and razor sharp tools of analysing and understanding our society. This means that we must be engaged in grass roots level political activities. This we must do with the absolute comprehension that this entire process of building the society we envisage is a political mission defined by nothing but our African identity. Political education must be compulsory for us all. I shall reemphasise and elaborate this matter of political education towards the conclusion of my lobbying.

Young African professionals also have crucial role to play. They, too, need to organize themselves in the sole purpose of serving Africa. We need their skills, traits and expertise to effectively construct a better Africa. They, too, must be brought closer to the masses. A large pool of our professionals is demobilized and unorganized in their exploited service to capitalism and imperialism. Brain drain is still alive and well in Africa today – our young professionals are largely poached by the exploitative private sector into intellectual slavery. Capitalism and imperialism are sustained by the exploitation and abuse of our very own professionals, who should be lending us a hand in finding sustainable solutions to our daily struggles. They’re certainly not to be blamed, but they must definitely be rescued from this calamity.

They must organize themselves and unionize. They must reach out to their communities with their skills, traits and expertise – we need them more the imperialists and capitalists do. We need our African psychologists and psychiatrists to be on the ground with us in the fight against depression and mental health. We need anthropologists, sociologists and behavioural scientists’ insight in dealing with the extensive scourge of violence in our society. We need them to assist us understand our hazardous addictions and habits, while the economists and accountants equip us with knowledge of whose financing those addictions and habits. We need our lawyers to defend and fight alongside us against the abusive use of law to suppress our voices, our action, our militancy and our being. We need our doctors to lend a patriotic hand in the fight against HIV/AIDS and the many diseases that continue to threaten our existence.

With these skilled and professional African sisters and brothers on our side we will wage a successful war against illicit financial outflows. We will triumph against debt. We need them to awaken from our economic slumber and stagnation. We need them to lend a hand in the construction of sustainable economic institutions out of the abandoned and unregulated markets in the townships and rural areas. We need their wisdom and expertise in taking control and full advantage of the emerging and existing industries and markets in our communities. They must patriotically guide us in safeguarding and expanding the rural and township economics.

Together with African entrepreneurs they must play an integral role in capacitating us to take full advantage of the economic opportunities that are present in our communities so that we are able to create and regenerate capital to invest in the manifestation of that society we are constructing. Entrepreneurs must be driven by the change they effect in society more than what they make out of it (society). Their success should not be blindly defined by registration of profit; it should be the innovative, positive and sustainable change they effect in society that should qualify them as successful. It is how accessible their services and products are to the masses that must qualify them as thriving and successful entrepreneurs. The prescription of this is that they participate in the process of finding solutions in the daily bread and butter challenges confronting the African masses. Entrepreneurship must be regarded and appreciated as the highest form of activism. We need young African entrepreneurs to be part and puzzle of this Thuma Mina campaign.

We also need journalists, authors, writers and cultural activists to be on our side. They, too, must use and express their talents and skills by authentically and progressively narrating our daily lived experiences. This narration must not be allergic to our victories and milestones. It must speak of our determination, commitment and conviction to overcome the many challenges confronting us. In their renditions, they must reaffirm our confidence to stand together, firm as upright people, in fighting against systems established to threaten our existence.

They must dramatize and cinematize our stories of courage, triumph and heroism. Through their talents our heroes and heroines must be unapologetically remembered, embraced and celebrated. Their subjective account of our experiences must be a beacon of hope and affirmation of our unshaking commitment to rid ourselves of imperialist and capitalist degenerate values.

In their recitation of art, they must help us conquer this contestation of history as warriors. Their writings must, without reservation, defend and insulate us against the propaganda that we are merely observers and objects of history. Our names must be recited amongst those who make and record history. They must ensure that the mainstream accommodates our successes more than it floods our failures. Our differences must not be exploited to divide us and register profit. Our differences must be embraced as an advantage for our exploitation in this construction process.

The media must streamline the various projects that we proactively engage in to contribute towards the welfare of the masses and the betterment of society without extortion. Our African music, artistry and drama must be streamlined for our support, consumption and enjoyment. Social media must be a weapon of social mobilization. Ideas of our national agenda of constructing a better Africa must be unapologetically popularized on social media. We must revolutionize our social media spaces with content that speaks about our African identity as a glorious and rugged identity.

The youth in the religious fraternity must intensify the war against the use of religion to propagate propaganda, to subvert and abuse. We must firmly resist the de-mobilization that is facilitated through religious institutions. We must stand up and speak-out against the demonization of African values, traditions and customs. Our religious subscriptions and practices must not deny us our begotten right to define and identify ourselves as Africans in all forms of our existence.

