#FeesMustFall signal a massive political shift | Fin24

#FeesMustFall signal a massive political shift

Nov 01 2015 10:00
Justice Malala

A student holds a banner aloft during the march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria yesterday. (Theana Breugem)

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Without any pre-publicity, Julius Malema’s EFF managed to organize 50 000 supporters to the JSE in Sandton on 27 October to protest against “organised capital”. The march dwarfed the student protests of the week before, including the violent march on the Union Buildings, and the Congress of SA Trade Unions marches (and anti-corruption protests) of the month before.

However, the EFF march was the latest in a strand of activities over the past month that illustrate a shift in SA politics that will have an impact on the economy, future macro-economic policy and the elections in May 2016. This shift is marked by assertions that the 1994 democratic breakthrough failed to deliver for the black majority economically.

It is in this light that this year’s push for transformation in business, at universities and various other sectors of SA society needs to be understood. As my colleague Aubrey Matshiqi has said, the student protests are “about how SA had changed, or not changed, since 1994”. This is a useful prism through which to view and understand this year’s political shifts. 

Threat to fiscal discipline

In my view, this push – most frequently articulated by the EFF – will gain greater urgency in the year 2016 and will become a major strand of political discussion and organisation. It may also become a battering ram for parties hoping to dislodge the ANC from its electoral hegemony in next year’s local elections.

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande told Parliament on 27 October that government would have to raise its annual contribution to South African universities by an additional R19.7bn if it is to meet international benchmark funding levels.

He said this just a week after Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene presented his Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement and declared that the public sector wage deal struck in May this year had swallowed up the State’s Contingency Reserve.

There is no money for the university fees freeze announced by President Zuma after meeting students and university principals. Ratings agencies will be watching minister Nene carefully to see if the latest capitulation on student fees will have any impact on fiscal discipline.

This will be a theme in the round of agency ratings due in December and in the run-up to the Budget Review in February 2016.

Protests may become ‘generalised’

State Security Minister David Mahlobo warned in Ballito, KwaZulu-Natal last week that the protests would become a security issue. “It can also give us problems for next year’s local government election,” he said. 

The remarks illustrated that, certainly in government’s analysis, there is increased concern that the protests could become generalised. Mahlobo’s spokesman later told The Times newspaper that the minister had suggested that the local government election would be threatened by “general instability” in the country if the protests were to continue.

Protest action has been on the rise in the country. Police Minister Nathi Nhleko told Parliament in May that 14 740 incidents of unrest were reported in the year to March. Of these, 12 451 were peaceful and 2 289 were violent. This was more than double the number of protests police officers responded to in 2007/08 when the number of protests stood at 7 209.

In light of the violence that has erupted in the protests this year (xenophobic attacks, Rhodes Must Fall and now the FeesMustFall) there could be a marked rise in protest action and some violence in the run-up to the 2016 local elections.

However, I don’t think this marks a threat to the mounting of a free and fair poll. Of huge concern should be the fact that security forces failed to anticipate the violent eruptions that happened in Parliament, the Union Buildings and the arson that erupted at Wits University.

Rise of a movement?

As the university fees protests lose their steam, it is worth reflecting on a theme that has played out again and again this year. It is the rise of African nationalism and, within this, disaffection with the fruit of the new South Africa and what has been referred to as the “1994 Consensus”.

This trend was seen in the rise and popularity of the #RhodesMustFall movement earlier this year, which had off-shoots such as the #OpenStellenbosch and #Luister campaigns at Stellenbosch and other universities. However, they never really took off because their issues were local.

The #FeesMustFall movement had resonance at every university campus and in most households across the country. It was, primarily, about high student fees in the harsh light of a no-growth economy and rising unemployment and retrenchments. It was not just driven by disaffection with the new South Africa. So, are we witnessing the rise of a new movement?

It is worth noting that at Wits University the #FeesMustFall movement is disintegrating. The SRC leadership, which comes from an ANC tradition and is aligned to the Progressive Youth Alliance (made up of the ANC Youth League, Young Communist League, school and university students under the SA Students’ Congress and the Congress of SA Students), is now under fire from activists aligned to Malema’s EFF.

The movement, at Wits, has fractured and collapsed. Is this the end, though?

Even though this particular coalition of students has collapsed, there will continue to be eruptions of protest driven by a deep sense of unease among some black South Africans about the post-1994 arrangements. Just two recent examples where this sentiment has come to the fore:

  • During the silicosis case black advocates, attorneys and even judicial officers such as magistrates complained bitterly about the level of transformation in the legal fraternity since 1994.
  • Black business groupings have complained bitterly about the level of transformation since 1994, with calls by the Black Business Council for reform of preferential procurement regulations that give black business additional points when it comes to scoring tenders.

 This article was originally published by Lefika Securities (www.lefikasecurities.co.za).


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