OPINION | JOHANNESBURG 

Women who fought apartheid commend achievements of Fees Must Fall

“We call for a cessation of all hostilities so that we can secure a climate for an inclusive discourse that moves us forward”

Photo of women anti-apartheid activists and two men
Front row: Pitika Ntuli (who spoke at the event), Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Yvonne Mokgoro and Frene Ginwala. Back row: Mojanku Gumbi, unidentified, Pumla Gqolo (who spoke at the event) and Mary Metcalfe. Photo supplied
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This statement by 12 women who fought against apartheid was read at a Fees Must Fall event at the Women’s Prison, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg on Friday 4 November 2016. The 12 women who signed it are Cheryl Carolus, Frene Ginwala, Mojanku Gumbi, Zanele Mbeki, Nomsa Mazwai, Mary Metcalfe, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Yvonne Mokgoro, Futhi Mthoba, Elinor Sisulu, Gloria Serobe and Sophia Williams de Bruyn.

We stand here today, as black and white women, at the Women’s Gaol at Constitution Hill imbued by the spirit of our heritage. We stand symbolically with our arms outstretched to young people on all campuses across the country.

Twenty-two years ago we stood at the birth of our democracy filled with hope and expectation of a better world for our youth.

We grew up in a time when being black meant that you were oppressed, being a black woman in a patriarchal world meant that your oppression was triple. You were oppressed on account of your race, on account of your gender, and on account of your class. Being a poor black woman meant that you had to endure a life of oppression, abuse and poverty. Being white meant that you had a ‘knapsack of privilege’ that assured access to education and to the economy. Our shared commitment to a non-racial, non-sexist and just society brought us together in struggle yesterday and today.

Women fought, were arrested, and exiled. Many were jailed at this very site for fighting for democracy and all the rights and freedoms that democracy would bring to our people now and in the future.

The youth of today are fighting a just cause and will not be quiet. They will not be the ones we come to call a “lost generation”. Their fight for free education is a fight to make our society a better one - it is not a selfish or a self-centered struggle.

It is a fight for this generation, the next generation, and the many generations of South Africans that are yet to be born. This is a deepening of our collective struggle against the status quo that the black majority are born into poverty, live in poverty and die in poverty.

We believe that Government has not done enough to listen to and understand the core demands made by students to our shared goal of creating a better South Africa, and a better world. There has been a lack of urgency and a lack of vision and imagination in resolving this crisis in the sector. Institutions have been left to manage the crisis with the only support being the security apparatus. We believe that our political leaders have failed us by relying on coercion rather than rational discourse and have so fuelled a deepening cycle of violence.

Our young people stand before us having affirmed the truth: that the right to education has the potential to lift communities out of poverty; to create a society where each person has dignity, and treats others with dignity. We are here to say we have heard you. Society has heard you. You have won major victories. We celebrate your victories for access of the children of workers. You have won additional resources for students across all campuses. You have won the insourcing of workers and we salute this victory. These victories must be secured and operationalised in all campuses. You have won the space nationally for a vibrant current debate on a sustainable funding model for higher education. You have won the space for a deep debate within society and within each institution and faculty for a curriculum that is relevant and affirming. You have won the space to contest assumptions about practices that are alienating. This space for debate must be occupied.

South Africa needs its universities to function urgently. We call for a cessation of all hostilities so that we can secure a climate for an inclusive discourse that moves us forward. We call on all to commit to a climate where genuine concerns, issues and challenges can be expressed and solutions found. We must commit to concluding the 2016 academic year and the writing of exams. Violence must be put aside for genuine engagement, for you to occupy the space for debate, and we must have civility within the rule of law.

You have brought into sharp relief the need for a larger conversation on the culture of policing in this country and the leadership of the police. We must address the plight of arrested, expelled, suspended and injured students and we call for instances of unprovoked violence against students to be investigated as a matter of urgency by IPID, and we call upon the SAHRC to investigate all abuses of human rights.

We learned from strong women before us to fight to restore the dignity of our people, and we need to take this struggle forward. Own your victories and build on them as we look to you to take that principled struggle forward. We want to be emphatically clear:

Your strength is our hope. Your struggle is our struggle.

We as a collective of women are committed to contributing - with others - to the necessary and urgent dialogue to achieve this.

Views expressed are not necessarily GroundUp’s.

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