We are Africans first before we are of a particular religion, we should not be made to choose between the two, but should it happen that we are made, for whatever reason, to choose, we should be decisive and resolute in being Africans. We must, tirelessly, fight against the exaggerated use of superstition to dehumanize and violate our human rights. We must viciously fight against cannibalism, human sacrifices, rape and any form of human abuse practiced in the name of religion.

Religion must be used as aid for our mobilization. The morals and values we inherit from religion must never negate our Africanism, instead they must complement our African values and morals. They must be morals and values that add significant value in our process of nation building. Our shrines, mosques and churches must recognize themselves as mass assembly points concerned with the challenges confronting the immediate communities they exist in. They must feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked and actively participate overseeing the welfare of society.

Religion must inspire and rally us towards finding solutions to our daily struggles rather than falsely regarding itself as an infallible safe heaven. This is an institution that must be used to combat the persistent moral decay as opposed to perpetuating it. Through our religious congregations and practices we must be afforded the opportunity to mobilize and organize ourselves for the realisation of a better Africa. We can no longer allow religion to be divisive and oppressive. We must cleanse it of inhuman beliefs and practices. It must add value to humanity and the world.

In conclusion, it’s extremely important that I rehash and reemphasise the vital necessity of political consciousness in this process constructing of a better Africa. We need to comprehend that we are in a political undertaking that has political implications  and objectives. We need to engage in political education to arm ourselves with the tools of analysing and understanding of our current society and the transition that we must undergo towards the Africa we envisage. Our political consciousness must go beyond narrow and  petty partisan politics. It is our political education that must grant us the vigour and zeal to unite, mobilize and organize ourselves to radicalize and revolutionize Africa. It is this education that must capacitate us with the ability to seize historical moments to define clear and resolute political agendas that must meet our unwavering urgency to champion unemployment, poverty and inequality in Africa.

Our political engagements and activities should be practical and sustainable. The time to prolong monologues, dialogues and debates is gone, our politics must marshal us into organized and constructive action. We must cleanse our political spaces of the stubborn patriarchy, power mongering, toxic factionalism and any form of unnecessary violence. Political consciousness must put us one step ahead, not derail us into endless and sometimes senseless deconstructive contestations. We must disassociate ourselves from the destruction of public property; our political activity must be absolutely constructive. It must keep our morale of building a better society high and rejuvenated. We all have a role to play, an effort to make and ideas to contribute, politics must afford us that space.

We must keep pushing for youth representation and involvement in the composition of our political leadership in all the existing and emerging political structures and organizations. The voices of the youth must not mute, they must be amplified. Beyond ambition we must be driven by conviction, determination and commitment to a better Africa in our advocacy to be represented in the construction and effecting of policies governing our countries. We must continue to fight for seats in our parliaments, government institutions, in the judiciary, the African multilateral institutions and all the institutions that influence our society. This we should do, not for privilege and prestige but to effect the change we want to see.

The young African public servants who find themselves across all levels of government must serve the nation with distinction, honesty and integrity. They must refuse to be captured into corrupt practices that are characterized by incompetence, negligence and looting of state resources. We need them to be whistle blowers. In servicing and serving the nation they must do so guided by African values of Ubuntu and Batho Pele. They have a responsibility to restore people’s confidence in public institutions that cater for the welfare of the people.

It is absolutely clear at this point that the Thuma Mina campaign is far beyond party politics, and we all need to take advantage of this campaign to effect positive change in our African society. We are being send to the polls to exercise our democratic and constitutional right to choose the right representatives to govern us. We are being send to combat voter apathy. We are being sent to fight against corruption. We are send to reunite, mobilize and organize the African masses against the original fight against imperialism and capitalism, all its manifestations and antagonisms in our society.

Thuma Mina is a pledge, a commitment to a better Africa that we must make and uphold. The author, Ntate Hugh Masekela, upheld that commitment until his last breath. We must draw inspiration from his life more we do from his song. Thuma Mina is most definitely not the ultimate answer to our struggle but it is surely a step in the right direction. Let us zealously raise our fists of conviction up high and say ”Africa Thuma Mina!”

 

Kefentse Mkhari,
Former Wits SRC President.

I am African Polygamous Man

I recently expressed my stance for polygamy in social media spaces and it culminated into a debate amongst my followers and friends on Facebook and WhatsApp. I then took a decision to write this article to explain in full detail why think polygamy is a progressive practice. Throughout this article I will be expressing my views drawing inspiration from the historical practice of polygamy especially in the African society, the Christian religion and the socio-economic challenges confronting the African family unit as building block of society. I will also interrogate the concept of cheating vs polygamy and lastly, I will respond to some of the counter arguments expressed by my followers and friends in social media spaces.

