The streets of various university towns are on fire – ignited by the rage of black youths tired of being relegated to a life of squalor and hopelessness writes Tshepiso Mabula ka Ndongeni
Dusty village roads bare witness to the Exodus of young people leaving their homes in pursuit of unknown dreams.
Those who have shared in this Genesis know how daunting it is to leave all that is familiar for the unknown, such is the fate of the stone thrower’s quest for freedom.
In South Africa many young people are relegated to life in the distant villages formerly known as Bantustans that are often far away from places of learning and prestigious universities.
This reality is part of the deliberate and volatile attempt by the apartheid regime to relegate black South Africans to a future of servitude and poverty. From the mountainous slopes of Nqamakhwe to the green rolling hills of the Limpopo, some young people travel long distances to end up in various South African cities in search for opportunities.
The stories of these cities are often haunting, one hears of long-lost uncles who left the villages in search for a better life only to be swallowed whole by the cities they traverse. They leave none-the-less, for it is often said that: “He passed matric with flying colours and thus he must fly to the big city with its blinding lights.”
Upon arrival the lure of the city’s blinding lights takes hold, its toxic air fills our lungs and reintroduces us the part of ourselves we didn’t know were hidden. Here, morogo oa koko tastes like a flavourless cardboard box compared to the quick and easy burger from across campus if we can afford it.
Here, the fast paced, hustle and bustle chokes us at the neck and knocks us off balance but we find it in ourselves to stand firm once more.
The fate of the displaced is such that they spend everyday trying to retrace their roots while carrying the weight of generational dreams on their backs. The reality of many South Africans is that we carry displacement in our bloodlines and this displacement follows us even into the trenches of the cities that we temporarily call home.
We are a people who leave home today in search of a better tomorrow but are greeted by the blinding lights of unknown cities and the longing of the warmth of the soil of our ancestral homes.
What is to be said of us, the ones who leave the lands that holds our roots firm to chase the dreams of gone-by generations? Who illuminates our path as we charge into the unchartered waters of city student life?
None can say we are not enlightened, because we are the ones who understand that our positioning in society requires us to chart a path in this unknown terrain. We are nameless in the city while back home our parents call us sons and daughters.
Enlightenment for us is the knowledge that there is no final resting place for the meek and that perhaps true wisdom is the understanding that there is still a way to go and that it starts with us leaving home.
The homeland that we come from were created to keep us far away from the opportunities of upward mobility, they were made to keep us stagnant and in defying this unjust history we must leave these homes and find liberation in the corridors of far away universities.
The end of apartheid meant that spaces that were previously inaccessible to us were now open and beckoned us to enter, these spaces were far and thus we were expected to find ways to reach them without any means being made to bring them closer to us.
The consequence of this moment of euphoria is such that no real steps were taken to ensure that the right of education is made accessible to all. While black people reconciled themselves with the possibility of a rainbow nation, they also needed to assimilate to the culture of the spaces that were intentionally built to keep them out of their corridors.
Twenty-seven-years since this utopic beginning we find ourselves in the middle of a crisis. Nelson Mandela’s promise of free education broken, austerity measures making it increasingly impossible for young black people to attain higher education; and no real solution being presented to curb the scepticism of a people betrayed by their former heroes has left the nameless nomads who left home seeking education with no real success today and in the foreseeable future.
The reality of a villager turned urban youth in the here and now seems bleak, these young people leave home to attain education so that they can fight themselves out of the clutches of poverty only to find themselves sleeping in school libraries and watching their humanity being stripped from them with every fleeting moment.
In a country where black people constitute about 80% of the population what is the fate of one who finds themselves in a school where black people make up about 19% of the student population?
What is to be said of this person, whose tongue is steeped so heavily in their mother tongue that even their command of English becomes a reason to delegitimise their belonging in such institutions?
In a country where the task of intellectual production has been made the exclusive preserve of white people, where do we place the young villagers who have toiled to find acceptance in these spaces of intellectual production?
These young people take a million steps to enter these spaces, they fight off the temptations of fast city life only to be relegated back into suffering and existential misery which will become a commodity for the white intellectuals who thrive in these spaces.
The city is a torturous space sometimes, the lure of Sandton city lights, expensive threads with Italian names and the prospect of tasting expensive libations that aren’t ordinarily available in the villages creates a myriad of bullets being thrust in the direction of these young people and perhaps make this displacement even worse.
Add to that the stress of high fees and the other aspects of higher education that make it that much more inaccessible. The streets of various university towns are on fire as we speak, these fires are caused by the burning rage of young black people who are tired of being relegated to a life of squalor and hopelessness.
The demand is a simple but equally difficult one, free decolonized education that is accessible and useful to the black majority whose ancestry was relegated to the periphery of the land we now call home.
The journey from home to the city is daunting and perhaps it is made worse by the realization that the cities we aspire to thrive in were created to keep us out and the new dispensation made no effort to change this reality.
What we need to ask is, in a capitalist society where education is a commodity, how possible it is to have free education? Capitalism demands that there be hierarchies that determine the extent to which we are deserving of humanity.
One can argue that the unwritten rule here is that the ethic of black life is such that it is taken with very little cultural capital and must never represent success or value. This reality is made worse by poverty because it teaches us that we are a people unworthy of dreaming and thus the reality for those who dare to dream of a better life is the misery of rubber bullets or even death as was the case in Braamfontein this week.
Those who are brave enough to finish school and leave home in search of a better future are seen, perhaps, to be disturbing the natural order of things and must thus be punished accordingly.
Capital is first and foremost in our society, modernity has established that those who have the means are deserving of a so-called good education, while those who have none must live to serve those who have and one who dares to disrupt this reality, a poor, wayward nomad who leaves ‘the dusty streets of home’ to find a good education are seen to be playing a game of Russian roulette that could either end in a beautiful and euphoric rags to riches story or the shameful return of one who was swallowed whole by the beasts of makgoweng.