Saturday, September 24, 2016

Fees Must Fall

First things first, I finally got myself to tell other people about this blog. The response has been great so thank you to everyone who is reading, if you enjoy reading the stuff I write please check in every week or so, I should have a new post. Or you could just do me a solid and follow the blog so you don’t have to keep checking even when there’s no new content. If you could comment on each post and let me know what you think, that would be really cool. Moving on to serious matters…. #FeesMustFall

I’m really not writing this just because I want to leave early for home this year (last year I only got to go home on the 15th of December, ten days before Christmas). I realize that writing about such a hot issue is a bit risky because I may step on more than a few toes but I’m hoping the damage won’t be too much since I’m so dainty and slight (lol! I’m anything but).

Last year universities across South Africa stood in solidarity and protested tuition and accommodation fee increases (I think somehow we forgot to add free textbooks!) and we got what we wanted. There was a 0% increase in fees going from 2015 to 2016. Those who had budgeted for the fee increase used the extra cash to go on holiday (that is if you booked your flight and things before the president pulled the prime minister stunt). However, the battle hasn’t been won since we’ll most definitely be seeing fee increases going into 2017 and we’re once again protesting fee increases in 2016.

Source: HNGN

The Fees Must Fall movement was not just about the 2016 fees hike, it was (and still is) about realizing affordable tertiary education while we are waiting for tertiary education to be free. Ultimately the movement is about free tertiary education within (or in, English is not my mother tongue) our lifetime, right? I could be wrong about this, if I am let me know. Although there was a Stellenbosch Bonfiire question centered around how tertiary education should be funded (I entered and got zero likes! :( I have been nursing my bruised ego since, kidding), there has been very limited discussion on how free tertiary education will be funded so the assumption is that the government will do it (I want to snort at this assumption, but I’m a lady, dainty and slight so I won’t do it).

So let me try and put things into perspective. The life expectancy in South Africa is around 57 years, since we want free education within (or in) our life time it means we want free tertiary education in the next 30 odd years, right? This implies two things:
  1. In the next 30 odd years the government should be able to tell left and right apart. This means that unemployment numbers will have improved, inequality reduced, economic growth and development realized, that public employees live like public employees and not kings and more importantly that the government budget will be in an immaculate condition.
  2. Most importantly, it implies that we will be better leaders than those in power. By being part of the Fees Must Fall movement we all individually commit ourselves to doing a better job at managing the country and providing for the poor.

While I agree with the goals/aims of Fees Must Fall and I agree that protesting is necessary to get your point across (because management seems to think one is not serious enough until you protest) I have a question or two. 1) are we going to protest every year for the next 30 years until free education is realized? 2). Are current protests against fee increase for 2017? 3). If current protests are against the fee increases going into 2017, how is this fee cut going to be made up for?

Let me talk straight and personal for a paragraph (was going to say minute but since this is text paragraphs seems more fitting). I’m one of nine children, I come from a beautiful rural area that is somewhere on the side of the road somewhere in KZN and there is no way I would have made it to university without a bursary (#Vodacom for life, don’t start the #dataMustFall conversation with me), so more than anyone I understand and vouch for the Fees Must Fall movement.

I will now proceed with the stepping on toes

However, as much as I am for the Fees Must Fall movement I don’t think that a 0% fee increment for the next however many years is realizable because more than a third of South Africa’s population is situated in rural areas. These are areas that are largely underdeveloped and are in need of government TLC. You’ll be surprised at the number of places that still don’t have electricity in South Africa, the number of areas that don’t have running water, and whole communities that don’t have schools (both primary and secondary school) and health facilities (clinics and hospitals) and these are all issues and challenges that the government has to deal with. As sad as it makes me to say this, free (or affordable) tertiary education is a first world privilege and unfortunately South Africa is a second world country, kidding, third world country.

Sure, free tertiary education is ultimately to the benefit of the poor, but right now it won’t be. The poor are still very reliant on subpar  public secondary education, children that go to school in rural areas struggle to meet university entrance requirements (don’t talk to me about how you went to a public school and had world class facilities because obviously it wasn’t in a rural area and the education wasn’t free so your point is moot), so ultimately the privileged make it to university because they can afford quality secondary education and if tertiary education is free those who can afford to pay for tertiary education just get to advance themselves in other ways and the poor stay poor. I don’t know if I am articulating myself well but I hope you kind of get the picture.

Now, to those people that think our parents were just lazy to save and it’s their fault we can’t afford to pay for tertiary education. The people that believe if your parents work hard enough and make enough sacrifices they should be able to pay for our tertiary education. How does a 45-year-old woman who is raising four children by herself on a salary of a domestic worker (no more than R2000 a month) save for an education that costs around R100 000 a year? Saying she should look for a better job or she should have worked hard in school is not only insensitive but displays a level of naivety and ignorance that I find disgusting (I apologize for the language and rudeness, actually I don’t). The assumption that everyone is in control of their circumstances is only true to a limited extent.

