2016 Fall Arcadia University External Programs Madeline Clapier South Africa

The Doors of Learning shall be Open

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It started with a single announcement, which shook the entire nation of South Africa.

I found out just before my Political Science class. I sat with my friends near the back of the 300 student full lecture hall. From down my row, a student gasped. Quickly, the room filled with whispers in English, Xhosa, Zulu and I’m sure other languages, which I am unable to identify.

Two minutes until class, my strict lecturer walked in and demanded silence.

However, the news of possible nationwide drastic university fee increase captivated the attention of my peers more than any class could. The girls behind me reflected on how they already struggled to pay for tuition. The guy in front of me did the math for his new tuition costs. I leaned over to my friend and asked what this meant for the universities.

He laughed and simply stated,”Protests.”

For weeks, conversations of potential protesting sat like a rumbling thunderstorm above our academic year. One by one universities all over South Africa congregated toward protests. As universities got more seriously involved, it became an act of solidarity for the other universities to join. So inevitably, the schools in and around Cape Town joined.

Except, the University of the Western Cape quietly trudged through the academic year.

Every day, I took the hour long bus ride to school to show up to lectures, which had less people every day. At first, I thought the dwindling population grew from natural semester exhaustion, but people were mobilizing.

For weeks, public attention turned to University of Cape Town. The school was shut down day after day. Twitter told a narrative of their demands, which varied if you spoke to a medical student or a law student, first year or final year, woman or man, white student or black student. However, most could identity that the protesting had not been produced by a simple rise of tuition. What is called the #FeesMustFall movement calls for much more than just cheaper or free education (another basic internal disagreement). It explores the necessity of decolonizing education.

As media focused on the increasingly complex situation at University of Cape, the city wondered if University of the Western Cape, a school with a history of powerful protesting, had an intention of joining.

Week after week, I went to school normally, while my friends at University of Cape went on an indefinite sabbatical. On the days their classes were canceled, I continued taking my early morning bus. When they returned to a campus full of armed security, my campus had their annual student body election. When they  had students arrested, I heard rumors that my university would finally join.

It was an act of brilliance for University of the Western Cape to wait until the elections to end. From what I can understand, the student representatives act as an important mode of communication between administration and students. Last year, they were not on the side of #FeesMustFall, but after these elections that is not the case.

Immediately following the elections, students of the University of the Western Cape stood with the nationwide shutdown. Students have been forcing the school to be inaccessible, so I haven’t had school since. Every student that I know is repeating the words of the South African Freedom Charter by saying, “The doors of learning and culture shall be opened.” Some scream in solidarity of the struggle of the colonized. Some yell on behalf of their own education. However, all are watching, living and breathing what will soon be a new era of South African history.


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