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Friends & Friction: Protests an echo of 60s student uprisings

Oct 09 2016 06:29
Muzi Kuzwayo

Be careful how you respond to #FeesMustFall. If you’re not, you just may be the first to fall.

Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, serving as Pope of the Catholic Church from 2005 to 2013, Joseph Ratzinger was a professor of theology at Tübingen University in Germany.

In 1968, a wave of violent protests swept across university campuses in several countries, including Germany, as they became battlegrounds for social change.

This occurred 23 years after the end of World War 2, which signified the defeat of fascism.

The number 23 is significant, considering that we South Africans are into the 23rd year of our democracy, and our country is also on fire.

German students referred to their uprising at the time as “militant optimism”. Classes were violently disrupted, and the future pontiff was a constant target of leftist students because of his views.

In Germany, higher education was free, but the universities and the government wanted to produce graduates faster by introducing a time limit on courses, to limit the number of students and make those reading for humanities degrees, such as philosophy, pay for their education.

Students’ living conditions were poor and classes were packed, yet still they demanded that university education be accessible to all.

Ratzinger called the student protests “an instrumentalisation by ideologies that were tyrannical, brutal and cruel”, and left Tübingen.

Much has been written along the lines that this experience shaped the future pope’s conservatism, in reaction to the left-wing student movement. Was leaving this problem unsolved a curse from above or a sign of weakness in Ratzinger? After all, he was the first to resign from the papacy in almost 600 years, since Gregory XII did so back in 1415.

Did human frailty make him a non-finisher?

Students always serve as their parents’ conscience. In 1960s Germany, students’ rage was directed at the older generation as they insisted parents stop their complacency and acknowledge the role they had played in elevating the national socialists to power.

Outraged that some former members of the Nazi party were still in high positions, students demanded that they, and those who put them there, be identified and removed so that the country could make a clean break from its past.

This is different from South Africa, where white students have not demanded the same from their parents, which is why racist rants from people such as Penny Sparrow continue.

On the other hand, black students are angry at what they define as the corruption of their parents, whom they see represented by President Jacob Zuma and his parasites.

It is this negative energy that has led to the current storm of protest. Other aspects of this rebellion, including #FeesMustFall, are merely symptoms of their call for social change.

Like all young people, students may not be good listeners, but they certainly copy very well.

The mayhem at our universities is a mirror image of the shambles in Parliament. And since our parliamentarians are not divinely ordained representatives but elected ones, they too are made in our image.

The #FeesMustFall movement is the result of the hypocrisy of South African society, which has conveniently chosen to forget its promises.

Our new democracy is decades old, yet we have not built a single university. Instead, we closed down teacher-training colleges and, in so doing, ignored the Freedom Charter’s premise: “The doors of learning and culture shall be opened.”

Education is key to building a better society. If money is scarce, we have to examine our priorities. That is what #FeesMustFall is about – giving our children an opportunity to succeed.

They may be violent like their German counterparts and like many other students were in 1968, but if we do not forgive them, we will be resigned to a state of permanent failure, and it is more than fees that will fall – it will be the whole country.

Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency

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