Moving on from the ignorant ones, breaking doors and windows doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere (I don’t think we broke anything last year but we go what we wanted right? At least in Stellies we didn’t). Vandalizing (there I go again with the toe stepping) makes us look like hooligans that will protest about anything, like we are just looking for something to let off steam instead of fighting for a cause and fighting for those who don’t have a voice. In the same breath I will address the brutality directed at students that is rampant in universities across South Africa. None of it is acceptable, I don’t know if law enforcement officers realize this but protests that are aimed at changing the way tertiary education is structured is also to the benefit of their children, so instead of brutalizing (if this is even a word) students that are fighting for the future of their children they should work with students to ensure that their children have a better future. Treating students like animals is not acceptable, brutality and violence should not be tolerated. And even though we are mad at the system, vandalism does not make us louder or more effective.

In conclusion (lol, so formal!), freezing the fees this year will cost someone, I don’t know who it is but the way the system is set up makes me believe that it will be those that we are trying to speak up for in the first place, the poor. Because they don’t have a voice, they don’t have a platform and they don’t have and audience. At the end of the day though, I still want free tertiary education realized, but I want is as much as I want to see the development of rural areas and the advancement of the poor but right now the once seems to be happening at the cost of the other. But that’s just me…

This a rather long post now isn’t it… sorry…

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Monday, September 5, 2016

Not Just Hair

Source: IOL
Yes, yes, I’m being typical and writing about what’s driving me up the wall this time around: Hair Issues at Pretoria High School for Girls (PHSG)! The debate around the prestigious school has taken many twists and turns (kid you not, at some point it became weaves vs afros, I don’t know how). But my first thought when I saw posts and videos and read articles about what’s happening at PHSG were: “This makes me so angry on so many levels”! My face got hot and my ears burned every time I watched a testament by one of the girls that attend the school. I have since had a few glasses of wine, calmed down and become rational.

My take on the whole thing: It’s being romanticized and reduced to hair! The child leading the struggle is not some hero come to save our children from relaxer forever, she is a child! None of them should even be having this debate! The reality is that this is not just about hair, it’s about a system that is in place that does not cater for nor meet our needs nor accommodate out various cultures, the problem is way bigger than hair. The problem is that some two decades into the democracy we are still fighting to be included in the system. All attempts at being inclusive of black people are almost an afterthought or a foot note in a journal of endless pages. Unfortunately for Pretoria High School for Girls, they are the platform and catalyst for a conversation that’s been a long time coming.

I took the liberty of going through the section on general appearance in the code of conduct of PHSG. To their credit they have more than most schools have on how African hair should look. But in its inclusivity it’s so exclusive. It says things like “hair shall not cover the elastic band”, if in a bun “it must be in the neck and not on top of the head”, ponytails must “not be visible from the front”.  This is all good and well when your hair is relaxed or you have braids on, but when you have an afro these all become rather difficult. I’ve been growing my afro for three years now, I still can’t tie a ponytail (when I do try, it merely looks like I’m trying to hide a dead bird in my head, a rather fuzzy bird), I don’t even know what a bun that lives in the neck looks like, I can never bring ALL my hair to my neck. Whenever I do tie my hair tough, it has to be at the top because that’s where I have the most hair.

Source: Twitter
Keeping in mind what I’ve just said about afros, the code of conduct does not accommodate afros (unless it’s plaited into corn rows). This opens up a different can of worms: the expectation that the black woman will not keep her hair natural, has no desire to keep her hair natural, and is not expected to keep her hair in its natural state. This is the real issue, as far as I’m concerned. It’s not an attack on those that do relax their hair, or wear weaves, or whatever, it’s simply a call to let the black woman be black and natural. A lot of people will argue that the girl leading the protest can tie her hair and whatever but the majority of us don't get hair that big. People can’t say she must then not participate in the protest because: we don’t see horses leading protests for animal rights now do we?

And we all know that’s what’s down on the code of conduct isn’t always what schools enforce! I went to a good school (as far as I’m concerned) that had the exact same lines when it came to general appearance (minus the lines about corn rows and braids and what not), but every time during uniform inspection they’d pull at my hair and say it was too long. Throughout high school I had hair shorter than most high-school white boys (this is for reference, I’m not making it a race thing). What students experience, and how the school system makes them feel cannot not be reduced to a piece of paper that no one can vouch for!

It’s easy to deem the students hooligans and rebels when you know nothing about the struggles of having natural hair as black woman in South Africa. The end game is to deal with a system and society that dictates how a black woman should look. Sure one can argue that one has to adhere to school policy or ship out, but how much shipping (this sounds so inappropriate, I don’t even know if it’s an actual word) before you run out of good schools!? Girls shouldn’t have to give up their natural hair in order to get a good education nor should they have to give up a good education to grow natural hair. That is the kind of mentality that got us here in the first place, exclusion based on appearance.

We shouldn’t even be having this hair conversation! It makes me angry that we are still talking about the same damn things that we’ve been talking about for the past decade! A lot of people argue that black people make everything about race, it’s hard not to make all our struggles about race when they stem from the fact that we are black! People need to stop saying that black people like playing “the race card” as if this is something that gets us all giggly and high when it actually comes from a place of frustration and discomfort. These are real issues that affect us not only as children but also eventually when we grow up and the fact that children aged 13 have to protest for such things is ridiculous and should be setting off alarm bells in everyone’s head. So it’s not just hair, it’s a system that’s hell bent on bending us to  fit a specific prototype! And the system  must be changed…

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