Varsity Unrest: Chickens Coming Home to Roost?

South Africa has experienced unrest since 1994 but never on a co-ordinated national scale like it has been now. Why is there a sudden explosion of emotion and what are the portents for the future?

Firstly an admission. I embrace the students’ mission but never violence nor the destruction of property. Fortunately these protests have been largely peaceful. From a global perspective they might look intimidating but they have been no more violent that comparable student demonstrations as in Paris or London. South Africans, especially whites need to reframe their understanding of the dynamic of protest action. It is inevitably disruptive to some element of society – be they motorists, commuters or businessmen on their way to work or home.

Main picture: Dark smoke billows from the crowd where thousands of students have gathered at the Union Buildings, calling on President Jacob Zuma to come out to address them Source: EWN

 What would the reaction of whites be to an issue? They would whine profusely around the dining room table to friends with everybody tut-tuting and nodding sagely in agreement. Perhaps they would sign a petition or email an article supporting their point of view. But what about real action? Protesting, demanding to have a meeting with a MEC. They assert that signing a letter of demand for action is sufficient to salve their conscience or doing their duty. Finally if they decide to assert their view, they will merely relocate to another country, anything but the hard grimy work of convincing the powers-that-be to effect a change.

The ultimate proest at the Union Buildings itself

The ultimate proest at the Union Buildings itself

Quite the contrary from the students’ perspective. Press the pause button and consider the fees situation from their perspective. Segments of the ANC has been promising free education for decades. This was never an issue because very few black youths went to university. Those that did could easily be provided with bursaries or student loans. As the tide has turned from a rivulet to a raging flood, neither of the sources was adequate.

Government losses and waste compared to a 3 year degree

With fees rising at the greater than the inflation rate together with the paucity of financial resources conflated with unrealistic expectations fuelled by the ANC was always going to dry the tinder waiting for the inevitable explosion.

It is growing increasingly obvious that the ANC does not possess the elixir to solve societal ills such as lack of employment opportunities. Instead they have participated in a financial bonanza which they have squandered on conspicuous consumption. Ostentatious displays of wealth never sits well with a proletariat living in penury. Nkandla is merely only one manifestation of undeserved wealth.

Coincidental?  I think NOT!

This graph highlights the crunch

This graph highlights the crunch

The sense that I obtain from the ANC’s reaction to this crisis – crisis, what crisis according to Blade Nzimande – reflects how out of touch with reality they are. Driving in their R1m BMWs and Mercedes with the blue-light brigade in attendance, they are after 20 years detached from the plebs at the bottom, the ANC voting fodder, which can be fobbed off with platitudes or promises before an election. They now want the pay-back: no tolls, free education, free housing, and free water. The list is endless.

The ANC attitude defies belief. It has grown increasingly obvious that without rapid growth of a minimum of 5% per annum, inexorable societal pressure would ultimately overwhelm them.

Why did the ANC proverbially fiddle while Rome burned?

This highlights the fact that givernment funding of Varsities has been declining in real terms for all white universities hereby creating the fees crunch

This highlights the fact that givernment funding of Varsities has been declining in real terms for all white universities hereby creating the fees crunch

A paradigm shift in economic thinking was required in 1994. Whilst assuaging their Workerist roots, they would have to remove all hindrances to economic growth. Instead with a Socialist agenda of the SACP dragging SA back to an era of State Control, paralysis regarding economic power prevailed. Pandering to these interests they

  • Introduced a slew of labour friendly legislation
  • Packed the civil service with their incompetent deployees
  • Enacted a raft of BEE measures

What was Nhlanhla Nene’s refrain during his mid-term budget speech? This can be summarised in one sentence as follows: South Africa is not projecting revenue growth, therefore we cannot afford expenditure growth but the civil servants have been awarded a 10% increase which will cost the fiscus and the country R62 billion.

This is cognitive dissonance at its best.

Funding of universities
Yet, for all that, will the students obtain what they are demanding: free education? I doubt it. Only the wealthiest countries can afford to do so. Even friends from the UK had to obtain Student Loans.

What it will mean is a prioritisation of education in South Africa. Even that will never allow free education for all varsity students.

Another less palatable realisation that will dawn on the students and the ANC is that turning out hundreds of thousands of graduates per annum with worthless degrees from an employer’s perspective will merely create another powder key; one potentially more explosive than the No Fees Campaign. What South Africa requires is artisans and technicians and not a surfeit of graduates.
A police Nyala

This roller coaster ride of reduced expectations will come to haunt the ANC in years to come.

No longer will they blandly be able to prophesize that they will create one million jobs in 6 months or take no action when consumers do not pay their electricity accounts. How will they be able to fund this whilst simultaneously pumping money into a bottomless called SOEs? Eskom, Energy Fund, SAA, the Post Office are bleeding money whilst the government has designs to create a mega black mining company by scooping up struggling mining companies. Like the haemorrhaging SOEs, these will become yet another drain on state resources. Instead of investing in education, which is a function of government, and infrastructure, it will be invested in vanity projects.

Heaven forbid that they tamper even more with the economy in that effort to redeem themselves in the eyes of the voters.



  1. I think this is a very well written article.

    Unfortunately I again see similarities with Zimbabwe were unimplementable promises were made and not fullfilled which led to a threat to the ruling party in 1997. This led to the last card that Mugabe was holding which was expropriation of land and we know what happened after that with the economic shutdown, hyper inflation and the collapse of the Zim dollar.

    I hope that the ANC have learned from this and realised that false problems and the bullying of the tax generators will have dire consequences. I seriously doubt this though – as you say the people who do generate the wealth cannot stand up to this onslaught easily and are a soft target for the ruling party. Where is a leader that will grab this nettle and put the country first?

    • Hi Alan

      Thanks. Unfortuantely I must concur that there are similarities with Zimbabwe in making promises that will remain unfulfilled. I am a cynic in that I do not believe that mankind learns from history


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