Fees Must Fall Is Flirting With Terrorism

Time to move the troops in?

Think about how moribund our basic education system is. Think about how many government school teachers never rock up to work. Think about poverty. Crime. Unemployment. Slums. Access to water. Our high abortion rates. Corruption.

I promise you varsity tuition costs are not the moral challenge of our time.

In the generally radical Freedom Charter, nowhere does it say university education should be free. If it didn’t occur to Communists sympathetic to Lenin and Stalin to ask for that, maybe the radicals burning universities down need to re-think their positions.

I honestly do sympathise with the protestors. Our economy is stacked against the poor and uneducated. I would not be averse to tertiary education being paid for by a small tax on all graduates. I would be happy to contribute. I have seen poor students really struggle at university – we can do better for them. And the government must carry the can for just being utterly inept in dealing with the issue.

But at this stage, nothing will satisfy the protestors. It has become an orgy of violence for the sake of self-expression. Throwing Molotov cocktails and burning buildings when there are people inside is simply unacceptable and must be stopped.

Like everybody, I laughed at those young ladies asking for science to fall.

Decolonising science and education in general is literally a meaningless idea. Where does it end?

Constitutions, parliaments and democracy are all imported ideas. How do we unravel which are bad and good? Why should we even be having such a stupid conversation. Imagine Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela had had the same attitude while they were studying. Mandela even asked for more colonialism at the Rivonia Trial when he clearly stated his desire for a parliamentary system along the lines of Britain’s.

What would the radicals say to him today? Some have expressed their sympathy for Hitler. They’ve killed a security guard. We’re not in the bounds of rationality and problem solving anymore.

So we shouldn’t laugh at the idea of science falling – which ironically relies on Newton’s oppressive gravity – because lurking behind these ideas is something very dark – and very dangerous.

It is the idea that all education and knowledge is rooted in power, in politics, and identity – that there is no true knowledge but only ‘discourse’ that is then used for political purposes.

This is the same belief that holds all truth is a matter of opinion. Such a belief seems to suggest a negation of absolutes and thus the possibility of creating peace in a liberal society where we all live and let live – but all it does is set up a kind of chaotic battle-field where people can fight for power and identity because all moral restraint has been relativized.

If your identity is at stake, you can burn something down. If your political power is at stake, you can trump up charges against your Finance Minister. What is justice to you?

And the irony is that UCT as an institution – certainly when I studied there – has actively encouraged this philosophical point of view.

In all my courses, believing in concepts such as truth and justice as abstract realities was considered thoroughly stupid. I know this because every now and then professors would fail me for countering this nihilism. It is this same nihilism which has led to the unprecendented power of commerce faculties at our universities by virtue of the privileging of technical skills and knowledge. Skills are privileged because at least they are real – unlike the ideas of humanities which are just supposedly personal opinions.

In one sense, the students are right to challenge this technocratic, corporatized type of education. But their challenge makes the same assumptions that the establishment does – that there is no objective knowledge.

And so we find ourselves in a new country – a kind of battlefield in which opponents inevitably begin to resemble each other in their disdain for anything above their own political identities.

That’s why I can almost guarantee there will never be an acceptable solution for the students. They don’t want anything – they want an identity. And they have predicated that identity on violent protest. Negotiation will never be possible.

We need to break out of this cycle. It is belief in abstract truth which makes civilization possible – it is what makes constitutionalism and rule of law possible. Without those, we get the rule of the strong-man, the god of this world. And what will happen to the poor then?

The first thing that is needed now is clear leadership from Zuma. Let Parliament do its job by coming up with a workable solution regarding cost and subsidisation. And then stop the protests. Prosecute the criminals who continue to do violence.

But the real solution goes much deeper. Varsities need to break out of the nihilism that allows for such conflict and power games. We need a return to the pre-colonial era ideas of the classical world – that the good, the true, and the beautiful do exist and should be ideals for which we strive – particularly at our universities.

Only then will we have a shot at negotiating these issues in good faith.