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Is it too late for government to change?

Oct 30 2015 06:46
*Mzwandile Jacks

STUDENT protests may indicate a bigger tipping point.

Speculation is growing that student troubles could be a sign of more terrible protests to come as government starts to “prioritise” on public spending.

But the government does not seem to see this or prefers to look the other way.

Thousands of students at nearly all of South Africa’s universities marched through the streets of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein last week against plans to increase tuition fees in higher education next year.

As a result of this, the student rage against the proposed tuition fee increases was impossible to ignore.

Not only did students turn out in numbers not seen in this country in nearly 40 years, they were clear that this had to be dealt a deadly blow once and for all.

This was South Africa’s politically noteworthy event – by far the biggest and most dramatic student protest since the Soweto 1976 uprising - and should be taken seriously.

It should be taken seriously, because, despite an inexcusable violent sideshow, this was a protest with a huge public backing and a capacity to have an obvious effect on conventional politics.

It does not end there.

South African students are not only the most browbeaten victims of the country’s economic system. They may be a lightning rod for wider public unease with the government's economic and political policies.

Last week, the South African government officials were divided on whether this was a national crisis.

Some ministers attempted to downplay student protests, with higher education minister, Blade Nzimande, saying there was no crisis.

But some in government did the opposite.

President Jacob Zuma and his advisers could have been mindful of the fact that this could be the beginning of bigger things to come.

No wonder they took a view to cancel fee increases for next year in a bid to avoid a protracted protest that could lead to other negative consequences for the government.

They knew that, in most cases, a single political event like this one often has the potential to mobilise citizens against the government and lead to all-out massive protests against it.

But they could be late.

Many South Africans are angry about many things, including unemployment, continued massive retrenchments and expensive food prices and they put the blame entirely and squarely on the current government.

Additionally, many South Africans are getting tired of trade unions failing to deal with labour brokers. Many people are also worn out by the trade union movement that fails to condemn corrupt practices within the ruling party.

Students have perhaps taken the lead in steadily manifesting what could be a large existing feeling of hostility and fury against the current government.

The next step would see the working class and middle class start building a mass, sustained and determined movement that could stop the onslaught of corruption and other ills facing this country. This could be a sign that the ANC is gradually losing its hold on the country’s leadership.

* Mzwandile Jacks is a freelance journalist. Opinions expressed are his own.

anc  |  education  |  opinion  |  student protests  |  sa economy
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