“I refuse to allow what I did, what I didn’t do or what I should’ve done to effect what I’m about to do” – Unknown
I have been hesitant to comment on the #FeesMustFall tornado which has all manner of tongues stamping, feet wagging, and fingers facing every direction in South Africa today. I have been hesitant because my relationship with institutions of higher education in this country has been fractured, damaged and almost non-existent to say the least. I have been hesitant because I am not innocent. I am guilty of unmentionable crimes committed both as a student and more recently, an educator.
I wasn’t going to say anything because of my shame. And because I am neither an academic, a scholar nor a social, political or economic scientist. I am not an anthropologist, apologist, activist, communist, socialist or capitalist. I am what you may call a sentimental opportunist inclusive curious humanoid. I am of a generation of anti-heroes, raised on a steady diet of bubble-gum music, laced with mandrax, dagga wrapped in newspapers, castle and lion beer. I skip to the tune of skop die bolo, mgusha, mellow yellows and heita. I’ve jumped over tins and ducked under balls made of discarded plastic bags. I have run, skipped, hopped and laughed to stories told with stones and later vigorously stenciled into exercise books with yellow Bic pens which perforated the wooden surface on our primary school desks.
I know of m’china, s’thupha, the dice, marbles, toppies, Ray Phiri and stokvels. I am powered by amalahle, amagwinya with snoek fish, mangola, achar for breakfast and for desert- sherbet or ice.
I’ve snacked on skopas, maotoana and sniffed at the sight of dried mopane worms.
These memes I know. I understand them to be the fabric of my childhood environment, when I was impatient to start school and meet my first primary school teacher Mrs Meno, because the streets were empty –and I had no one to play with at home.
I know the sound of sofasonke, stay-aways and school singing competitions at uncle toms’ hall. Felt the rustic speed of a Putco bus propelled by children chanting – irobe joe asi ya gago joe keya magoa joe! On the way to see animals caged in a Johannesburg zoo. I know the tone of Chicos Twalas’ we miss you manelo, and can sing and toi toi to Blondie Makhene’s struggle songs in my sleep. I’ve tried to make glue by whisking sunlight soap, grass and water together never once succeeding in my experiments. I’ve listened intently to stories of elaborate expeditions to steal raw peaches from white farms during school holidays, I have cooked mud meals garnished with rocks, onions and discarded tomato peels. I’ve been chased by dogs while taking a doublap over a neighbours rusty meshed fence or stop-nonsonso.
I know about Leselo rula, V, Mcgyver, Michael knight, the A-team, Ramathlale, Meenamoo, Nkusheng, Matiti le Senthaolele. Not to mention Samantha.
I’ve waved to white soldiers in army trucks patrolling Moemesie Street with the same fervour, passion and enthusiasm I used to chase after a minivan screaming “die botlolo” in exchange for cheese curls poured into bowls, dirty dresses and t-shirts. I’ve cried to the sting of senzeni na, hamba kahle mkhoto and Siyabonga baba laced with tear gas without knowing why.
I’ve dreamt of becoming a superstar like Brenda Fassie, of wearing long braids, of singing “no, no,no,nononononono, senor – please, please don’t do this to me and appearing on SABC tv.
I dreamt of going to exile in America like our neighbours and desired to be a part of a secret movement whose name we could not mention out-loud on buses which shipped boys to unknown destinations at dusk. My feet burning to the tune of mercy pakela’s lyrics: “Ayashisa amateki – this is not my size”, in the haze of dust illuminated by the yellow flood of appollos powered by the danger-gevaar in our street.
I have woken up to the sound of my uncles screams, as armed soldiers lashed his back on the green kitchen table. My grandmothers watching.
Despite changing schools seven times in 12 years, I have miraculously through a process of hard work, persistence, prayer and a gentle push from my parents’ money, my own curiosity and a will of steel, pure luck even,managed to achieve three of those goals, wearing long braids, appearing on SABC TV and going to America for a visit.
So I have nothing to complain about. I am not a victim. I am a winner, like Nelson Mandela in Invictus. The captain of my very own soul.
Or so Boris tells me.
A former (retired) Wits University professor of engineering – a disciple of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, who believes that evolution not time, is God. That Biology, genetic coding and memory determines which ideas live and which die. Who succeeds and who fails. Which civilizations continue to exist and which will become extinct. That #FeesMustFall is a misconception by people who have a foot loose relationship with facts and logic. People without a conception of physics, mathematics, economics or problem solving abilities. A former informant and sympathizer of the African National Congress, an operative of Umkhonto weSizwe, he dreamt of planting a bomb in Vanderbiljpark. He did this largely because he knows what it is like to be a victim. He was bullied at school and relentlessly punished with a tjambok by his English father. Who would have disowned him had he learnt of his involvement in the struggle back then but who instead recently left him a megalomaniacal inheritance the size of Trumps’ head which left him buzzing on hot coffee at a corner café in Melville.