Polygamy comes in two forms: Polygyny and polyandry. Polygyny is when a man marries multiple wives and polyandry is when a woman marries multiple husbands. I have deliberately confined my definitions to marriage because that is what I seek to write on. We are more familiar with polygyny than polyandry and hence throughout this article I will be speaking about the former more than the latter as my reference to polygamy.

Polygamy was a normal practice in many African cultures and traditions. It was normal for a man to marry multiple wives. In fact it was a respectable practice. African men in accounting for their wealth they would include the size of their families including the number of wives they had. It was not a surprise to find a man married to more than one wife neither was it a taboo to be married to one. Our grand and great-grandparents embraced and exercised this practice and they did it so well.  

They were responsible for their wives and their children. They had to keep the family together, united, peaceful in harmony and strive for its prosperity. They respected their wives and their wives respected them. Love compulsory to keep the family intact. The love that the men showed and expressed to their wives more often than not resulted in the wives cohabiting in harmony as sister wives. That added significant value in the expansion and the prosperity of the family.

Even in the Christian religion polygamy is not a taboo. There’s no where in the bible where this progressive practice is explicitly condemned. Great prominent men who were highly favoured by God like Abraham, Jacob, King David and Solomon were polygamous and that did not tamper with their relationship with God. According to 1st Kings 11 verse 3, we learn that the wisest king, King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. King Solomon and his father, King David, were not condemned by the Lord for practicing polygamy but for disobeying God’s commands and injections. King David became out of favour with God because he committed murder and took Uriah’s only wife. King Solomon disobeyed the Lord by marrying women outside his kingdom. He married from kingdoms that the Lord had declared the Israelites shall not marry into, and as result of that he started worshipping other gods which was a huge disobedience to the Lord. In fact the number of wives and children these fellows had should be accounted for as part and puzzle of the Lord’s favour and the wealth He had bestowed upon them.

Many argue that, ‘but why did God create only one Eve for Adam if He allowed polygamy?’ My counter argument is that God commanded us to “be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth” (Genesis 9:7). This speaks to the process of reproduction which requires the mating of a male and female. The creation of Eve is therefore more about reproduction than it is about marriage and hence cannot be used as a qualification for Christianity’s views on polygamy. However there’s no clear stance on this issue in the bible, in fact there seems to be a debate on this matter with contrasting views on the qualification of marriage in the bible. I strongly believe that these men would never find favour with the Lord as those amongst his loyal servants if he was against polygamy.

Some experts and historians suggest that polygamy was practiced because women were subjugated and the patriarchal order of society did not allow them to fend for themselves. They were not allowed to go school and eventually work jobs that would allow them to provide for themselves and their families. Men were the soul providers for their families and hence women seemed to be more open to the idea of polygamy. They were better off being married into a polygamous setting than being slaves or sex workers.

Although patriarchy was eminent in the African society, men were not regarded as the soul providers; women had their roles to play as co-providers to ensure the welfare and prosperity of the family. For instance, men would go hunting while women would be found in the farms ploughing and gathering the food produced for their families. On market days, there would be more women trading in market places and the proceeds were used to provide for their families. These women as co-providers still respected and regarded their husbands as the head of the house and would do everything to support their husbands to ensure the wellbeing of their families.

As I have already mentioned that the size of a man’s family was accounted for as part of his wealth and so men married more wives for the expansion of their families. A man was also attributed respect based on the size of his family and the number of wives he had. He was even more respected if his huge family was peaceful, united and prosperous. Such a man would be regarded as a leader and more often he would occupy a prominent position in society. Kings and chiefs also practiced polygamy and that was amongst the things that gave them prominent stature in their kingdoms and communities.

Now let’s analyse the African family unit currently against the historical perspective we have outlined above. Today there are many broken families without fathers not because of just death but because these fathers are just not willing to take responsibility and be present in their children’s lives. Alike in the past most men no longer see honor is having more children and bigger families. However, most of them are keen to engage in sexual activities with multiple women but are not man enough to be accountable and responsible of the consequences which includes fathering children to different mothers.

We know the extent of challenges that come with absent fathers and the heavy burdens that single mother carry on their shoulders raising children on their own. I would contend that our forefathers were more man than we could ever be because they understood and embraced the importance of being present in all their children’s lives and their mothers regardless of their number. They were responsible for the mothers and their children. For me, that’s leadership beyond doubt.

