Today, I was once again shocked by the comments of some of my fellow students on a #FeesMustFall post on the Stellies Rage page. The post, which was a statement regarding yesterday’s peaceful protest in the library, was met with so much hate and anger and I couldn’t believe it. This isn’t a post about the #FeesMustFall campaign because I honestly haven’t been to enough discussions to have formed my entire opinion on the matter, nor was I there yesterday to write about how the gathering went but I wanted to write about how little it appears some students care for those around them.
A few comments in particular stood out for me. In response to the statement, this person stated “’Violence of exclusion” – violence? of exclusion? are the police shooting black children trying to attend classes? No they’re not. Maybe it’s time the police and the powers that be start growing a pair balls and start becoming more aggressive in protecting the rights of students who are bona fide attending the university instead of the rights of cretins who want to turn this institution into a jungle.” This person is talking about someone who they may sit next to in a lecture, who maybe lives in their residence or even someone they simply walk past on to way to class yet they think it is okay to call their fellow students ‘cretins’.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, I am not trying to comment on the #FeesMustFall campaign but rather on the utter disregard some students show their peers. Just because the struggle isn’t one you are fighting, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t support your brothers and sisters who you know are deep in it. Some of the most typical response on this thread were along the lines of “I am here to study, get a degree and make sure I actually have a future” or “Maybe if you stopped wasting time on silly protests and actually worked you too could be successful” and my absolute favourite was “Hard work leads to success. If you work hard you can have a better life. These people are all lazy and think if they whine and complain everything will be handed to them. No. Some of us actually had to work hard to get here.”
During a sermon at church last week, we heard the story of a boy who the pastor had grown up with. They were the same age, living in the same township, but living completely different lives. While the pastor went home after school to play soccer with his friends, this boy (who was 14 years old) went around his community selling various vegetables to try and earn some extra money to help his mother support his family. His father was working in Johannesburg and he knew his mother’s poor salary was not enough to support his family. Was he not a hard worker? He woke up earlier than his peers to prepare for the day, walked to school where he focused and learnt as much as he could, came home and set out for a long day of work simply to support his family.
At the age of 14, I was in no way prepared to help fund a household, while still attending school and helping my mother look after my siblings yet we tell this boy if he works hard he will be successful. There are hundreds of other boys out there just like him and we promise them this false sense of hope when we say hard work pays off. Yes, don’t get me wrong it does and yes there are amazing stories of people breaking out of this lifestyle and making a better life for themselves – but hard work isn’t all it takes to get out of the cycle of poverty. There are people in our community against whom the odds are already stacked and they can work as hard as they want and still not be able to afford the luxuries they deserve.
There are obviously people who don’t work hard when they are stuck in these situations and I understand that; but don’t call them lazy simply because they don’t have enough hope to push through. Remember, there are rich people in this world, who haven’t worked a day in their life.
Just remember when you are walking across the stage at your graduation and you look out among the faces, that there are students who once sat in the same lecture hall as you who didn’t make it as far as you did. Remember that while you are here to study, you are also here to make a change. I personally think it is your responsibility. University isn’t about keeping your head down, worrying only about yourself and not caring about those around you who are struggling because I can promise you, you’ll feel so much better standing on that stage knowing you did everything you could to help the person standing behind you or in front of you get to that place too.
I am in no way telling people what their views on #FeesMustFall should be, I am just saying that when you make blanket statements about the people protesting for something that makes studying a privilege rather than a right, that they are people too. They are our brothers and sisters and if you can help – you should!
It isn’t always about making your struggle equal to or even more painful than others, sometimes it is just about understanding and supporting our brothers and sisters