PEN SA Reiterates its Call for De-Escalation and Dialogue on #FeesMustFall

13 Oct 2016
PEN SA Reiterates its Call for De-Escalation and Dialogue on #FeesMustFall

Statement from PEN SA President Margie Orford and PEN SA Executive Vice-President Mandla Langa:

We write to you as our university campuses burn. There are running battles between students demanding a free, decolonialised education on the one hand and private campus security and riot cops on the other. Teaching and learning have been suspended at many universities and have been, to all intents and purposes, menaced with total closure. This academic year will be lost to the students at these institutions and the prospects for the many thousands of hopeful school pupils preparing for their matriculation exams are dire, to say the least. 

The implications for South Africa as a country are awful too. Our universities are vital to the cultural, creative and economic life of our country. Viscerally, they affect society directly, in health services, engineering and civics, just to name a few. The demand for a free education is a complex one that demands tectonic shifts in the imagining of South Africa. The demands are varied and shifting which makes it difficult for beleaguered university managers to negotiate. Academic and former Wits lecturer Khaya Sithole spoke to The Daily Vox about what is happening with the student movement at Wits right now.

These incendiary protests are evidence that the neo-liberal project of the last twenty years has failed. The protests on campus are the most visible and vocal of protests about service delivery that have been flaring up for years now. Although the universities have borne the brunt of the fury and destruction, the responsibility for this crisis and its solution lies with the state, with the African National Congress as the ruling party and with the Minister for Higher Education, Blade Nzimande and with President Jacob Zuma. Both these men have failed in their responsibility to address the crisis in education or to hear the protests by angry citizens who have not benefited from the last two decades. South Africa and its citizens are paying a heavy price – and currently it looks as if it might be a price that bankrupts us morally, creatively and economically. 

PEN South Africa called before for a de-escalation of hostilities and negotiations after the burning of the library at the UKZN. We call again for all parties to step back from the brink, which has been so eloquently discussed by Sisonke Msimang in her piece “Shutdown – On the Death of Compromise in South Africa“, to effectively declare a ceasefire and to undertake the long and complex discussions about changing the foundation of higher education. Compromise will be needed on the part of everyone but there are ways other than this dangerous and highly masculinised standoff that threatens all of us. We also have to discourage the posturing of demagogues and failed attention-seekers, who thrive under the glare of publicity. This is a call to all writers, to all our members to contribute to this conversation, to hold the discursive space open and to be part of the urgent re-imagining of both the present and the future. The destruction of institutions like Wits and UCT will serve no one. Institutions are fragile entities and it would be a disaster to negotiate for free education only to find that no education is possible because the universities – which are the sum of the people in them, not the bricks and mortar – no longer exist. 

Margie Orford
President, PEN South Africa

Mandla Langa
Executive Vice-President,PEN South Africa

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