Today children lack role models because fathers abandon them and their mothers in harsh conditions that results in them resorting to things like crime, prostitution and cheap labour just fend for themselves and their mothers. Beyond broken families, the phenomenon of absent fathers contributes to the deepening socio-economic challenges – poverty, inequality, crime and unemployment. Fathers need to take responsibility for their children like our forefathers, and polygamy can be a vehicle they use to ensure  presence in their children’s and their mother’s lives. A child raised by both parents is better off than that one raised by a single parent.

It is also worth noting that society is more welcoming of cheating in relationships. People would often say: “people cheat and there’s nothing one can do about it. It’s okay to cheat as long as I don’t get to know about it.” I contend that this is an acknowledgement that we, especially men, are polygamous and it’s okay to be as long as it is done in secret. That’s absolutely absurd especially because most of us are not willing to take responsibility of the repercussions of this deceitful act of cheating. Mothers are subjected to the burden of raising their children on their own while children are unfairly titled as “bastards” because their biological fathers are happily married elsewhere or are just absent. It’s worth mentioning that even in a polygamous marriage cheating can take place however in most cases the men end up marrying these maidens they cheat with, which is the manly thing to do because that is taking responsibility duly.

In the African society, if you were to impregnate a woman you were forced to marry them regardless of you being married to another woman. I think this practice was progressive and it anticipated the gross challenges of fatherlessness and the burden of mothers raising children on their own. If you make a baby you must be enforced to raise them as a present father. It cannot be that you want to indulge in sexual activities with multiple women but you are not willing to take responsibility for the outcomes. If you impregnate a woman, you must being willing to marry her – period! No man should bear the burden of raising another man’s child while that man is still alive, well and not in prison. Polygamy therefore, will assist in dealing with some of these challenges for as long as it is not viewed as an immoral act as it is.

I want to conclude by touching on some of the arguments I encountered from friends and followers. Many argue, especially women, that it is immoral to have sex with multiple people all at once – a fair argument. However, as mentioned above that people are already engaging in sexual activities with multiple partners yet they are not willing to take full responsibility for the consequences of their actions especially in cases where a child is conceived.

Many say: “You cannot claim to love me and have sex with someone else.” Sex is not a determining factor for love and love is not a prerequisite for sex. It’s like cheating, people do it regardless of the love they have for their spouses. Polygamy unlike casual sex and cheating is more often a process of that includes love and emotional attachment between the spouses. People usually say that you cannot love more than one person at once. I don’t believe that – you can love as many people as you like. Yes you love others more than others but love can’t be confined to one person. To commit yourself to marriage it means that there are strong feelings involved.

The last thing I want to touch on is the concept of polyandry and polyamory. Most people have asked for my thoughts on these two concepts. Ideologically and principally I am not opposed to them, however given the fact that males are more dominant in size and less in number they are not practically sustainable. Naturally, dominant sexes are the ones that mate with more partners than the less dominant ones. There are many scientifically proven reasons for this which I won’t mention here. There are more men than women and therefore if more women were to engage in polyandry, there would be an excess of women without husbands which makes polyandry unsustainable. Polygyny is not about equalization or finding an equilibrium but given the scientific and demographic orientation of the human species it’s more sensible than the other two concepts. As I said I am not against polyandry and polyamory, I just believe that they are not sustainable scientifically and otherwise.

Polygamy is not an immoral act. It is progressive and safe. It is sustainable and should be practiced without shame. In fact, like in the African context I believe polygamy is some form of leadership. A man who can keep his wives together under one roof living in harmony and take responsibility for all his children by being present in their lives is a leader – an exceptional one. I believe in polygamy, more specifically, polygyny. I am an African polygamous man without shame or any fear.

Kefentse Mkhari,

Former Wits SRC Presidents

 

DECOMMODIFY TO RESOLVE FOOD INSECURITY

Food insecurity is a deepening and widening problem in South Africa and the entire African continent. This is a problem that affects mostly the African poor working class majority across the entire continent. It is a challenge that is sustained by the perpetually widening politico-socio-economic challenges suffered by the continent. While this article will focus on food insecurity among university students in South Africa, it’s extremely important to characterize and contextualize this problem on a continental scale to emphasize the scale of the problem and more significantly, to reiterate the fact that universities and institutions of higher learning and training are microcosms of society. Therefore, the challenges they face are that of the general societies they exist in. This contextualize is extremely important for this article to fully and effectively achieve its purpose.

