What's behind the Varsity Riots?

The cover of the book, Into the Silence. The 1924 Everest expedition party is dwarfed by the North Col, to which they are heading. Bentley Beetham took the picture.

So the #FeesMustFall campaign of destruction has chalked up R600-million worth of damage since it was launched in October last year, and that figure could reach R1-billion before this tragedy ends.

Riot leaders have been reported as saying they plan to make the country ungovernable if the government doesn’t meet their demands for free tertiary education.

As I write, several universities are in lock-down, just as vital tests are due to be written.

It’s a shambles. And it’s a shambles of the ANC’s own making.

I would also submit that the mass media have been complicit in allowing this anti-intellectual campaign to gain traction and gather momentum.

The rot started with the #RhodesMustFall campaign, which was launched at the University of Cape Town in March last year. As usual, the so-called independent media, along with the ANC government and its poodle, the SABC, indulged the students instead of decrying their actions. Theirs was a knee-jerk campaign against our colonial heritage.

Among all former British colonies, the most successful have been those that have taken the best of the advances bequeathed to them by 200-odd years of being governed by a country which, at the time, led not only the industrial revolution, but was also the most scientifically advanced and preeminent trading and military nation on earth.

Significantly, Britain’s empire comprised not only the hard-nosed military men who colonised countries around the globe. It also comprised skilled administrators, scientists, engineers and teachers. And in the 19th century Britain also led the campaign to abolish slavery, a bold step which its more liberal governments implemented in conjunction with organisations like the London Missionary Society (LMS) and the Anti-Slavery Society.

So when British colonialism, as experienced by the nascent South Africa throughout the 19th century, is seen in perspective, it consisted not just of a foreign country imposing its will on the locals. In the eastern Cape Colony it also saw an attempt by the LMS to rein in the abuse being meted out by the Boers against the indigenous Khoikhoi, many of whom were by the early 19th century of mixed race. This is because the Boers who now occupied farms as far east as Algoa Bay, had also bred with their Khoi “servants”, and the products of those unions they kept on as cheap labour. It took the likes of Dr Johannes van der Kemp at Bethelsdorp and other missionaries to continually challenge the farmers, as well as various Cape governors and their proxies in the Eastern Cape, over their treatment of their “servants”.

And, when conflict with the Xhosa tribes escalated, especially after the arrival of the 1820 British settlers, the missionaries were again on hand to attempt to present the indigenes’ side of the story, taking their fight as far as Britain’s House of Commons.

But all the time, the Western settlers did what they would have done “back home”: they started trading and used their expertise to build towns and villages. Port Elizabeth is a fine example of that process.

Take Hong Kong, one of the wealthiest trading centres in the world. It was under British rule for about 150 years. Unlike the fees-must-fall/Rhodes-must-fall mob, on its return to China in 1998, the people of Hong Kong did not immediately demand that remnants and reminders of Britain’s involvement in the city-state’s development be removed. I sense that they, along with many other countries colonised by Britain, rather admired what the British did for them – even if, at times, they went about it in a ruthless way.

What the British did leave behind them was a physical and intellectual infrastructure on which a great democracy like India could be built. The same applies to South Africa.

But by demanding that mining magnate Cecil John Rhodes’s statue be removed, the activists might just as well have called for the whole of UCT to be destroyed. Indeed, taking their view to its logical conclusion, they would surely require that the entire country be brought to ruin – say to a point before Jan van Riebeeck arrived in 1652, or at least till before the first British occupation of the Cape in 1797. What has been built up since then, all the towns and cities, factories and universities, schools and hospitals, roads and bridges, harbours, railways and airports – are largely the product of more than 350 years of Western colonial presence in South Africa.

As to the call for no fees at our universities, I can relate to what these students are saying. If you’re very poor, trapped in an RDP house, and part of a large family with say just a mother working as a domestic to support you, then you are in a desperate situation.

Much of the blame for our present situation must be laid at the door of the National Party, which from 1948, instead of reducing racial discrimination as the rest of the world set out to do after the horrors of Hitler’s racist outrage in Nazi Germany, imposed ever more harsh racial laws in this country.

