AMID the anger and fury of the #FeesMustFall campaign is a growing clamour that fees be scrapped altogether. This is unsurprising given the number of familiar revolutionaries who have emerged in the vanguard of the forces sweeping across our campuses and elsewhere.
They include #RhodesMustFall’s Chumani Maxwele, the faeces tosser who has already spent many years at the University of Cape Town reading politics, and former Wits SRC president Mcebo Dlamini, ardent admirer of Adolf Hitler and noted anti-semitic.
The more cynical among us here at the Mahogany Ridge have suggested that, as things stand, a small fortune in tuition fees would no doubt have changed hands by the time they eventually finished their studies. As it is, the present disturbances have, for now, forced the postponement of some examinations.
Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, meanwhile, has declared that, despite it being ANC policy, the country cannot afford free higher education for all. Government even commissioned a feasibility study to this end in 2010.
The study, concluded in 2012, has yet to be made public, and it is probably still lying unread in Nzimande’s in-tray, put on the back burner as he busies himself with another important paper on the neo-liberal challenges to the revolution still playing out in his imagination.
Nevertheless he did say government would aim to provide only poor students a free education. “As a country we cannot afford this for everyone,” he told a talk radio station this week. “Those who are wealthy must pay.”
Nzimande has a point. Government has squandered an obscene amount of money in recent years, splashing out as if the stuff just grew on trees. There’s practically nothing left, and it’s no wonder that much of Finance Minister Hhlanhla Nene’s medium-term budget policy statement was devoted to the parlous state of the economy, higher deficits, lower tax revenue and increased government debt.
Social media has been fairly choked with memes to the effect that, given that an average three-year degree costs R123 000, the R246-million Nkandla upgrades would have paid for 2 000 students’ education. The culvert, cattle kraal and chicken run alone was worth about a hundred degrees.
But wait, as they say, there’s more. The 2015 South African Airways R6.5-billion bailout would have bought almost 53 000 degrees, and PetroSA’s R14.5-billion losses about 118 000 degrees.
The brand new R40-million Spanish locomotive that’s been lying on its side in the veld for the past two months after it was derailed in the Northern Cape? About 325 degrees. The R413.7-million irregular expenditure at the SABC in the last financial year? That’s 3 360 degrees. The more than R650-million we pay each year to the the country’s royal families and traditional leaders? Close on 5 300 degrees. If the R1.2-trillion Russian nuclear deal went ahead? A staggering 10 million degrees.
Even President Jacob Zuma, you must agree, would have difficulty with numbers of this magnitude.
Meanwhile, it’s become clear that the ANC – after initially condemning the #FeesMustFall demonstrators, even going so far as to commend authorities “for their speedy action to deal with such hooliganism” of those students who invaded the parliamentary precinct on Wednesday – want to hijack a campaign whose participants have so far indicated a strong antipathy towards traditional political parties.
And why not? In terms of the old Buffalo Springfield song, there was definitely something happening here . . . and an increasingly impotent ruling party wanted in on the action.
On Thursday, secretary general Gwede Mantashe told students in Johannesburg that government was not to blame for their problems, and that the culprits were the universities themselves as they unilaterally decided what to charge students.
“University councils and vice-chancellors abuse this autonomy to commercialise education and exclude students on the basis of price and race,” was how he put it.
He even had a go at the Wits vice chancellor Adam Habib. “If I was earning what Habib earned I would also increase the fees to make my salary higher.”
ANC members were accordingly urged to join yesterday’s march on the Union Buildings in solidarity with the students. “It should not be seen,” Mantashe said, “as a march that is against the ANC.”
Well, as it turned out, it was a march against something. And so began the siege of the Union Buildings. At the time of writing, there seemed to be consensus from reporters in Pretoria that it was only a minority of marchers who were responsible for the vandalism. But it was a sizable minority, and an enraged one.
Who could blame the president for not wanting to chat with them?