Recently the Western Cape Province hosted a National Colloquium on Access to Food for Students and dreadful shocking statistics pointed out to how students are severe victims of food insecurity in various campuses. It was revealed that at least 30% of university students suffer severe food insecurity across various campuses in the country. This statistic is about 4 percentage points more than the average percentage of the South African population that is food insecure. This is truly an embarrassing statistics to live with and it must be challenged at all cost.

As a former student representative in varsity I have first-hand experience of this crisis of food insecurity from a personal level as victim, and from the experience of those I was representing in the Student Representative Council (SRC) and other structures and bodies I led in. Throughout this article I will be intensively articulating this problem (food insecurity among the student populace), the depth of it consequences, why it exists and more importantly, I will be proposing proactive measures that can be taken to battle this challenge. Since it is already established beyond reasonable doubt that this a societal problem, throughout my advocacy I will be focusing on all relevant stakeholders of society and the role I think is necessary for each of us to play to collectively and proactively combat this inclining crisis.

Students from the poor working class backgrounds are the most affected by food insecurity as result of being unable to afford essentially the cost of living in universities and the geographical areas they are located. All of major universities are located in major cities where the cost of living is more expensive than the in rural and township areas that most of these students are originally from. It therefore becomes almost impossible for those students to survive and fit in in those settings without being subjected to indignifying gross human conditions. The cost of accommodation in those particular cities is extremely expensive, the cost of mobility is high, the cost of food is on a perpetual incline, and even tuition fees are extremely exorbitant. For a poor African child from a rural area or a township who, by the way, in most cases happens to be the first to access the doors of higher education and training, all of this is absolutely unaffordable!

It is worth noting that the existing funding and financial assistance mechanisms for students, in particular those from working class backgrounds, are inadequate and in many instances perpetuate the problem. It no surprise that the SA-UK research chairperson in Social Protection for Food Security, Dr. Stephen Devereux, eluded to how the inadequacies and failures of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) largely contribute to the existing food insecurity among students (who mostly happen to its beneficiaries) at the colloquium. This is nothing short of the truth, and I will point out some these failures and inadequacies in the next few paragraphs. NSFAS is not the only existing financial aid mechanism; we also have bursaries, scholarships and student loans. However, I will focus largely on NSFAS because at the moment “free education” is implemented and facilitated through it. This however, does not suggest in anyway or form that the other mechanisms are perfect and ideal – I will also touch of some of their flaws.

For my criticism to make optimal sense and achieve its constructive purpose it is extremely important that I briefly explain the funding composition of institutions of higher education and training. Universities are funded by the state through government subsidies, corporates through the compensation they pay for the research produced for them, bursaries, scholarships and donations, and lastly, students through the tuition fees they are charged. These funding streams enjoy an inversely proportional relationship – you decrease one, the other ones must increase to maintain and sustain the optimal functionality of institutions of higher education and training. Over the past two decades government spending on higher education and training has be on a decline; subsidies kept decreasing. Therefore, more burden fell on the students and corporate, of which corporate contribution did not increase to fill up the gap and hence as result students essentially had to carry that burden through the continuous tuition fee increments in universities and colleges. This of course, fuelled the demand for free education – Fees Must Fall is clear evidence. Free education was eventually pronounced on but not necessarily implemented (a serious debate for another day).

This burden of students having to fill the gap created by the decreasing government subsidies subjected them to the most horrible and indignifying varsity experiences. More and more students became victims of homelessness, food insecurity, academic and financial exclusion, depression and anxiety. Some have even committed suicides as result of these horrible experiences. It became a norm for students to sleep in libraries, computer labs, to be illegal squatters and hobos. The situation became so bad that some students even fell victim to exploitative transactional relationships – literally sold their bodies just to survive on campus. You can only imagine how difficult is to meet you academic obligations without basic and essential needs such as food, shelter, toiletries and in most cases sanitary pads. It is almost impossible to successfully meet those obligations – that is the life of a poor African students from a working class background in this country. This is the exact reason why the academic success rate among African students is so low; it is not because they are academically incapable and disinterested in education as others would boldly claim.

A large portion of these students are beneficiaries of NSFAS but because NSFAS is a failing and disorganized scheme, students are not protected from these severe challenges, instead it perpetuates the problem. Students receive their application statuses late and if few are lucky to get their application outcomes on time, their tuition fees and allowances will either not be paid or be delayed. This is the norm with NSFAS. The problem became worse in 2016 when the scheme adopted and started implementing the Student Centred model that stripped off universities the NSFAS offices that assisted with the administration of the scheme and become centralised in Cape Town at its headquarters. This meant that all student applications in the country were to be processed at its headquarters. This reactionary haphazard move resulted in a quagmire that the scheme is still battling to recover from.

