Revivify Social Justice Struggle

Cape Times (South Africa), December 17, 2014 | Go to article overview

Revivify Social Justice Struggle


According to Census 2011, almost 9 percent of the South African population has had no schooling and only about 12 percent of the population has a tertiary qualification.

Today you are joining this 12 percent elite and privileged class of South Africans. What is this privilege that we are celebrating here today?

It is a privilege that enabled you to engage in reading texts, listening to lectures, responding critically to ideas, formulating arguments and creatively producing your own novel hypotheses and theories, for which you are now being rewarded with a higher education qualification. A distinct privilege indeed.

It is fortuitous that your graduation day coincides with the Day of Reconciliation.

It provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the social responsibilities that come with the privileges of a higher education qualification. I would like to suggest that the privilege of a higher education qualification should not just be about "me, myself and I".

A conscientious graduate should be someone who avoids the alluring trap of individualism and becomes a socially conscious and responsive citizen.

During my student years at this university in the late 1970s and early 80s, at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle, the struggle for social justice defined my student life and those of many others at the time. We fully recognised the privileges that higher education at this institution afforded us, and this motivated us to commit ourselves to the anti-apartheid struggle in the sincere hope that freedom from oppression and all forms of injustices would be achieved for all in our lifetime.

We were allowed to enroll at UCT, which at the time was designated for whites, by signing a permit that indicated that the courses we were taking were not offered at UWC, which was designated for non-whites. In my case, ironically, my UCT "permit" course was African history. We entered UCT under protest and willingly made sacrifices such as refusing to participate in university sports and attend graduation ceremonies because of our commitments to the struggle for social justice in apartheid South Africa.

After 1994 the opportunities for social justice and transformation expanded, and yet 20 years later it is clear that the commitment to the struggle for social justice has waned.

My challenge to this graduate class of 2014 is to revivify this noble struggle for social justice.

While on the Day of Reconciliation we can celebrate many social, political and economic gains we have made since 1994, we also have to acknowledge that after 20 years of democratic rule our society remains deeply divided.

A significant proportion of our population remains poverty-stricken; their job prospects remain limited; their employers continue to exploit them; they endure poor quality health and education services; they are dependent on often hazardous public transport systems; and their communities are ravaged by drugs and gang violence.

It is commendable that this institution (UCT) offers many programmes that afford its students opportunities not only to reflect on the deep inequalities that persist in our society, but also encourage its students to make a positive contribution towards building a more egalitarian society, and to traverse the racial and class divides that remain so intractable in our city and in our country. …

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