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One of my mentees from Mmametlhake in Mpumalanga, who is a student at the University of Pretoria, explains: “It’s very challenging to study from home. It is tough. But I am trying. We’ve outgrown living at home. Res is better than home and more productive than home. It’s almost impossible to study from home. Some of us even share our bedrooms with siblings, making it harder to wake up anytime to study.”
My heart sank as I was having a catch-up conversation with the mentees to check on how they were coping in these trying times. For many students who are from the villages or rural settlements, the setting at student residences is more productive than being at home.
Furthermore, one of them is an uncle now. His sister gave birth a week ago. It is a child-headed family. They don’t have enough money to buy electricity to last them for a whole month. Therefore, to supplement the little electricity they have, he is forced to go to the bushes to fetch wood to make fire to cook and have hot water. He also helps with the baby.
He does all these chores before he tries to log on to his laptop and catch up with a few online classes. In the village of Pankop, signal is a huge problem even when you subscribe to one of the main network providers.
To be frank, studying from home is not practical for them. What is more worrying is that they could fail this first semester, because they have to make endless adjustments to their new studying environments. It was very thoughtful of their respective institutions to get them data deals and laptops. But that is not enough. It will never be sufficient.
However, the socioeconomic imbalances of our country show that we cannot afford such an approach. It reminds me of a quote from a favourite movie, Coach Carter, which played on SABC 2 over the weekend.
“I see a system that’s designed to make you fail,” said Coach Ken Carter to his team of young black men.
In our own daily movie called Tertiary Education, this current approach doesn’t consider the challenges of the black child who is poor. The fact that they cannot be on campus and at their student residences has a direct impact on their studies. They are simply doing what they have to do.
It is very clear that the decision to resume university classes didn’t consider the poorest of the poor. It is evident that it was about those with the privilege of time, money and all the other resources.
Sadly, they cannot take part in any demonstrations or strike during this time of uncharted waters. Twitter hashtags won’t help their case either. Student movements are trying their best to suggest that students return to res, but they are not winning this battle. The inability to physically mobilise students and close campuses is making their cries ineffective. As a TUT alumni, I know that our concerns were heard only after students had taken drastic measures.
The higher education ministry should have considered the setups many students from the villages and the townships are finding themselves in, which are unproductive.
The resumption of lectures continues to show how the rich continue to win and the poor (black majority) remain left behind. Worse, the decisions are taking by a black-led government.
They shouldn’t have resumed tertiary studies under these circumstances.
I hope they pass against all odds. If they don’t, I hope they are not excluded, because they would have certainly performed better under normal circumstances.
More than 26 years into democracy, Steve Biko’s word remain relevant: black students are on their own.
Kabelo Chabalala is the founder and chairperson of the Young Men Movement (YMM), an organisation that focuses on the reconstruction of the socialisation of boys to create a new cohort of men. Email, email@example.com; Twitter, @KabeloJay; Facebook, Kabelo Chabalala
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