The scheme did not have the necessary capacity to deal with the number of applications it received systemically and physically. It was shorted staffed and did not have any appropriate systems to process the student applications. This resulted in complete chaos that threatened the entire higher education sector – students did not receive their application outcomes on time or at all, institutions did not receive funding allocations on time and the Department of Higher Education and Training did not receive sufficient and honest reports on what was going with regards to those applications and allocations. As student representatives together with universities through the South African Union of Students (SAUS) and Universities South Africa (USAf), we spent the entire 2017 playing cat and mouse with NSFAS. Although I am no longer in the SRC but I am quite sure that that is still the case even this year. Hence, the suspension of applications for funding did not come as a surprise to some of us, because we know that the scheme is a mess!

Let me broaden the scope in furthering displaying why NSFAS is inadequate and keeps failing. It is overtly clear from onset that there are serious governance and administration challenges in the scheme that are accompanied by maladministration, complicacy, compliancy and gross corruption with complete impunity. The governors and administrators of the scheme are not held accountable for these failures and inadequacies – this is probably why the scheme is not improving from its ICU status. NSFAS suffers a similar status as most of our stated own enterprises (SOEs), the only difference is that it is not making headlines at the same scale as its co-patients (SOEs).

The other stumbling block is the undemocratic and absolute autonomy enjoyed by our public universities. Universities autonomously set the cost of studying without any regulation. By this I mean the cost of studying in any public university is unilaterally decided upon by that particular university. That is why the cost of studying differs per institution and there seems to be no sensible correlation in these differing costs of studying. For instance, the cost of a BSc degree at Wits University is three times the cost of a similar degree at the University of Limpopo. Now the main challenge with this is that NSFAS has the same funding cap for students regardless of which institution there are in, and hence its funding is not sufficient to cover fees for students in most universities in the country, especially the historical white universities such Wits, UCT, UP, Stellenbosch and so forth. So in essence, NSFAS has no real tangible target to meet in it terms of its funding obligations – it is chasing a moving target.

So essentially, besides students having to wait for their application status outcomes and living allowances, they also have to worry about the shortfall to fully cover the cost of their studies. This is one of the major reasons why we have many students continuously financially excluded as result of historical debts. The enormous amount of student debt flooding the higher education sector is a result of this phenomenon (NSFAS being unable to foot the entire bill of studying). Obviously this deepens the challenge of food insecurity and all the complementary challenges that make the experience of students in university horrific.

This phenomenon also affects students on bursaries offered by private companies. More and more bursaries are finding it difficult to keep up with the cost of studying especially in historically white universities and as result, they become partial instead of full bursaries. So students in the process of trying to cover the shortfall they end up sacrificing essentials such as proper accommodation, food and study materials (textbooks, stationary, necessary gadgets, etc.). In essence, students are at the peril of the undemocratic and absolute autonomy enjoyed by universities. It is therefore correct to say universities are also at the centre of perpetuating the inhuman conditions endure by students, including food insecurity.

This can also be seen in the extremely expensive rental rates they charge to vendors operating on campuses, which consequentially makes the food sold on campuses relatively expensive and unaffordable. Even the food sold in the cafeterias and dining halls for students residing in internal catered residences is also expensive. The only saving grace for these students is the fact that as result of them being accepted and residing in those residences, they don’t purchase the food cash; the cost is charged in their student accounts. However, taking into account the phenomenon (NSFAS and bursaries unable to foot the entire bill) articulated above, most these students form part of the statistics of students who suffer financial exclusion as a result of enormous historical debts. In fact my experience as student representative tells me that this particular food cost is the largest contributor to historical debts after accommodation. Universities are evidently also guilty in contributing to this crisis with absolute impunity.

It is clear that the fundamental problem underpinning this crisis is the COMMODIFICATION OF EDUCATION! The solution therefore, is the antithesis – DECOMMODIFICATION OF EDUCATION! In the remaining paragraphs of this article I will be proposing measures that can be taken to decommodify education and how that will directly resolve this food insecurity crisis among the students. This process of decommodify education is one that should involve the government, institutions of higher education and training, students, corporate South Africa, non-profitable organizations and civil society. In essence, all of us working together. Education is and should be seen, appreciated and embraced as public good that we are all be responsible for.