It took a saintly man like Nelson Mandela to remove the sting of those past almost 45 years of apartheid oppression and, by the force of his personality, along with FW de Klerk, to avert a civil war. But then what happened? After Thabo Mbeki came to power in 1999, South Africa was reracialised. The emphasis was increasingly on affirmative action, black economic empowerment (which mainly benefited high-ranking ANC cadres) and the ongoing demonization of white South Africans, especially liberals who had opposed apartheid. They, to be found manly in the then Democratic Party of Tony Leon, posed the greatest threat to the ANC because they offered a vision of a country which had overcome its racial obsession.

But by the time the Democratic Alliance (as it became) started finally to make real progress with this year’s municipal elections, ANC mismanagement of the economy and poisoning of the body politic through race-baiting and corruption had ensured economic growth (and thus employment growth) had slowed to a trickle, exacerbating the growing racial polarisation Mbeki’s policies had set in train.

Today we reap the whirlwind of this short-sighted anti-white, anti-colonial activism of a kind that only failed former British colonies implemented. Why do you think every time the head of the ANC’s corruption coterie, Jacob Zuma, unleashes his Hawks on Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, the rand plummets? Because global markets don’t enjoy uncertainty.

And with students now so embittered, threatening to destroy universities and make the country ungovernable, the ANC’s chickens are rapidly coming home to roost on several fronts, not least of them an imminent credit rating downgrade to junk status.

The first mistake the ANC made was to tamper with so-called Model C schools and the curriculum. OBE set us back a decade, as it imposed an unworkable system on township and rural schools which they could not implement. Instead of taking advice from successful former white schools on how to turn out productive, literate and numerate pupils, ripe for university or perhaps an apprenticeship in one of the trades, the ANC tried to reinvent the wheel, refusing to accept that perhaps whites, many of whose ancestors have been here more than 300 years, knew what they were doing.

Mbeki’s anti-white campaign escalated throughout the first decade of this century, and with Mandela’s death, and the ANC continuing to support Robert Mugabe as he destroyed Zimbabwe in the name of “black empowerment”, we ended up in the mess we are today.

Mbeki spoke about South Africa having two economies, one rich and white, the other poor and black. Well maybe that was largely the case pre-1994. Today, you’ll find middle-income white people who’ve worked hard all their lives, cutting costs to put children through school and university.  The same applies to ordinary middle-income coloured and black people.  But due to inflation and all those costs they’ve had to bear, they hardly come out on what they earn.

Apart from senior professionals and successful businessmen and women of all races, who are the new super-wealthy? You have to follow the path of where most of our tax money is going to find that out. And you’ll discover much of it is going into the bottomless pit of ANC patronage. Today, if you can secure one of the tens of thousands of cushy civil service jobs advertised with such gay abandon, you will be assured of a massive salary, even if you don’t know how to do the job and have to rely on consultants to get the work done. We have a massively bloated cabinet, packed with Zuma acolytes, very few of whom know how to govern. They, like Zuma, earn obscene salaries, and no doubt send their children to top private schools. But what about university?

Because suddenly these wealthy people, the nouveau riche noir, discover that they too have children unable to complete their degrees due to the current unrest. The only difference is that, for most of them, they are riding on the backs of an over-taxed middle class who don’t earn a living as parasites in jobs doled out by friends in high places. I’m thinking of people like the SABC’s Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

Yesterday the man with the interesting eyes was given another top job by the SABC board after the courts found his appointment as chief operating officer was invalid. Then, to top it all, we discovered recently that he had received a R10-million bonus from the loss-making SABC for brokering a R570-million contract with MultiChoice, in which he apparently sold off the SABC’s unique archives.

Dig deep enough and you’ll find similar cases of wheeler-dealing have been going on around the country virtually since the ANC came to power.

And it is this widespread ANC corruption, at a time when it should have been addressing the needs of the masses of poor people in this country, that has led to a situation where you have angry mobs of young people – I hesitate to call them students – wreaking havoc on our campuses.

They gutted a law library at the University of KZN recently. They have destroyed numerous other buildings and intimidated students to either join them, or not show up on campus. Of course the ANC is looking for a “third force”, in the form of the EFF or Amcu, to blame.

But it is the ANC itself that is to blame. It has failed us for 22 years, and under Zuma the only leadership shown has been about how to protect him from his long-overdue day in court.

Picture Caption : The almshouses, built in 1822, at Bethelsdorp, Port Elizabeth. It was from here that the London Missionary Society campaigned for the rights of Khoisan and Xhosa in the 19th century.