By Innocent Madzhoni
2015/6, during the #FeesMustFall movement, I was still in the secondary school corridors when history brewed. I watched the news at seven o’clock: rubber bullets, tear gases; burning buildings, police cars, and papers blinding my eyes. I remember thoughts of mobilizing fellow classmates to take marches around our townships in solidarity with the University students occupied me because their struggles were ours. But I wasn’t brave enough to do it. It devoured me in silence. But had I been a Fallist – a term used to describe student participants – this is the speech I would have given in one of the protests and gatherings that transpired.
‘Students and comrades; I greet you in the name of “free education in our lifetime.” At this point of our struggle I can’t even begin to ask how you are, or how have you been. Because our skulls are cracking on the crowded streets of Johannesburg, our dark skin corroding on the white streets of Cape Town, bones fractured on the untarred streets of Thohoyandou, muscles pulled on the deserted streets of Northern Cape. Comrades, everywhere we’re, we’re being polluted by tear gases. Our bodies are subjected to bullets, which have left us vulnerable and subjected to the true state of the inequality which roams our country: our so-called hospitals, or better put, our mortuaries. Psychologically, we are not doing well, but which public hospital can assemble qualified personnel to deal with us in that aspect when universities themselves don’t understand the plight of mental illness? But comrades, we mustn’t despair.
We must carry the spirit the class of ‘76. We mustn’t think that their struggle was a failure – it was a success, for that time, space and generation. They fought for us, not themselves.
We must in turn fight for the next generations, not necessarily ourselves. Of course, the tenacity and intense protests that we have put forth, many us will be able to study without paying fees. But our real aim is that the next generation shouldn’t deal with the issues of fees, there are other prominent issues that need to be addressed. In our universities: primarily, decolonization of the material we are fed, racist structures of the universities (composition), which we did scrutinize during the #RhodesMustFall Movement. Secondarily, accommodation, and students being unable to register because they are poor. The landlessness of our people stretches itself from our closely packed streets and makes itself inevitable in our universities.
Outside the university space: landlessness, (again) racism, and black people being excluded from the ownership of the economy – we’re not breathing here nor are we breathing elsewhere.
Comrades, this other fellow asked me, ‘did you grow up from the other side?’ I asked what he meant. He said, ‘did you grow up in the suburbs, or are your parents part of the middle class?’ I understood the question, but firstly, I grew up in the rural areas and moved to live with my father in a shack in Tembisa. Secondarily, what’s the ‘other side?’ That’s a myth fed to us. You’re born on the other side when you are born black. Whether you are born in the middle class, upper class, or like me, in the public hospitals whose linens are soaked in blood, it doesn’t matter. We ducked bullets at one point or another – though others ducked more bullets.
We cannot continue to act as if we enjoy the grants which are thrown at us, when we could set an economic system that can work best for us, where everyone can benefit. The inequality gap is too high, comrades. When we’re done delivering free education to the disadvantaged children who reside in the hinterlands of this country, namely; the townships and rural areas, we must ensure we get rid of the adjective, ‘disadvantaged’, when we speak of children who come from the township and the rural areas. Besides, if we are to deal with the adjective decisively, it means we would have eradicated the townships and rural areas altogether.
But here, of course, we’re people with different ideological backgrounds, and some if not many of us might be liberals. Does that change the fact that capitalism has failed in Africa? The same approach we took by defying the status quo of the university, we must take it back to the streets from which we emerged. Comrades, many of the liberals gathered here didn’t agree with us on the pronouncement of ‘#Feesmustfall’, many of them amidst us don’t agree with us on free education. They’re strategically positioning themselves and trying to avoid finding themselves on the wrong side of history. They don’t want to tell their children that they stood on the sidelines when the country was on fire.
Students, if we were able to defy these pacific liberals here, what could be the hindrance to achieving the same objectives outside university? They will convince us that we’re using outdated methods to solve our issues, but as Fidel Castro asked, “where is the success of capitalism in Africa, South America, and Asian?” it is prevalent because we’re being milked of every little resource we possess – if not that, for our non-compliance, we’re sanctioned by the powers that be. The ageless approach must be spelt in capital letters wherever we exist – OPEN THE BORDERS, CREATE A SINGLE CURRENCY, ONE ARMY, AND A SINGLE STATE. The rest will be implementation and specification.
However, comrades, let me assure you that we might not achieve this ourselves. But history is a timeline, and in this timeline, each generation is given a mandate. Since time immemorial, there has been the oppressed and the oppressed, the oppressed often deny that the oppressor is tyrannizing them. Each generation, of black people, given the material conditions of its history, has been successful in resisting and defying the laws which were conventional for that period.
Our forefathers fought the brute system of slavery. They fought colonization. They fought dehumanization. They fought apartheid. In all these struggles there was progress, regardless how miniscule it was. We’re fighting against the racist structures of the university and we shall win, comrades. The problem is the assumption that our freedom will come after one revolution or one act of rebellion. No, each generation will sweat, but we’ll get there.
And as the timeline stretches forward, there’s a generation that will win against landlessness, abject poverty, imperialism, and white capital the world over. Comrades, a generation somewhere in the future will stand and declare, “the erstwhile generations fought against the oppressive laws of their day and won partially, and like that, we, of this generation, have fought against the last strand of oppression and we’re politically, economically, sexually, and socially free.
I’m honored that you, comrades, in this gathering are part of the people in this generation who’re standing tall, unflinching and fighting. We’ll gather there in heaven and see the rewards of our struggles. Free education in our lifetime comrades. Biko, comrades, Biko Lives.’****