Let’s start with the government. The government has, as result of the efforts of the students engaging in a rugged tireless struggle of demanding free higher education that was sustained for more than two decades through movements like Fees Must Fall, finally pronounced on free higher education and training. While I welcome and appreciate this move by the government, I am equally disappointed and frustrated by the fact this announcement was made haphazardly without any implementation strategy. Even worse, it seems like there’s very little effort dedicated to the construction of one besides shelving the matter to the already inadequate and failing NSFAS – a disastrous move that will eventually reverse the gains made by the students. It is as if there are deliberate intentions to sabotage free higher education so as to maintain status core.

If the government is serious about the implementation of free higher education and training it will construct, develop and adopt a concrete implementation strategy beyond NSFAS. This shouldn’t be difficult and in fact should have been done from onset. It is clearly irresponsible and somewhat irrational to pronounce on something you don’t have a strategic plan of implementation for – it’s utterly ludicrous! Over the years many relevant stakeholders, including students, have proposed and submitted to government how free higher education can be implemented – robust and progressive proposals. The government can simply take one or two of those proposals, further develop them and then adopt them as a concrete implementation strategy. For as long as there’s no concrete free higher education and training implementation strategy we have not started decommodify education and therefore, combating these indignifying horrific challenges experienced by students in the higher education sector including food insecurity. We need an implementation strategy and fast!

Part of the strategy should include, inter-alia, the regulation and standardisation of university costs. The undemocratic and absolute autonomy enjoyed by institutions of higher learning and training must be challenged especially and particularly in public universities and colleges. These are public institutions and it is completely unacceptable for them to operate like private institutions with absolute autonomy in decision making – it is wrong and must be fixed! I can already hear some of you saying but institutions of higher education and training are governed by the Higher Education Act and you are quite correct. It is the very same Higher Education Act that asserts and encourages their autonomy on the basis of academic freedom and separations powers. Academic freedom should indeed be protected at all cost, however, the abuse of power exercised by public universities as result of the autonomy they enjoy should be combated. That can only be achieved by limiting the autonomy they enjoy. The state must dictate, in the interest of the people, essential things such as the cost of studying in all public universities. Of course consultations are essential in determining that cost, but the state should have final say.

Universities should also contribute to this process of decommodifying education by aborting their modus operandi of commercializing education. Public universities in this country are ran like private businesses – they prioritize profit more than their sole mandate of educating the nation and providing academic solutions in the interest of the society (South Africa and the continent) they exist in. Our public universities are extremely unconcerned about the general wellbeing of students on their campuses. Whether students are hungry, homeless, unsafe, depressed or not, is none of their business. They seem interested in one thing and one thing only – have fees been paid up? If they are not, students are kicked like dogs without taking into consideration the factors that have resulted in those students failing to foot the bill. They don’t care how good your grades are, for as long as you cannot foot the bill you are out.

Taking into consideration the broader context of our society, its history and the socio-economic challenges it faces, it is completely irreconcilable how our public institutions of higher education and training are allowed to cruelly and insensitively commercialize education – it beats me! Even when you interrogate their research output, a large bulk of it is produced for and sold to multinational private corporations and companies; it not produced for society. We have the best universities in the continent located in this country. However, when you look at the wildly deepening socio-economic challenges that we are subject to you would swear Wits University, the University of Cape Town, UP, UJ and the University of Stellenbosch are not on our soil. What is the purpose of having these beautiful and extremely good universities if a large bulk of our academically eligible and capable students cannot access, and if they are lucky to be granted that access they find it difficult to succeed all because of this extensive commercialize of a basic and essential right enshrined in the constitution (education)? This gross commercialization is not aiding us, it is in fact perpetuating the problems students and the youth in general are facing in this country. It must be disowned with urgency!

Preemptively, I can already see university officials and agents gearing up into defence mode to deny these facts. Most will respond by saying: “This not true, we engage in extensive fundraising initiatives to financially assist students. We also partake in projects that are aimed at ensuring students’ wellbeing on our campuses such as food-banks.” My experience at varsity and as student representative tells me that all those initiatives are not inherent and are usually carried out as burdens that is sometimes regarded as an interference with the academic obligations and operations.

Furthermore, they are as result of the students’ persuasion through tireless robust engagements with university management and in some instances (if not most) protest. Student leaders and representatives are continuously engaged in dialogues with universities trying to remind them that their sole existence is not to make profit and milk the students. A role that students must never get tired of playing, they must continue persuading these universities to concern themselves with the welfare and being of the students.

