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We are seeing new youth leaders emerging - but are political parties taking note? asks Samkelo Maseko

Tertiary institutions around the country are at a crossroad. Young voices are rising, calling for free quality tertiary education. On the frontline - fearless young women and men, leading the call.

Samkele Maseko outside Luthuli House

But these voices are not the ones driving youth political formations in the country. In fact, you'd be forgiven for not knowing the youth leaders from political party formations. They haven't been prominent during these trying times. They, in fact, have been in parliament - and part of their mother bodies - concentrating on other issues affecting other constituencies for the most part. 

The goings on made me think of Franz Fanon who once said - "Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity." As I looked at and tried to dissect this quote I wondered - what will my generation choose? Will they fulfill our struggle for this time, or betray it? Each generation, as Fanon rightly points out, must discover the purpose, issue, mission for that time. You will be known for this. You will go down in the history books for what you have or have not done. The generations that have gone before us led the way with the struggle for a free and democratic South Africa. But what will our legacy be? What will we be remembered for?

Mcebo Dlamini Wits
Photo: Samkelo Maseko

Judging from what is currently happening on our campuses around the country, I would venture to say that the fight for free tertiary education will be our legacy.  New leaders will emerge after this. 

In 2015 the name of Mcebo 'Vice Chancellor' Dlamini became a prominent one. He led the Wits SRC in protests and fundraising for those who could not afford to study. A few months later he was at the forefront of action to shut down Wits - it gave rise to the FeesMustFall movement. 

The likes of Vuyani Pambo, Shaeera Kalla, Nompundelo 'Ulo' Mkhatshwa , Thabo Shingange , Fasir Hassan, Kgotsi Chikane were soon names we all got to know. They too, led protests and spoke out against the inequalities created with everyone expected to pay. 

Wits students remain resolute
Photo: Slindelo Masikane

It's clear that the focus is shifting from mainstream politics and what we are used to - to the campuses, the streets, where we congregate. And what happens in parliament, where political parties bicker, will become less and less important to the ordinary person wanting to change circumstances outside high walls and meeting rooms. 

It seems not all political parties have caught on to how things have changed. On very rare occasions, prominent political voices were added to the higher education fees debate. But where are the dominant youth voice? Their absence will not mean that the debate will disappear. It will stay around for as long as the new group of youth leaders fight their fight. It will stay around for as long as government does not come to the party with clear solutions. And it will give rise to more voices, more leaders, more issues that the ordinary person can identify with. And who knows, it might just turn our political course dramatically. Let's see what happens in the months to come. Let's see what happens at the ballot box in 2019.

Tense standoff at Wits 8
Photo: Samkelo Maseko

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