It is not surprising that the people who are rebelling against high fees and related injustices are Black students. These Black students are first part of the Black community and, whether they know it or not, their struggle is actually part of the broader struggle of the Black people as a perpetual underclass.
Speaking to students on the 21 October, 1949, the then SRC [Students’ Representative Council"> President at the University of Fort Hare, the great Mangaliso Sobukwe, had this to say: “...We must fight for freedom. For the right to call our souls our own. And we must pay the price.” The one part of this extract that has captivated me since I first encountered it is where Sobukwe says ‘we must fight’...for the right to call our souls our own’. What does Sobukwe mean by calling 'our souls our own’? Did he imply our souls belong to someone else and who is this someone else?
The question of who the human soul belongs to is not just an old philosophical question, but also one that goes to the heart of what it means to be human and in charge of your destiny. It is this question that after taking up arms against the Dutch land-thieves, in April 1660, the great Khoikhoi Freedom Fighter, Doman, asked the Dutch : ‘If we were to come to Holland would we be permitted to act in the same way that you have acted against us?’
Doman fully understood the importance of a people having the right to call their souls their own. And for this reason, he and other gallant Khoikhoi warriors such as Autshumato, Gogosa and David Stuurman had the courage to wage fierce campaigns of armed resistance against the Dutch land-thieves, as soon as they landed in the Cape.
So today, who owns our souls as Blacks? I contend that even today, our souls belong to those people (the British and Dutch) who came from various parts of the world and raped, killed, enslaved and dispossessed our forbearers. Our souls belong to their children who our parents continue to call Baas and Missies as they slave daily as kitchen girls and garden boys. Our souls belong to those people who 'own' the big mining and financial corporates that most Black students dream of working for.
Our souls belong to those people who ( in spite of our academic certificates) make us wake up each morning, against our will, to report to our respective plantations (offices) and as soon we see them, like the disciplined cotton-pickers we are - we wear a sheepish smile and say ‘morning sir’, ‘morning madam’ to people who are the same age as our younger siblings, even though deep down inside we are boiling with all manner of insults, which we can’t verbalise because we are afraid if we get fired our children will suffer.
Regardless of our political, ethnic or religious affiliations, as Afrikans, our souls belong to those people who own exotic Islands and - while puffing cigars and sipping exclusive wines - are able ( from a distance) to make not just the South Afrikan government, but many other Afrikan governments do what they want and not what the ordinary people of Afrika want. These are the people who own my soul and yours. As Blacks, our contemporary state of captivity is perhaps more aptly described by George Jackson, who in 1971 said: “The only thing that has been altered are the terms of our servitude”.
What does all of this have to do with the current fight for free education? The current wave of rebellions by Black students on university campuses are an integral part of what Sobukwe referred to sixty six years ago as the fight 'to call our souls our own’.
Firstly, it is not surprising that the people who are rebelling against high fees and related injustices are Black students. These Black students are first part of the Black community and, whether they know it or not, their struggle is actually part of the broader struggle of the Black people as a perpetual underclass.
This means that the demands for fees to fall or for free higher education have their objective basis in the historical demand of Black people for liberation in Azania ( and everywhere else) that must result in them controlling and owning their country’s wealth. This therefore means that, not only are Black students fighting for the same things that their parents have (and continue) to fight for, but they are also fighting against the same system, whose foundation is white supremacy, capitalism, anti-Blackness and now neo-liberalism. And the fact that this system is now managed by Blacks (politically speaking) doesn’t mean the system has changed or the essence of the fight has changed.
Secondly, the demand for free education is more a political demand than an academic or financial demand. It is a demand that arises out of the logic that says: since this country (Azania) belongs to Black people, they (Black people) are more than entitled to enjoy the benefits that derive from their own natural wealth, and these include free and quality education.
We must also situate the demand for free education within the context of the fact that free and quality education was legally and systematically denied to Blacks, while whites received it, albeit in disguised form. And that this is one of the factors that is directly responsible for the position that Blacks now occupy in relation to the national economy. Therefore when Black students say: fees must fall and education must be free, they are actually saying: white supremacy, capitalism, neo-liberalism and anti-Blackness must fall so that Blacks can attain true liberation (economically and otherwise).
Thirdly, it is also important to understand the position of Black students in relation to that of white students. Even though they appear to be supporting the #FeesMustFall movement, deep down white students know that their presence in the protests is more cosmetic than substantive. This is because their lives are not synonymous with squatting for the better part of your presence at university or your mother having to leave her bank card at a “mashonisa” just so that you can have enough money for registration. Or knowing that you have to protest at the beginning of each academic year just to get the management to listen to you.
The superficial reason for the privilege of being a white student is that you’re a product of a better and functional basic education system and a well-off family. You have white companies that have been set up to make a plethora of bursaries available to you (even before you think of going to university). You don’t usually live far from campus and if you do, you can always use your mom’s car. These are the superficial reasons. Also note how whiteness makes it possible for white students to both benefit from a system and at the same time pretend to be against it.
The deeper and often obscured reason for the privilege that comes with being a white student in Azania is that, as part of bolstering white power in Azania, exclusive white universities were built for you and they were built with the blood and sweat of Blacks. For instance, Wits University, which has its genesis in the 1896 South African School of Mines in Galeshewe (Kimberley), was built with the blood of the Blacks that were enslaved during the looting of diamonds by white supremacists such as Lord Kimberley, Southey, Barnato, the De Beer brothers and Cecil Rhodes.
From the proceeds of this grand and bloody slavery not only came out Wits University, but also University of Cape Town, which was built on land donated by Rhodes. Rhodes University which was built through a grant from the Rhodes Trust. Stellenbosch University which was built through a financial donation from a Dutch farmer (read land thief) called Jannie Marais. All white universities (every single one of them) have this bloody history which doesn’t usually appear in their brochures.
What is my point? To build all these exclusive white universities our Black forebears had to be killed. They paid with their blood so that these monuments of white supremacy could be erected. So if these universities are essentially products of the theft of our land and the enslavement of our forebears, why should Black students even be paying to study there?
Shouldn't these white universities and white corporates that benefited (and were formed from) the proceeds of the crime of land theft and black enslavement be forced to provide free education to Black young people as part of reparations for what they have done to our forbearers? White universities and white companies were and continue to be the heart beat of white power and black enslavement in our country.
Finally, my view is that the fight for free education should be viewed as a stepping stone towards Blacks reclaiming their land and natural resources. When we say free education we also mean an education whose form and content is based on the cultural heritage and existential reality of Blacks, and is free of the poison of whiteness. 0% has not given us the right to call our souls our own. It has only made us realise that the fight has just begun. For the sake of our grandchildren and their children- the fight must continue Comrades!
#FeesMustFall #NeoliberalismMustFall #FreeEducatonNow
* Veli Mbele is an essayist and Black Power activist.
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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