If you've been keeping up with news in South Africa, you know about the nation-wide protesting that has been taking place for the past two weeks concerning education reform and the outsourcing of university jobs. Before you come to South Africa, you should know that protests and demonstrations are things that happen often here. Keep in mind, this country is a little over two decades away from Apartheid and in a lot of ways, they are still trying to create equality like the rest of the world. On October 19th, a day before the final day of classes, the University of Cape Town, along with all other major universities across the nation erupted into student protests concerning the announcement that educational fees for the next academic year were being raised by a whopping 10%.
In a country where even a small margin of fee increases can mean being able to attend or not, 10% is simply too high. The students effectively shut down campus and the ensuing demonstrations caused the university to postpone exams. For me, an international student among many, the postponement of exams is not convenient in the least to me. I leave on the 14th of November. My student visa expires on the 15th of November. But let me tell you why I'm not bothered by this set back in the normal schedule of my life here: because the fact that the students united for the benefit of each other is absolutely inspiring.
I didn't get to see the actual protests, because my family was visiting me here. But I was on campus when the students shut down the university on the 19th of October. Although I was frantically trying to turn in assignments, I got to see the students marching, shouting, demanding to be heard by the University of Cape Town. And they continued to stand together. When the University involved the police and allowed them to tear gas and stun grenade the protesters, they supported each other. When people were arrested from a peaceful protest against Parliament, they supported each other. When the black students were being subjected to police brutality and persecution, the white students shielded them. And somehow, after centuries of using skin color to create a divide between races, we have witnessed people using that skin color to protect other people.
Because higher education should be obtainable. It should not be for the rich, or the fortunate. It should be for anyone who has the desire for it. We often wonder why we haven't cured diseases like Alzheimers or cancer, or we wonder why we can't beat unemployment and poverty, but we also bar brilliant minds that might hold that solutions to those issues from having a shot at unlocking those doors. And the students in South Africa see this. They have marched, they have cried out to their government, and they have sung beautiful protest songs in the streets.
And they were heard. The fees increase has been changed to 0% across the board. The University of Cape Town has announced that they will no longer outsource employment at the university, and as a result, those working in university food service, transportation, and grounds-keeping will be payed better wages; all because the students were not silent.
I see this, and I can't help but think of the high price tags for a college education in the U.S. I think of the rioting over police brutality, and race relations that were going on mere months before I left, and I can't help but wonder how long it will be before the American youth find their voice. How long before we take to the streets and sing songs about the injustices we feel? How long until we see the colors of our skin not as an excuse for superiority, or a disadvantage, but as a tool to protect those who feel the brunt of prejudices in our own society?
Yes, my life in Cape Town has been disrupted, but for many people who want to attend university next year, they have dodged a bullet. They still have the ability to obtain a degree, and the shot at a better future. So how can I complain that I'll have to take a test at home? I can't. Instead, I can only feel inspired that a group of my own peers were courageous enough to stand up and make a true and undeniable change. They weren't afraid to disrupt the order of every-day life. They weren't happy with paying the impossible price for education. They shook a nation with their shouts and song until someone heard. Until everyone heard.
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<div>Cortney Cordero is a senior majoring in journalism at Hofstra University with a minor in creative writing. This New <span style="font-size: 13.0080003738403px; line-height: 1.538em;">Yorker has wanted to travel to Africa since she was in Kindergarten. This fall, her dream is finally coming true, and she </span><span style="font-size: 13.0080003738403px; line-height: 1.538em;">wants to share her experience with you.</span></div>