South Africa is a fascinating country and having the opportunity to live here as it attempts to transform and achieve the constitutional and democratic ideals set out has been an eye opening experience. Despite entering into a democracy twenty-two years ago, this change was never going to be a quick rupture with the past but rather a long and complex process. Learning about the history of the country and engaging in its modern day struggles has changed the way I view the world.
I have realised growing up in a developed and wealthy country that there are so many everyday things that I take for granted. To get to university from home I would normally take a bus, train and subway, the journey takes little over an hour but I constantly moaned about it and wish I had a car. After spending nearly a year without having public transport or a car as an available option I’ve realised just how good Scotrail really is. The next time my train to Glasgow is delayed by 5 minutes or I have to wait 20 minutes on a bus I won’t react as if the world has ended.
One of the most noticeable differences between UCT and Glasgow is the student’s attitude. At home I had become an expert on how to avoid participating in tutorials and been called on to answer questions. However here in Cape Town not only do students answer in class but such participation is not even considered strange, in fact if you don’t say something you become the strange one. While this was a shock to the system at first I ended up enjoying classes a lot more because the atmosphere is much more chilled and relaxed because everyone just talks away. I believe that because education is free in Scotland its value has been lost and it is underappreciated. The reality is in countries like South Africa everyone has the right to education but that vast majority of the population do not have financial resources to enjoy such right because of historic and continued systematic oppression. My appreciation for university and being able to study has definitely been realised. In Scotland it’s possible to say I lived in a bubble surrounded by my white privilege, so much so that sometimes I didn’t even realise that my everyday life is a privilege. Even having the opportunity to study abroad as a realistic option has to be understood as a privilege. Studying in South Africa has really shown me how important it is to keep your white privilege in check and understand the effects it has on others across the globe.
My far the most eye-opening experience I’ve had during my time in South Africa is witnessing the student led protests at the end of last year. The main protest Feesmustfall was the movement that shook the status quo of education and was a victorious moment in the quest to make it more widely available. Feesmustfall spread across the country as students petitioned against raising university fees. Students argued that university is already unachievable for many because of their socio-economic circumstances and raising fees for the 2016 academic year would make education even more inclusive towards the rich minority of society who are predominately white. What I found outstanding was the uniting of students and citizens against this hugely problematic decision taken by the government. Feesmustfall was created, mobilised and fought by mainly students. To be able to gain support across the country and achieve a 0% increase in tuition fees illustrated how effective organised resistance can be. Students spent hours on campus protesting to the extent where normal university activities had to be postponed. They also marched through the streets, protested outside police stations and Parliament. While the movement achieved its goal it was not without constant violent confrontation with police and law enforcement agencies. Rubber bullets and tear gas were commonly used to disperse crowds, property was set on fire, protesters were interdicted and police conduct came under very critical scrutiny. The use of force by authorities was arguably abusive and too closely related to the mass massacres of previous years that left protesters dead after confrontation with police. The crucial point here is it was not someone else fighting for a 0% increase in university fees it was students and everyday people. They risked their place in education and safety to protest against a decision that was unfair and non-democratic. In terms of politics in Scotland I never thought individuals could achieve anything, and didn’t consider myself that interested in politics so automatically brushed it off as something I wasn’t going to bother with. I have come to the realisation it’s not about whether you consider yourself to be interested in politics but rather it is no one else’s responsibility but our own to engage with governmental decisions that are ultimately life changing.