Education: the route to a better future

This is another column I wrote for Aberdeen University’s student paper, The Gaudie, about the Fees Must Fall campaign in South Africa and how education must be the foundation of a better future for all.


#FeesMustFall image from Connect, the Citizen

I grew up in Zimbabwe just as it was freshly liberated from decades of white-minority rule. And the new government focused on education as the new country’s route to success. That road to success hasn’t been an easy one, but it left me with a commitment to education as the best way for a society to achieve.

I’m currently visiting my family in South Africa, where education is the issue of the day. Students have launched a Fees Must Fall campaign, going on strike over the government’s fees policy. Over the past year this has put higher education at the heart of the debate about where South Africa’s future lies.

In the recent municipal elections the ANC, the party of Nelson Mandela, lost control of  city government in Pretoria (Tshwane), Johannesburg (Egoli) and – most symbolically – Nelson Mandela Bay. The new city governments seem likely to be an alliance of the liberal Democratic Alliance, who want to privatise services, and the ultra-left Economic Freedom Fighters who want to return land and property to the majority. It seems an unlikely marriage. And one most likely built on convenience or opportunism.

The reason the ANC have lost control is their failure to definitively choose an approach that transforms the lives of people sufficiently quickly. Far too many people still don’t have decent housing – or indoor toilets. Meanwhile the towering heights of the South African economy are owned by a tiny, monied, class. A class underpinned by the work and education of the many and the extraction of natural resources owned by all.

So University fees have become a key issue in this debate – with many claiming that University should be the lowest priority for a country with serious housing, health and infrastructure issues. It is a disgrace that South Africa has areas of the worst housing anywhere in the world.

But to argue that these are higher priorities than education is to miss the point. While the huge mining concerns are making massive profits it’s that money that should be used to transform the country. Paying for houses, hospitals and decent public transport can be done with the nation’s wealth, while also allowing people to benefit from open access to University and technical education.

So while Scotland and South Africa are different in many ways, the issues are very similar. If we want decent education we need to make the argument that it is more important than the eye-watering profits of the big companies. In Scotland, as in South Africa, Fees Must Fall!

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