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#WitsOnFire: Student factionalism must fall

By Phaphama Dulwana

The past two weeks have been something to marvel at. I watched for the first time in my life young black people take a stand against institutions and systems that perpetuate the poverty we have regrettably become so immune to. Every single day filled me up with an overwhelming sense of emotion and pride. Finally we were rising up to meet our destinies, finally we were breaking the cycle, and finally we were re-articulating the black narrative.

With every step and song, with sweat glistening down our backs we were re-writing the history books our damn selves. Looking at the toll the movement was taking on our leaders and fellow students one had to admire the sacrifices we were making for the just cause of equal access to quality education . On October 14 the mandate was clear “Stand up and march against the 2016 fee increment”, and so the Wits students heeded the call.

But some have gone out of their way to discredit what has arguably become the most influential black student movement in democratic South Africa, this to advance their own personal and political agenda. They have gone out of their way to belittle the movement and its success. Yes, I said success, because we as a student collective achieved more in two weeks of protest than all these power mongers have in two decades, this deserves recognition.

Some are attempting to divide the students who have fought this battle with great discipline and eloquence, but more importantly with one voice. A line between the “sell-outs” and the “revolutionaries” is being drawn. I cannot help but think this is a case of political electioneering and purposeful destabilisation. This has ceased to be the noble cause that I and many others stood for.

A student prepares to hurl a stone as students and janitors scuffle with Wits university security personnel during a protest against the outsourcing of services at the campuses in Johannesburg on October 28, 2015. AFP / Zinyange Auntony

A student prepares to hurl a stone as students and janitors scuffle with Wits university security personnel during a protest against the outsourcing of services at the campuses in Johannesburg on October 28, 2015. AFP / Zinyange Auntony

People will call me selfish and assume I come from a privileged background, that I cannot possibly understand the plight of poor black people but it is for this very reason that I write this letter because I know exactly what it is to be a poor black child. I understand the humiliation of standing in a National Student Financial Aid Scheme line, of being treated like a number while your entire future hangs on how someone’s day is going, being told you have to prove the degree of your impoverishment.

I understand the rage that fills your gut when you have to go to bed hungry. I understand the sea of debt we find ourselves in, going down deeper and deeper in the quest for a better life than that of our parents. We sit in these exam halls carrying the hope of our entire families on our shoulders and I know for a fact that it is every black child’s prayer to succeed and make the lives of their families better and indeed for these reasons free education is an ideal we will fight for but certainly this will not take two weeks.

How can you call yourself a progressive student when you don’t take a second to think about the implications of continuing with the protest? Pause, redirect focus on the upcoming exams and allow the state to set up its task team, if ii fails to live up to the agreement take action. Those with loans and bursaries could lose funding, academic exclusion based on academic performance will not fall and those in private accommodation could be left with nowhere to sleep during exam time if this is dragged out any longer. There are a number of things to take into consideration.

I call on our leaders and the student representative council to listen to the students who want to get back on the academic programme and write their exams. I call on our leaders and the state to give us transparency and to lead us soberly and decisively.

I plead to the student movement in its collective not to allow these divisions to desecrate the legacy that the #FeesMustFall movement is building. Indeed there is still a long road ahead but we must recognise the hard work we have put in this year and that should not be neglected. Let’s complete our course and pass these exams.

Phaphama Dulwana is a student at Wits.

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    • Helizna Kilian

      Beautiful, and I agree. The #FeesMustFall movement has to keep showing it’s above party politics and racial rhetoric, and it has to remain about the students. As students, you have the responsibility to excel academically. The time for protest is over (just for now, it can resume next year), the time for study and self-discipline is due now.

    • Phaphama Phappy Dulwana

      Thank you Helizna… we’v made our voice significantly heard and in a system that is consciously constructed against you, you need to take each and every opportunity at dismantling and challenging it. Academic excellence is one other way of protest because academic exclusion is still a threat and we cannot afford to lose any more time.

    • Green advocator

      WOW, its sad when you see how someone rides on your coat-tails. When they hijack what you started for a good purpose. Hopefully those students will use that drive and intellects that they have received so far and drown out those who are making life difficult for those that are wanting to better themselves