South Africa: 'Fees Must Fall Was a Progressive Struggle, We Just Differed On Tactics' - Adam Habib

Wits University Vice Chancellor Adam Habib says his book Rebels and Rage: Reflecting on #FeesMustFall , published earlier this year, gives a different and unfamiliar perspective of what transpired in the tertiary education sector over the past three years.

Habib was in conversation with author and journalist Redi Tlhabi at the book's launch at the university's Solomon Mahlangu House on Tuesday evening.

In the book, the outspoken VC writes about his experience and involvement in negotiations with students, university management and government during the protests which hit South Africa's institutions from late 2015.

Habib said that, while his book was not appreciated by everyone, especially students who were involved in the protests, he believed that he had not written a "definitive" or neutral piece of the movement, because he was also an actor in the process.

He said that the book should not be interpreted as saying that the struggle wasn't "legitimate", but that he thought certain things could have been handled differently.

"I believe that everybody approached Fees Must Fall with some strengths and some weaknesses. I thought Fees Must Fall was a progressive struggle. I think, as a demand, [it was] absolutely a legitimate demand.

"Where I differed with the 'Fallers' [students] was around the tactics, strategies and how they played out," he said.

'Debate on decolonisation not subjected to critical scrutiny'

Habib said that many of the decisions he had taken as vice chancellor during the time of the protests were "difficult" ones that had to be made.

He was referring to when he had to call the police onto campus in 2016.

He said that he had a responsibility to ensure the safety and security of everyone on campus, adding that, the majority of students had indicated, through a poll, that they wanted to complete the academic year.

"When I took those many difficult decisions in 2016, I went to every faculty and, in every faculty, we carried more than 90% of the staff. When I stood for my second term in the senate, we had overwhelming support..."

He says he is convinced that the story he tells in the book are views, not only of the majority of the staff, but also those of most students.

Touching on the decolonisation of education, which has been an ongoing debate in institutions since the times of #RhodesMustFall in 2015, Habib said he thought that the discussion was "rhetoric" and not "substantive".

He said what was needed was a debate that would be far more focused on the kind of reforms that were needed.

"Too much of the debate, both at the level of students, vice chancellors and academics, is that they don't get to the particulars... Too much of the debate on decolonisation is not subjected to critical scrutiny."

Movement 'captured by different political parties'

Habib said another aspect covered in the book was the role politics had played during the Fees Must Fall movement, adding that it had become "spontaneous" as early October 2015 when there was alliance of political parties at the university.

He said, once the movement had received the support of the broader society, politicians had moved in very quickly to support it.

"The movement, or different parts of the movement, were captured by different political parties. Some by EFF, ANC... the DA was always trying to catch up.

"What I found in 2016 is that we could not cut a deal because political parties from the outside were saying 'no deal', and they were saying it for different reasons."

Habib was asked what he thought about student leaders who were at the forefront of the movement and had since made it into Parliament as MPs.

He said he had a problem with the fact that a dangerous "incentive structure" had been created.

"You come here, create mayhem, develop a reputation and then you get appointed by parties so that you can get votes and land up in Parliament, immediately earning more than a R1m salary. That incentive structure is dangerous."

He said this would now set a precedent for political activists aspiring to be in Parliament, to use campus politics as a basis for creating platforms for themselves.

For the full conversation, which was streamed on the Wits University's YouTube click here.

Source: News24

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