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'Education must be accessible to all'

Sharon Letlape says students are fighting for equality, integrity and dignity.
Sharon Letlape says students are fighting for equality, integrity and dignity.
Image: Supplied

Sharon Letlape from the Vaal University of Technology, a member of the Central Command Team, believes that the struggles faced by the 1976 youth are similar to those being fought by today's generation.

Letlape said the youth struggles are intertwined and multi-layered.

"This has been the case since as far back as the 1976 student uprisings. All we ever wanted as students and still want is equality, integrity and dignity. We wanted to break generational chains of poverty, inhumanity and inequalities that students find themselves chained to," she said.

She said the struggle for students was far from being over.

"When we leave home in search of greener pastures in these institutions of higher learning, we are hit with the dreadful reality that we are still unable to better our lives because we are in debt the moment we enter these institutions. The biggest lesson young people took from 1976 youth was the courage and bravery needed to fight for political change and we continue with the struggle in our different ways," Letlape said.

A former student leader from the University of Pretoria, Amos Amla Monageng, believes the struggle for quality education is still the same. He is one of the students who were placed under house arrest for his involvement in the FeesMustFall protests. He finished serving his sentence last year. "The financial and academic exclusion are still the order of the day. The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the inequalities we fought against in the past years.

"We want the curriculum that will respond to social needs, the racial demographics should be reflected in all the institutions of higher learning," Monageng said.

In 2015, the country watched as students took to the streets under the #FeesMustFall campaign which carried on in 2016. The student protests took the country down the memory lane to the youth uprising in 1976.

Back then the youth were fighting against the use of Afrikaans at schools.

Forty years later, activities at institutions of higher learning came to a standstill with students this time demanding that the doors of learning be opened to all.

Former University of Witwatersrand Student Representative president Mcebo Dlamini, who was found guilty of public violence and slapped with a suspended sentence of two years and six months, said the fight for free education was part of a broader Struggle of black liberation.

"It is impossible to separate the struggles of black people with the struggles of students because out in the world is blackness first before we become students. The fight for free education was an outcry and resistance to a system that continuously excludes black people because they have no means," Dlamini said.

He said the fight for free education was part of a long tradition of black resistance and considering that the conditions of black people have not changed he would participate in the struggle without flinching.

Another #FeesMustFall activist Bonginkosi Khanyile said education must not be made available to the rich only, but it must accessible to the oppressed majority.

"The FeesMustFall protests were able to achieve slight victories; for instance, National Student Financial Aid Scheme has been more accessible. More and more poor people are made to access high education though we still have a number of them left behind.

"However, the struggle is still the same as education is not yet free, accommodation is still a problem at universities and the curriculum content is still not decolonised," he said.

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