On innumerable occasions students seeking assistance from the universities students’ affairs offices are referred to the SRC offices, knowing very well that the SRC has not been equipped with the capacity to sufficiently and effectively provide aid to those students. But because of the inherent resilience and determination of student representatives, a plan is always made for most of those students. I cite this fact as more evidence that universities are primarily not concerned and interested in the students’ wellbeing.

Beyond this commendable and phenomenal job we are doing as students, we must unite ourselves across and against all divisive lines – political party affiliations, racial lines, gender and the class backgrounds we come from – in resolving these challenges that continuously threaten our wellbeing. We must collectively engage in initiatives that will add value to our general wellbeing such as: fundraising initiatives, food-banks, sanitary pads drives, food gardens, etc. I am well aware and acknowledge the fact that some of these initiatives are already in place and it is students who are in the driving seat. However, it is important to make a clarion call to all students in their diversity to get involved and engage in such. It must not be seen as only the role of the SRC, political student formations, student governors and representatives; it should be a collective responsibility that all students proactively fulfil without fail – all of us!

In the process of mobilising and organizing ourselves for this task as the student populace we must build strategic and tactical alliances with various stakeholders (government departments, private sector, NGOs, civil society, etc.), both domestically and internationally. We must partake in the establishment of a national education endowment fund that will source investments, sponsors and donors from all over the world to assist and support students financially and otherwise – we must lead that initiative.

Furthermore, we must be highly interested and engaged in influencing the national policies and legislature in our favour. I am extremely worried and concern witnessing us not proactively participating and taking charge of the current land debate in the country when we suffer such severe homelessness due to lack of affordable accommodation. It is my view that we should be independently engaged in robust debates on this matter. We should have consolidated views and be among those currently making submissions and presentations in parliament. After all are the legitimate heirs of this country and all that comes with it, and therefore, we should be extremely concerned and engaged in shaping its future.

It is also not enough for private sector to be investing in education just through bursaries and scholarships; more concrete contributions should be made. The private sector is the primary beneficiary of our higher education and training; it produces a large bulk of their human capital and resource through the graduates it produces. However, when measuring that against what they contribute it does not make any explicable sense.

The private sector should be willing and legislatively enforced to invest optimally in our education as whole. They should invest in its infrastructure development, human capital, capacitating the entire system and ensuring it is accessible. It is simply not enough for these private institutions to pick a few individuals they are interested in and fund them for their studies without comprehensively concerning themselves with the state of the institutions that must manufacture them into the desirable final products for their exploitation.

They must, amongst other things, in collaboration with government invest in construction of student villages to aid with the dreadful accommodation crisis suffered by students. In first world countries universities coexist with top notch student villages that add significant value to the day-to-day functionality of those institutions. The other desirable benefit of student villages is the potential economy that can arise from them. Students generally don’t sleep, which means there’s a potential 24/7 economy that could emerge and boom with construction of student villages. An economy that can be optimally expanded and reinvested back into the education in various forms.

Universities themselves must also take charge of this initiative, of course, without thinking profit but consciously having the welfare students in their minds. This will also assist in addressing the question of safety for students and that can also come with the ripple effects of massification and broadening access. By this I mean, we can also explore engaging in night lectures; 24/7 lectures in an effective safe space with a 24/7 functional economy – how beautiful is that? This is what will constitute real invest in our education by private sector.

Lastly, NGOs and civil society must support and contribute to this cause. They must be willing and ready to be part and puzzle of the strategic and tactical alliances that will add significant value in resolving the challenges faced by students and ultimately contribute to the greater objective of decommodify education. They must join hands by offering human and financial resources, whatever expertise and capital at their disposal.

Defining the purpose of education, Julius Kambarage Nyere says: “That purpose (of education) is to transmit from one generation to the next the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of the society, and to prepare the young people for their future membership of the society and their active participation in its maintenance or development.” That gorgeous definition bestows upon all of us a responsibility to collectively work together to ensure our education is at par to fully fulfil its defined purpose.

It is evidently clear at this point that food insecurity among the students is just a symptom of the extensive commodification of education, and therefore, by decommodifying education we will inherently be addressing this major challenge (food insecurity among students) and all the symptoms that accompany it. While to many this may sound too idealistic and extremely ambitious, with our collective will, effort and determination it’s high possible. Each one of us just needs to play their active role. I need not remind you that democracy in this country was an ideal that many paid and were prepared to pay the ultimate price (death) for, but today we are living that ideal as reality. This ideal (decommodified education) can also become a reality enjoyed if not by us, our children and theirs. It not yet uhuru, let’s continue building.

Aluta Continua!!!

 

Kefentse Mkhari

Former Wits SRC President