Read Gareth van Onselen’s full article A blind revolution first published by Business Day on BDlive on 26 October 2015.
“The problem is not rights. The fact that they are being violated is a symptom. The problem is the money – there is none. The business that is South Africa makes no profit, but it spends and spends and spends. And if you think student protests about fees are disturbing in their intensity, if food protests start to take off in a significant way, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The past few years have been marked by a series of mini revolutions in South Africa — service delivery protests, wage negotiations, student fees. Really it is only apartheid geographic spacial planning and the lack of a single South African Tahir Square that seems to stop them all from coming together. But they are all symptoms. We remain, for the most part, blind to the real revolution. The economy is the golden thread that “joins them all together. If the problem is not arrested and the situation addressed, you get the sense it will arrive on our doorsteps to shock and disbelief”.
But here’s the thing: for all of this, the real problem seems to have been missed by everyone. University fees are not some isolated phenomenon. It is part of the far bigger, much more commonplace and fundamentally threatening structural problem: the condition of our economy.
There simply isn’t enough money to go around. Years of poor growth, increased lending and a series of infrastructure crises that have sucked the fiscus dry, have left us teetering on the edge of the abyss. In the other direction, a public sector wage bill that has now seen our contingency reserves raided, continues to outstrip inflation at an alarming rate.
Universities and their condition are just another symptom of this environment and what these protests have revealed is that every element of the problem — from the administration, to the executive, to our political parties, to the media itself — are absolutely and fundamentally drowning in a crisis no one saw coming, as they all try desperately to pretend it is something they have always cared deeply about. It is the consequence of a certain kind of economic illiteracy, an obsession with corruption and an ability to respond to problems only when they become acute.
The irony is that the economy, the greatest crisis of them all, is not given any proper attention.