Marching to the Union Building

I'm not a student. Technically. I deferred my studies for the year. Until last week Friday I had decided to distance myself from the student movement happening across the country. I kept my opinion to myself. In fact I don't think I had an opinion because I felt that I had done my time in university. I suffered through it making sure I completed my undergrad being funded by NSFAS. I thought that's what everyone did: make a plan until you get the degree. Suffering wasn't only about the finances. Culturally I tried to keep a low profile because I didn't fit into the middle class culture at Rhodes University. I went to one Trivrsity because I was on SRC that year and had to be present. Beyond that, I kept to the academics, working to make extra money and volunteering in Rhini.

But current university students have decided that the status quo is not good enough and have slowly made demands because what is happening in the universities needs to change. And they are right. So I decided I would participate in the march to the Union Building because it's important for me to show solidarity to what current students are facing. The student movement is not simply about universities but it's also about South Africans being able to make demands in South Africa twenty-one years after the promises of the 1994 moment have not been met.

Marching through Pretoria and trying to get a glimpse of the number of students who came.

Everyone has a vested interest in university and what it means in South Africa. Many people also hold an opinion about how activism should be done in South Africa and others have ideas about what change really looks like in South Africa. I've become quite fuzzy on all these issues and going to the Union Building on Friday was a small way of re-igniting the questions I have about how things ought to be in South Africa because we all agree that the world isn't good enough and we have to make it better. But how? There are so many battles to fight and many organisations doing good trying to challenge the world as we currently experience it.

I also went to the Union Building because I had the opportunity to do so. There was no school on Friday. This is significant because my current school has allowed me a way to hide away from many realities in South Africa. If I want to I can choose to be disengaged about politics and blame it on the mountain of marking I have every other week. But the truth is I don't want to get lost in the comfort of my privileged work environment and safe home. I want to be involved in the world outside my comfort zone but most times the effort seems disingenuous. When Marikana happened I was at school having a normal day and it was images in the Cape Times that made me aware of what was happening. I was hurt that the moment had passed me by because my world had become so small and insular.

"I am done with the ANC" a banner hanging outside one of the residences on our way to the UB.

As a student I had found a balance between the outside world and the comfort I had in a privileged institution. I knew what was happening in the community around me and it didn't make me smug but it made me aware of the need to hold onto some idealistic dream I had about the world changing. But as an adult this has become a little fuzzier. I am no longer surrounded by blind idealists who give of their time not expecting anything in return. I am surrounded by adults who concerned about playing house, advancing in their careers, the petrol price increasing and getting their kids into a good school amongst a list of other seemingly banal, but important preoccupations.

Perhaps there's a sense of missing being a student now that I'm supposed to be an adult. I miss the hope I had that the things I did and wrote about really mattered. I miss the meaning I attached to my life and the ideals I had. I've lost some of that since becoming concerned about pension funds, paying tax and saving for my retirement annuity. I don't know how to balance being an adult in a world where I have ticked all the right boxes and therefore live a life that is relatively cushioned. I hate being an adult because it has strangely shielded me from what's happening. My life has become smaller and I have to force myself to know what's happening outside my little world.

I went to the Union Building because I remember what it was like worrying about my fees and hoping NSFAS would accept my application. I know the sinking feeling when NSFAS says they won't cover all the fees and you have to find R4000 which seems insurmountable because I had promised myself I would sort myself out because I knew my family couldn't support me financially. Unlike students depending on NSFAS a few years later, I had someone able to pay the shortfall NSFAS couldn't cover. I can never forget the financial burden that university has been for me. And sometimes I wonder what it was worth? Going to university has allowed me the perks to live a strange middle class existence that allows me to dip in and out of the real world whenever I want.

The unfortunate part of the march: people started fires while students
were waiting to see if President Zuma would address the students.
There was more than one fire started by a group suspected to be
ANC members sent to discredit the march. 

I went to the Union Building  because a part of me wants to be part of some struggle because I don't know a life that doesn't have some kind of struggle or complexity. I don't know easy and I'm uncomfortable with the easy life I seem to have landed myself in knowing that my life is not the norm for many young black people across South Africa.


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