The first week back was busy for everyone. Classes started, campus opened for some, and students protested nationwide. But, disappointingly, UP had some of the least effective and smallest meetings and marches to address financial exclusion and the various funding issues some students face. This is largely because so many UP students don’t care about what they dismiss as ‘politics’. But the issue isn’t just politics and protests. Students who have earned their entrance, just like everyone else, are being excluded on the basis of money. We shouldn’t be so okay with this, and we shouldn’t be silent when the government and universities aren’t willing to sufficiently address the problems. But UP stands out in our silence and our lack of interest.
As you read this, you may wonder why you should care or how it affects you, but those ideas are encouraged and instilled in UP culture. The university benefits most from students dismissing real issues as ‘just politics’, or ignoring what the SRC tries to fight against on their behalf. It suits UP for you to not care about the issues that students have to face. After FeesMustFall, it seems to me like the university tries its hardest to keep students apolitical, and disinterested in student affairs and issues that other universities actively fight against. To avoid potential student action and movements gaining momentum, we’re made to dismiss issues students face and made to think we hold no influence or say as students in this big, often impersonal institution. Students can only affect change if they care and are involved, but the university makes the easiest option apathy. You don’t need to accept everything as ‘just the way it is’. You have a voice as a student, and the university needs to listen to it. Every student should know they have a voice, and know how to use it when they need to.
However, student apathy isn’t only influenced by the university. While the fight over the last week has been valid, the SRC was embarrassingly unprepared. If we learnt anything from the #AmINext protests, is that student action dies out without proper planning and strategy. You can only rally students for so long before they tire of marching around campus without results. Lerato, as SRC president, should have explained the course of action, rallied support, and implemented a planned out approach to achieving students’ goals. FeesMustFall wasn’t spontaneous, and its success didn’t come from spur of the moment sit-ins. SRC, you have the potential to lead students and make UP management listen to you, and implement real change, but it won’t happen like this. Students can only care if they have strong leadership and a loud, clear voice speaking on their behalf.
I am not telling anyone to protest or not to protest, but I am saying we should all care. Whether you support the cause the SRC is defending or not, you should know you have a voice as a student. We aren’t mindless cogs in a machine, pumping out degrees. We are all active, acting students, and should exercise our agency by caring about, discussing, engaging with and challenging ‘politics’ and the very real problems and issues raised by our fellow students. Support the marches or don’t, but care and challenge the apathy we’re encouraged to feel.
I’d love to know your thoughts on all of this, and how you feel about student issues and student action. Write a letter to the editor (firstname.lastname@example.org) and have your voice published in the next edition. You can read the letter requirements in the Letter Policy below.
Until next time,