2015 was an incredible and pivotal year in the history of South Africa. It was a year where it became very apparent that there is indeed power and influence in a collective effort that is united around a common cause. In this year it was announced that the fees of most tertiary education institutions in South Africa were going to increase by more than 10%, nearly double the inflation rate. This announcement, was the catalyst that resulted in students coming together to stand against the fee increase with the #feesmustfall movement.
This was a powerful time where many people united around the injustices of such fee increases as well as the injustices of the systemic structures of South African education itself. Many students united because all students (and all future students) were directly impacted by the proposed increases. This common interest and unity allowed the student body to significantly influence and change the decisions of government – an eye-opening moment in our history that testified to many South African’s discontent.
#Feesmustfall managed to bring an end to the increase in fees in the SA universities, which was remarkable considering it was led by the students of the country. However, what I believe has bigger future ramifications, is how all the events of 2015/16 have managed to open up the eyes of many white South Africans (which includes me) who have been living in a bubble of privilege and inequality for many years.
Over the last 18 months, the mindsets of many white people have been challenged to fully grasp the actual state of our nation and how they are indeed beneficiaries of our tragic history. This significant mindset shift, I believe, is still going through its initial growth pains. So much information and truth (that many white people have been oblivious to until now) is now needing to be accepted and owned as a white individual.
Many white people have not been (and still are not) enjoying their deep-rooted mindsets being challenged. However, the magnitude of the discomfort of the challenge cannot even be compared to the magnitude of the discomfort that results from the injustices that have been endured by so many others. Growth pains are exactly that – pains experienced during growth. But this uncomfortable growth is vital for the future of our country, and for reconciliation of its people.
The white community has been challenged to redefine what is right and what is just, and to actively participate in that journey. Interestingly, having the rhetoric and jargon to express this new righteous view of our country is not the difficult part – as indicated by the massive increase in Tweets and Facebook posts along these lines. What is more difficult is acting it out and counting the personal cost which may be necessary in order to make the reconciliation process truly achievable.
For the black community, there exists a new challenge that tests the motivation behind their hunger for equality. Does it stem purely from a desire for reconciliation and equality, or is it motivated all, or in part, by a desire for vengeance? I do not wish to presume I know anything about how this feels, but from many conversations with friends, students, colleagues and acquaintances, I do know that there is a constant internal struggle in the hearts of many black people who believe that acts of vengeance produce a reaction and thus a result, which is then the right outcome.
Where we find ourselves at this moment in South Africa’s history is as a result of many people’s positive and negative efforts. There have been moments of brilliant leadership in student movements and in some tertiary management. However, there have also been some poor decisions and actions by many of the same groups, and other parties that have left people hurt and marginalised. Many of those terrible moments have come where individuals or groups of leaders have lost sight of our humanity and our designed disposition to treat each other as equals.