The following speech was delivered by the DA’s Shadow Minister of Higher Education, Prof Belinda Bozzoli MP, in the National Assembly during the debate on the current Higher Education crisis.
Throughout this crisis, the DA has been steady in its approach: We believe that no poor person should be denied an education because they cannot afford it; we have a plan for the missing middle; we want NSFAS reformed; and we want Universities to be better supported. We support freedom of speech but not violence and intimidation. We have stood firmly for opening our Universities and keeping them open. We know what needs to be done.
By contrast, the ANC has dithered, like the 100-year old lady it is. The President and his army of deplorables have reacted with complete silence on the one hand and inconsistent policy statements on the other.
As far as security is concerned, the ANC has veered from tolerance of the most extraordinary acts of violence, arson and vandalism in the early stages, and crude kragdadigheid more recently.
We have a vacuum of leadership. It is a vacuum so vast that it has sucked into itself every possible leadership alternative. Anything goes at the moment, in the rush to represent the poor.
We have the authoritarian passions of some in the decolonisation movement; the hopeful revolutionaries who believe that our Leninist moment is nigh and the state is about to fall; the ruthless guerrilla warfare of gangs of students with sticks, terrorising campuses; and the deadly secretiveness of those who plant petrol bombs in the dead of night.
We have various societal leaders offering to mediate, to discuss, to hold Codesa all over again; the handwringing elements of the academic staff who unforgivably fail to defend their own institutions against intolerable aggression; and, saddest of all, the parents and the students who want to study, all begging and pleading for our Universities to remain open and to function.
So while we have stood firm, the ANC has shown little or no real leadership. No address to the nation from the President. No firm ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the students. No reassurance to parents. No clear ideas of where to take this. Instead we have a Commission of Enquiry and a task team. Soon we will get that old staple – the turnaround strategy. Yes, committees and task teams, documents and press releases, pleas and summits, strategies that aren’t really strategic. That’s all we have.
There have been over 500 arrests, but how many of those who committed serious crimes will be prosecuted? Mr Abrahams and the NPA have much more trivial prosecutions keeping them busy, it seems.
This is what counts as leadership in South Africa today, as we watch the destruction of the futures of our children.
As this maelstrom swirls, I would like to remind you, Honourable Speaker, of the original sins of the ANC led government, which have been crucial in causing this situation to arise:
- The sin of neglect: First brought to public attention by the DA, this is the sin of treating Universities as places which could absorb infinite numbers of new students, many of them from poor backgrounds and weak basic education, without the necessary funding for them. We all know by now the statistics which show how funding has declined as class sizes have increased, NSFAS being insufficient and so on. Nothing has been more crucial than this factor in creating a failing, disaffected, unfunded mass of poor students who fear that all their hopes for a decent future will come to nothing. A sure recipe for extreme militancy if ever there was one.
- The sin of opportunism: The ANC has never distanced itself from student violence in the past. Indeed, for decades it has opportunistically provided student militants with covert and overt support. It rode the tiger of student militancy for all of these years; and now it and our universities are rapidly being devoured by the beast.
- The sin of demonisation: After 1994 large parts of the ANC eagerly joined in the pastime of demonising our Universities, particularly the best ones. Change was necessary, of course. But they did not say, “Here are centres of excellence, national treasures; we need to protect them as we reform them; we need to grow and develop them as we transform them to fit into the new South Africa.” Instead they demonised them as recalcitrant, called them apartheid institutions, whatever their individual histories; cut their funding; implied that their existing activities were somehow shameful. And so on. It is not surprising that this demonisation motif prevails today.
And so the ANC became the enablers of today’s revolution: through underfunding they created a student underclass; through opportunism they gave ruthless violence tacit support; and by demonising Universities they pitted them against the students.
Never forget the ANC’s basic culpability for all that we see before us.
As we watch this implosion, we have to ask the President, his cabinet and the rest of his deplorables, where will you send your children to University in the future? Where will your children study once our top Universities have lost their fee-paying students, their best lecturers and Professors, their donors and their international standing?
Will you be sending them overseas? Will you be sending them to private Universities? And who will produce the research the country and the economy needs? Who will absorb our matriculants every year? How will we manage with badly trained lawyers, doctors and nurses? How will we cope with accountants who don’t know what they are doing?
Minister, your statement provides yet another stop gap set of measures. Where are your long-term solutions to this, the worst educational crisis in history? And where are your timeous, well thought-through plans to prevent this from happening again next year?
The country is waiting.