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We need a lasting solution to the Walter Sisulu University debacle

By Olwethu Sipuka

The current calamity at Walter Sisulu University (WSU) has taken me back to my times at the university. Some of the memories are permanently embedded in my mind and continue to be my reference points towards humanity.

In 2002-2003 I served as the president of the Student Representative Council at Border Technikon (one of the institutions merged to form WSU). It was no strange occurrence for me to leave the office at 11pm every evening particularly when preparing for meetings. On one evening (as I was leaving the office) in January 2003, I met one prospective student camped outside my office. He came all the way from Kokstad to Berlin to study marketing. He had no money to register, no place to sleep, had not eaten for the whole day and had R40 in his pocket. I stayed with him for close to a month and ensured he registered. Today he holds numerous post-graduate qualifications and has a good job. His story is a carbon copy of mine when I first went to study chemistry at the Vaal Triangle Technikon. Education was our only hope out of the quagmire of gross economic exclusion.

We were guided by Che Guevara’s internationalist outlook, that the freedom of Cuba should not be celebrated until all of the oppressed people are free. Education to us meant the freeing of our families, communities and Africa from the persistent yolk of poverty and under-development.

The current scenes at WSU suggest to me a fundamental shift from the intention to liberate the African child and create a prosperous Africa through education to an intention that strives to bereft Africa education so as to negatively impact Africa’s renaissance. These scenes take place a few days after the Council on Higher Education released a blistering report on not only our education system but most importantly on the prospects of the African child and Africa in general. The report indicates that only 5% of African children that get into university eventually graduate. At the release of this report I had expected the country to be in frenzy, it was not. There appears to be no concern for the African child’s education, therefore her future.

The truth of the matter is that more than 90% of the students at Walter Sisulu University are African. Most of these children come from poor families who perceive the university as their conduit out of poverty.

Those of us who participated in the merger are beginning to ask ourselves difficult questions including: Did we throw the children of Gcaleka and Rharhabe into a lion’s den?

Whatever the answer maybe, our commitment to the rebirth of Africa will only be realised when we educate her children. We must therefore find a lasting solution to the WSU debacle.

Olwethu Sipuka holds a masters in philosophy from the University of Cape Town.