He is against Authoritarianism.
Of course he is all for free education. He is interested in Biko’s Black Consciousness ideas which he absolutely agrees with, having just recently watched Cry Freedom (1987) a British film on Biko’s life featuring Denzel Washington and Kevin Kline. Where could he find his book? What’s its title? Yes, I write what I like. Black people are right not to take advice on how to do things from White people. Contrary to common belief their ways of life and culture is better suited to this environment (Africa).
But what would decolonizing the university mean?
He asks. Because decolonizing education presupposes that there were African or black universities in existence before colonization to begin with? Wasn’t Biko himself educated by civilizing missionaries in Africa? Wasn’t Biko in fact a prototype of an English gentleman? Where would the money to fund free-education come from when everybody knows that most of the students currently enrolled in higher education institutions are ill-equipped to deal with university education, unable to cope they spend at least five or more years attempting to complete a three-year first degree? Who would invest in people who have been set up for failure – studying under pressure to make money and feed the endless stream of relatives and dependents? But nevertheless emerge with nothing to show for it after all? With no degree, a debt to pay and diminished prospects of earning a higher income?
See, it’s not really about the money.
He says. Were black people not complicit in their own oppression anyway by swallowing wholesale the ideas of the western world without question? Weren’t Japan, India and China similarly colonized? Why had they managed to retain their culture and Africans not? Why didn’t black people fight? After 300 years of white domination, come on! You can’t still be making excuses and blaming white people for your inadequacies and failures. How would I explain the success of western ideas, if white people are not, inherently superior? Why did black people allow Apartheid to take hold? White people in this country feel threatened by calls from students and the EFF to decolonize education.
Throwing white people out is not the solution, where would he go?
It’s the educated whites, the enlightened ones, the communists, engineers who were instrumental in advising the ANC during the struggle years, we are only in the first stage of achieving utopia as envisaged by the SACP, empowering the petit bourgeoisie and then the masses. The country needs more engineers like him. Less social sciences. His grandfather who was an alcoholic forgot to fill the right papers when his father was born, so he has no record of his British ancestry even if he is as white as the next person so he cannot go back there, he’s tried to. It’s the same dilemma Afrikaner people face. They have nowhere to go. So he’s trying to engineer a new future. Here.
Whatever happened to Mbeki’s idea of Ubuntu? He must be charged for a million deaths under his rule, in fact nobody knows how many he’s killed. He tried to plant a foreign idea that could not and has not taken root in South Africa. There’s no Ubuntu amongst black people. And it possibly never existed. There is no evidence to suggest it does or did. He’s been to Alex, he’s seen how “they” live and he never wants to go back there again. White people are and have shared the wealth of this country, what about Black Economic Empowerment? What has the ANC done since ’94? It is not white people’s fault that education is not free. Anyway wasn’t matric sufficient to be a full citizen? Not everybody can go to university and make it. It’s hard enough being a university student. Of course an educated person can’t be bigoted. If you’re educated and still bigoted then your education has failed. This is the role of educators at institutions like Wits, to civilize and eradicate bigotry. Primary and Secondary Education can be free. But University? While there is still undeniable evidence of black mediocrity in the examples of the current political dispensation and let’s not forget Zimbabwe no one would ever believe that blacks are capable of running a country. It’s a fact. Africa is a basket case. Of course he can’t be racist. He’s well educated and education has nothing to do with a person’s prejudice.
It’s how you’ve been raised.
I didn’t want to comment on FeesMustFall, until I met Boris. While I am not an engineer, anthropologist, activist, apologist, communist, socialist or Capitalist. I know about the profound influence that geography has on human history. I know that where you are born (and continue to live) has more influence on the subsequent course of your life than anything else. That guns, germs and steel were agents used to drive out, exterminate and conquer those who did not have said guns germs and steel. I know that the environment not biology influenced who would develop guns germs and steel. I know about Jared Diamond. I know that Geography, not Biology determines the history of a people over a long-term, large spatial scale. And that culture plays a more profound role in determining the outcome of people’s lives over a short, small spatial scale. Boris and I are results of both facts.
I didn’t want to write or comment on #feesmustfall until I met Boris. But I had to. Because even if we can happily dismiss Boris’s tirade as the ignorant mumblings of a dying horse. His double speak and subterfuge both in the past and present – represent the dominant (elitist) thought surrounding the validity of #FeesMustFall. These thoughts are a direct reflection of our society. What many fail to understand is that FeesMustFall is more than just about free education, because the introduction of free education in South Africa will require an overhaul of the country’s current economic system and or policies. A reorganizing of South African society as we know it. It’s a demand for a change which is much deeper than a root-canal treatment.
A superficial understanding of what is required, (something which is not limited to rands and cents) will result in yet another pyrich victory.
These are the facts. And they can change. So that even if or when fees do fall and they must. Only a certain number of people can and will be admitted to University at one time. Spurious selection criteria may be introduced.
Right of Admission Reserved.