Let's Think

Student revolt brings hope for the future

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As the South African ‘born free’ generation and the toddlers of the early 1990s take to the streets in student protests across the country, there are clear signs of them throwing off some baggage from the past. (Read more)

As we report in the article Revolution Watch, the emerging generation – the leaders of whom are among those students presently marching through the streets of the country’s university cities and towns – “do not share the liberation struggle identity of the present leadership”.

They are in the process of forging an identity of their own. In time, it could just deliver that overarching, inclusive South African identity that has been eluding us since the internal political settlement concluded in 1994.

For one, despite some racial undertones here and there, it is heartwarming that at least one news report on last week’s student march on parliament could state: “Yesterday, the multi-racial (our emphasis) group of students outside parliament sang the national anthem.”

It is also interesting to note that four of the six arrested protesters, initially charged with among other things high treason, are white.

Clearly the new generation’s corps from which its leaders will come are rallying around issues that transcend racial dividing lines.

There are also signs that the future political environment of the emerging generation will transcend the dividing lines that have dominated it since 1994. It would be more driven by the issues of the day than the loyalties of the past. In fact, as also reported in Revolution Watch, the student protesters unambiguously shunned all attempts by political parties to cash in on the protests.

The clearest sign that the governing ANC who has dominated the political scene since 1994 on the strength of its liberation struggle credentials, will have to come to terms with the new reality was delivered last week Thursday. Students marched to the ANC’s headquarters in Johannesburg to tell its secretary general Gwede Mantashe: “The ANC has failed to deliver on its promises. Under their rule, there has been a declining contribution to universities. We, a new generation, will no longer tolerate this.”

And for a new generation to declare a new generation under circumstances of protest – in particular against a perceived corrupt regime – is nothing new in South Africa.

Way back in 1707 under circumstances of protest against the corrupt regime of Governor WA van der Stel in the Cape the 17-year old Hendrik Biebouw (sometimes also spelled Bibault) declared “Ik ben een Africaander” – I’m an African.

Biebouw by all accounts was drunk at the time he and two friends were causing havoc at the corn mill at the hamlet of Stellenbosch. He never became a leader. He was, however, the first white person known to have claimed an African identity at a time when the term Africaander was used to refer to free Blacks and slaves.

It was also the first time that the, until then divided Dutch and French components of the Cape’s population, joined hands in action against the authorities of the day. A solidarity that firmed when leaders of both groups were locked up in the Castle’s infamous “Black Hole.”

In his introduction to The Diary of Adam Tas, the editor referred to this period as “… in many respects the most important period in our history’ … “when the racial characteristics of Dutch and French and Germans stood out in strong contrast and relief, and when the fusion of these heterogeneous elements had scarcely begun. It (the diary) also indicates how the tyranny of Van der Stel and the unanimity of the opposition which it evoked, promoted and hastened this fusion.”

It is also interesting to note, as we highlight in Final Word, that South Africa in 1913 gave the world the concept of protest marches.

Just maybe the emerging new generation of South African leaders, today marching through our streets, will over the next decade or two come give us the Rainbow Nation, envisaged more than 20 years ago.

                                                                                                                                                                              by Steve Whiteman


Also readLessons for South Africa from Indonesia’s anti-corruption battle

                    Protest marches: We started it all

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