Nothing showed the kind of privilege that Wits University enjoys than the realization that it took them eight days of protest to achieve what Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) students have been fighting over for years.
TUT students have been protesting for years over exorbitant fees.
In 1978, American Sociologist William J. Wilson argued that by the mid-20 century class would matter more for getting ahead than race.
He started a debate that is still carrying on today about the rise of the black middle class and the structural advantages that come with being black and class-privileged.
His hypothesis played out in true biblical prophetic fashion with the #FeesMustFall national student protests culminating in all the students converging at the Union Buildings.
WAS IT JUST RANDOM HOOLIGANISM OR SOMETHING DEEPER?
After president Jacob Zuma announced that there were would be a 0% fee hike next year, some TUT students were still dissatisfied. They decided to block main roads leading from the Union Building so that people could not leave.
At face value people see these as random acts of hooliganism, but a closer look reveals something deeper behind the actions of the TUT students.
TUT students knew that after the protest the Wits and University of Pretoria students would be returning to their nice air-conditioned lecture halls, while they went back to their campuses in Soshanguve and Ga-Rankuwa.
When classes resume, they will be back to not having enough copies to pass around in dimly-lit, un-ventilated lecture halls while using outdated systems, projectors and old computers.
CHECK YOUR SHAKY PRIVILEGE WITS STUDENTS
While it’s understandable that Wits students felt like their peaceful protest was hijacked by rowdy TUT students, it’s important for the former to check their privilege before passing judgement.
Grace Khunou, Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Johannesburg, once said in an article published on 11 May 2015 in independent, not-for-profit online media outlet The Conversation “A detailed examination of the meeting of race and class in the experiences of the black middle class suggests that belonging to the black middle class brings with it shaky privileges.”
Many of the students at Wits belong to the much-talked-about black middle class. Wits is much closer to whiteness than most institutions in this country so they’re much more inclined to receive the long end of the stick.
They have posh lecture halls with state-of-the-art security systems and a massive campus to accommodate hundreds of thousands of students.
THE REALITY OF TUT STUDENTS IS STILL BLEAK
TUT students are on the other end of the spectrum.
The SRC’s officer for student affairs Noluthando Precious Mazibuko said in an article in Mail & Guardian that the Ga-Rankuwa campus has a capacity for 1 000 students, but the student population sits at 6 000.
The students will go back to living in residences that do not have enough security guards.
They will still wash their clothes by hand in communal basins.
I was glad when I jumped on Twitter after the protests to see people who were part of the protests acknowledge the double standards at play.
“TUT students got rubbished when things got burnt *watches double standard to Witsies*” Mayibuye Tshwete tweeted.
ChiefExo neatly summed it up: “TUT kids are never listened to because of their perceived lower class, I totally understand their anger, to make it worse they’re belittled.”
The cause of these two universities might be in solidarity but the circumstances are different.
The whole movement needs to check itself so it can be stronger and genuinely unified.
Pictures by Siya Mkhasibe / Livity Africa content pool