Some months ago a fairly high ranking government official, who shall not be named, told me “the ANC is the only party that can control the streets”. They were making the case for why the EFF and the DA were side shows and only the ANC could capture the hearts and minds of the masses. They were assuring me that what stood between the elite and chaos was not high walls and electric fences, but the struggle movement of Sisulu, Tambo and Mandela.

Errr, no longer.

The “battle of Braamfontein”, as a colleague called the #FeesMustFall cum anarchical street violence last night proves one thing – the ANC and it’s government is losing control of the streets and with it, a generation.

So, as you sip your cappuccino in the glass towers of Sandton today, consider what it will be like when the fallists have barricaded the parking garage of the bank where you work? Consider what you’ll have for dinner when Woolies is closed because it was looted the night before. Consider which university you’ll send your child to when all the academics worth their salt have taken jobs in less sunny, more socially stable democracies around the world.

Mr. CEO, oh and yes I’ll stereotype about gender because most of you are still men, nê Gert? This is what happens when we get on with the business of growing the business while the country goes to the dogs, to the hogs and to the nearest bidder of patronage. I’m lamenting the lack of citizenship that has brought us to this point. I’m lamenting the lack of philanthropic, humanist foresight that could have seen before the year 2000 that our society is fundamentally unjust and unsustainable in its current form.

When the street becomes a quasi war zone instead of a gateway to trade and industry we can conveniently blame “the government” for failing in their mandate to “deliver” a better life – as if a new democratic government with limited resources and an ideological handicap was ever going to ascend from on high with justice in its wings. No, South Africa is reeling from a spectacular failure of leadership by the elite who have for two decades presided over their own opulent rise while the masses languish.

A 100 million windfall for one man is not ok! Ok?
Its time to take stock and re-priorotise.

I took a drive to WITS and strolled in among the students while they held their “political school” – a fancy term for an open microphone meeting for communal reflection. There were no chairs so I sat on the floor among the afros, cammo cargo shorts and dripping anger. Their complaints ranged from fees to the colonial suffocation of the curriculum and dug as far back as 1652 into the conquest of land and the loss of African autonomy. They don’t want free education. They want a freedom that is much more expensive. They want healing.

Decolonized education, as they call it, might just be the mechanism by which they construct a post-post-Colonial identity out of a pre-Colonial romanticism. But philosophy won’t be enough – they want to share in the spoils of the gold and the platinum and the soil and their parents toil. They want justice.

So the next time someone talks about controlling the streets of Braamfontein, we should ask them who controls the streets around the Sandton precinct, because I can’t imagine that the students won’t eventually make the 10km journey and pay you a visit.

Let’s talk about this as if it is your child. Tomorrow it may be.


Marius Oosthuizen

Marius Oosthuizen

Marius Oosthuizen is a faculty member and researcher at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. He teaches leadership, strategy and ethics, and heads up the Future of Business in SA Project. He is passionate...