Press "Enter" to skip to content

Wisdom includes the art of picking the battles one knows one can win

Well done, students! You have done to this ANC government and establishment what years of scandal and maladministration have not. It has taken notice. It is worried. It is addressing the cause of your discontent. There will be no fee increases next year. I applaud your courage and convictions.

The wise thing to do would be to accept that you have won this battle, and go back to your classes. Learn for and write your exams. Pass them, and go onto the end of year holiday to work, relax, or perhaps join the job market with a new qualification. There will be new battles to be fought, but they can wait for a time when you can afford to fight them.

The unwise thing to do would be to listen to those who, having alongside or because of you shared a victory, are looking to pursue different battles. They no doubt have different motives and different agendas. “Fees must fall” was the original target. It is a very different battle to one for “free tertiary education”.

“Fees must fall” is achievable at a stretch. “Free tertiary education” in the South African context is virtually impossible. But you would have to be wise to realise that.

Wisdom includes the art of picking the battles one knows one can win, leaving something over at the end of the battle that is worth having.

No doubt those among you who have little interest in university politics for the sake of bettering your own educations and have little to lose by continuing this protest will not be swayed by this argument. You lack wisdom. You lack the ability to see how this newly evolved battle will turn out for everyone, and not just for your own political careers. Those with wisdom see it, know it and are very concerned about the damage you will do.

The problem is that, although you have done well enough to have made it to university, you are not yet wise. Wisdom cannot be taught. It cannot be channelled into text books, funnelled into lectures and tutorials. Wisdom comes through years of observation, learning from situations, making one’s own mistakes and learning from those of others. No qualification, except perhaps age, automatically endows wisdom.

The wisdom of others sometimes has to be heeded when every fibre of your being is screaming out to go in the opposite direction.

Now is the time to listen to wisdom wherever you may find it. Your vice chancellors and other institutional leaders without doubt have a view of the situation coloured by years of their own wisdom. They are worth listening too. Go back to class!

Failure to do so now may see you years down the line unfulfilled due to your mistakes of the present. You will undoubtedly be a lot wiser, but by then, it will be too late.



  1. Suntosh Pillay Suntosh Pillay 26 October 2015

    Dear Martin,
    This article sounds patronising.

  2. Martin Young Martin Young 26 October 2015

    Dear Suntosh

    I could psycho-analyse your response given without details or reason and wonder for myself whether this is your knee jerk reaction to what in your mind could be an entitled white person telling predominantly black people what to do, and that this could in itself be a reverse kind of racism considering many other mature analysts have said essentially the same thing in this and other forums (or strictly speaking, ‘fora’ for Richard the language policeman on my previous post) without the same criticism, but perhaps not in as blunt nor straight forth a manner as I have.

    But I won’t.


  3. Suntosh Pillay Suntosh Pillay 28 October 2015

    Dear Martin,
    Yes, you would be partly correct as to my motivations.
    Additionally, given that we have ‘our elders’ in charge of this country, there is evidence that wisdom does not equate to leadership. Therefore, I am sceptical of appeals to heed the wise.

Leave a Reply