Over the past few weeks, we (myself included) have engaged in a discussion that has been largely negative in tone about the student protests around the country. In my blog post written a week ago, I discussed how the demands of the Fees Must Fall protesters are both unreasonable and discriminative in nature. The movement has shifted the goalposts from a free education (which I haven’t even gone into, in terms of how this is financially impossible) to an Afrocentric education. As anybody that has heard my strong opinion on these issues would know, I do not condone the manner in which the protests have been conducted – although, I do support the general idea, as idealistic as it may be. With this said, I would like to put a positive spin on the events and paint a picture of what could become of it.
In the pursuit of change: The death of apathy
One thing that these students have done, which we haven’t seen in decades in South Africa, is to organize an actually communicate their grievances. Whether the ends that they are pursuing are valid, whether the means to which they pursue these ends are morally acceptable or not, they have shown a fire in their hearts that has not been part of the South African populace since the transition to democracy. While the Soweto uprisings and the state of unrest in the 1980s were characterised by violence and made South Africa an uncomfortable place to live, there is no doubt that it led to the demise of apartheid. Perhaps the result of this wave of protests can be something of equal magnitude and significance.
Since the euphoria of politic freedom being granted to the majority of South Africans, since the global community embraced Nelson Mandela as a symbol for the conquests of yhe human spirit, not much has changed in terms of of economic equality, and millions of South Africans are still living in squander and are unemployed and/or illiterate. One of the primary reasons for this is the failures of our education system, which is behind the Fees Must Fall protests. In the 20 or so years where we saw little to no progress in the general state of well-being for South Africans, the only real indication of intent shown by the disenfranchised came in the form of workers’ strikes. Of course, these strikes were not only organized by COSATU – an entity that is explicitly tied to the ruling elite, the ANC – but they were remonstrating a symptom of the problem, not the cause. Demands for increases in wages will provide a short term solution, assuming the demands are met, and faceless corporations will continue to be controlled by the same people who emphasise profit over the rights of their employees.
Politically, the ANC continued to make promises before elections and grants that provided a source of income for impoverished families, as small as they may have been, which keep the so-called “masses” in a state of ignorance and at the ruling party’s mercy. This kept the votes rolling in and South Africa was in a state of equilibrium. The student protests have disrupted that equilibrium and, better yet, young people are showing that they’ve had enough and want real change that leaves no man, woman, or child behind. This means that something truly incredible can happen, something that would make the late Nelson Mandela smile…
Global pioneers – A solution to the biggest challenge facing our generation
Wherever you live, from America to Zanzibar, abject poverty is actually not the greatest threat to mankind. If there’s no world for us to live in, rich or poor, that’s a problem! Apartheid may have left an ugly legacy for South Africans, but the worst legacy left behind by previous generations for the entire world is pollution, greenhouse gasses, and climate change. Fortunately, South Africa is not amongst industrialised nations like the United States or China, whose carbon footprints are far greater than ours and where infrastructure is already in place – making it difficult to dislodge. What is worse, though, is that third world countries are determined not to agree on pacts to decrease emissions, because they believe that the already industrialised world has had a head start. But, this is bullsh*t.
Our young people need to demand that our leaders are at the forefront of creating a sustainable industry, on a nationwide scale. We have a crumbling infrastructure and widespread unemployment. Why not be at the forefront of what could become a global trend? Of course, we have solar panels and wind-powered turbines around the country, but we are also about to sink in excess of R1 trillion into a nuclear power plant that is anything but sustainable.
In addition to this, the idea of nuclear power and industry is not in alignment with Afrocentric ideals. This would be a complete lack of respect for the land upon which we live. The benefits of it would not be communally shared and, in essence, this is about as “Western” an agreement as you would get.
Nuclear power is supposedly cleaner than coal power, which makes up the majority of South Africa’s grid at present. According to government statistics, that contribution stands at 77%. But, assuming this is true, the major problem is that the construction of the nuclear power plant will be outsourced to Russia, which means that it will undoubtedly cost more, through underhand deals, tenders, and corruption. There are undoubted a huge number of engineering firms both in the country and around the world that would kill for a chance to be part of a large-scale project that I’m proposing here.
Not to mention, such a project would create millions of jobs, not only for engineers at the top end but for labourers at the bottom as well. Not only would this create long-term prospects in terms of employment (power sources also need to be maintained), but it may inspire other countries to take on similar initiatives, from which any patents that we may own would be another source of income. Like demands for education in order to benefit future generations, something like this needs to be at the forefront of every South African’s demands. Then, in addition to this, we could make attempts to create an automotive industry entirely focused on electrical- and hydrogen-powered cars.
If you look at the American economy, you would find that the construction of the Hoover Dam was phenomenally important stimulation of their economy during the Great Depression. You’ll also find that their automotive industry, made up predominantly by General Motors and Ford, makes massive contributions to their GDP, year after year.
The spirit of the Fees Must Fall movement must be carried through to something beyond the way in which we run our universities. As these students grow up and become productive members of our economy, they need to shift their focus to a different idea. South Africa has the opportunity to join the industrialised world in a sustainable way that is unprecedented. If such an initiative is nationalised and the resultant wealth shared by all of our citizens, it could provide a simple solution to the issue of poverty and, who knows, perhaps a free education may be an attainable goal.