No one else but the students of our country are able to halt the steady progress of campus violence to full-blown revolution. This is so because the generational distance in lived experience between public decision-makers and students is such that it disallows an authentic engagement between the student movement and “our parents” – young people live with others’ compromises. No number of concessions by government or university leaders will satisfy the deep-seated frustrations and angers that cause the burning fire of protest that sweep across our campuses.
The student movement must set its own agenda, determine its own perimeters for protest and then abide by its own authority. Then, students will truly lead us all. As a country we urgently need a national convention by students and for students. A convention to design a generational contract for a post-apartheid movement that defines a future for education and our country as a whole.
Broad student movement
But, such a convention will fail when it (again) brings together only the leaders of political organisations or officially elected SRCs. A national student convention must reflect as completely as possible the actual lifeworld of the student movement in our country. The convention must consist of delegations from political, religious, cultural, sport, media and academic student organisations. Each officially registered student association at any South African campus should be able to participate in sending delegations to the convention, even if it is through a proportional system of seats per campus.
The student movement must at the convention answer its own questions regarding the nature, scale and pace of transformation on campuses, if not more broadly about societal change. It will inevitably answer questions on student perspectives on history, democracy and the rule of law. It may birth a truth commission of sorts for a generation that lives with a history not of their own making. But, above all, it will give meaning and hope to the traumas of a country at the brink of race war. It will build much-needed bridges.
I am a student. I call on my leaders in the student movement of our country to take up this call. We need a national student convention now.