Student protests in South Africa reflect the unequal society

South African students have launched unprecedented protests at several universities around the country. Foremost is the increased tuition fees that triggered the demonstrations. But there are underlying structural causes too.

It costs up to 5 000 US dollar a year to enter a South African university. Parents with low-paying jobs in many cases earn below 600 dollar per month and have little opportunity to send their children to college.

“In addition to tuition fees, students need to live as well. There are homeless students who sleep in the classrooms and who cannot afford to eat every day”, NAI researcher Patience Mususa observes.

According to her, for a long time, the government has neglected to adequately invest in the education system, which still reflects the legacy of apartheid era discrimination. It has led to a situation where the country's primary education are among the worst in Africa – despite the fact that private universities in South Africa are considered the best on the continent. For the poorer part of the population who cannot afford to send their children to private schools this has consequences for their later higher education. Therefore, the problems with South African universities also have a racial component.

“They have tried to make universities more accessible to black South African students through specific quotas. But this has backfired because the students are considered to be there on sufferance and not on their own merits. Institutional racism is evident in South African universities, even among the staff, and must be addressed”, Mususa remarks.

She believes that the ongoing protests, as many other conflicts in the country, are basically about the growing inequality and political reluctance to redistribute wealth.

“It is all connected, student protests can be seen in the light of many other issues in South Africa – the question of land reform, the Marikana massacre, and the close links between state and big capital”, Mususa concludes.

FURTHER READING: two articles on Annika Teppo's blog deal with the present protests in South African.
The student uprisings in South Africa and wider political-economic change by Vito Laterza.
The right to education by NAI senior adviser Henning Melber.

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