The week student idealists taught us a lesson

26 October 2015 - 02:06 By Máire Fisher

My son is a third-year student at UCT who has worked his butt off this year. So when the #FeesMustFall campaign started, I was really pissed off. All I could see was a year's work going down the drain, with a year's fees which we can ill afford. Another demo, another strike, another protest, another day in South Africa, was very much my jaded take on it all.On top of that, I wondered why universities were being held to ransom, why the protest wasn't being delivered to the right place, to some of the government members who have done their level best to direct funds away from education and into personal coffers.I didn't take #FeesMustFall seriously. I've grown so used to daily, if not hourly, news of corruption that I couldn't see what good any further protest would do, besides disrupting study week and having a detrimental effect on exams.Last week made me realise how much like a blunted blade I have become. I expect things not to work; I expect protests not to work; I'm apathetic and negative. I follow the news, and inject most of it with large doses of cynicism (the same cynicism I experienced at the beginning of the week, thinking the protesting students were probably hoping for exams to be postponed or cancelled because they were failing).I'm sorry for feeling this way. Last week I saw that true idealism is still alive and thriving, and that it is being directed towards those who ignore it at their peril.As the week unfolded, I heard impassioned, articulate students speaking, followed the news on Twitter, read articles on websites, watched video clips and read posts on Facebook.I watched as our government failed to respond with sensitivity, respect or compassion. I saw how the news cameras zoomed in on scenes of unrest without concentrating equally on scenes of students chatting to the police, or campuses and streets left spotless after the students headed home.I saw how political parties tried to claim ownership of a campaign that was directed against them, then read tweets showing how the students saw through these attempts.My initial response to the campaign was largely maternal and personal. This was going to affect my son, put his future in jeopardy, possibly cause us future financial pressure. But it's not just my son. It's all our children. All those bright, brave people who want nothing more than a fighting chance for a decent education and a decent life.I'm not an activist. I'm not a political analyst. I'm a white, middle-class, post-middle-age mom who's grateful for the lesson she's been allowed to learn.Máire Fisher is a freelance writer. Her first novel, "Birdseye", was published by Umuzi last year..

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