Protesting university fees – taking a Christian stand
Students prevented from attending university because they cannot afford the fees? We know this a reality all over the world.
Over the past year, there have been protests about university fees in South Africa under the banner of #FeesMustFall. In the past two months, the unrest became violent in some places.
But the protests are not simply a matter of university fees, Zuko Gabela, General Secretary of SCO, pointed out to me. ‘South Africa has the world’s greatest inequality of income levels, as measured by the well-known Gini Coefficient.
‘Our poverty has colour. Education is a tool that could bring about the self-worth, dignity and self-reliance of the indigenous African people. Unfortunately, higher education is currently very expensive and is accessible only to a select few – hence the series of protests.’
Zuko decries the fact, however, that ‘reckless action from the student community has muddied the clean noble cause, and unfortunate incidences of arson and destruction of property have been exacerbated by the heavy hand of police and security forces.’
SCO is standing firm against the violence. SCO staff worker Motseki Sosibo and some SCO associates have stood in the gap on campuses as Peace and Justice Witnesses, under the banner of South African Christian Leadership Initiative. Having observers present has played a significant role in de-escalating the violence and some are serving as mediators, engaging with both students and university management.
Sibabalo Mtonga, a second year law student at University of Western Cape and member of SCO had this to say: ‘In the past, Christians were regarded as always isolating themselves from such initiatives and I am proud to state that such narratives and stereotypes are being dismantled.
‘People now appreciate the role of Christians. SCO members are shaping a way forward and contributing positively towards the success of the current movement. There is normally a bad habit of Christians remaining invisible. We are glad this has not been the case with SCO. We are proud and unapologetic about being Christians.’
Motseki adds, ‘It is a clear aim of SCO to be actively involved in issues facing students in their respective institutions. We believe that change comes with prayer and unity, so please pray for us as we seek to serve Christ by being relevant to student communities at different universities.’
Emma Brewster, former staff with SCO, has stood alongside Motseki and others in recent days, and stands with him now in asking the IFES family to come alongside them in prayer. ‘In recent months, many students and academics have gone through traumatic times. They need counsel, spaces to be heard and healing. Pray too for the Christian students, that they will be salt and light. Pray for the many prodigals we have met, that they would come back to the Father, and pray for non-Christians who have been touched by the Christian witness on campus that has led to many conversations.
And of course, in the words of Zuko, ‘pray for the peaceful roll out of inclusive, accessible, quality education.’