Street violence is not new in post-apartheid South Africa. Police have shot protestors (in mining strikes, for example), but this is a first for student demonstrations and the first time that citizen-against-citizen violence has reached this level.
Things are escalating; they’re getting serious. The Rand is falling, tourism is starting to balk and everyday life is changing. The time has come to tell South Africa, “You better get your act together.” And the time has come that the rest of us recognize a very important lesson before what is happening in the streets of South Africa spreads worldwide.
M&G’s somewhat off-color lead editorial delivered more psychological advice than policy suggestions to a society increasingly tense:
“Are you angry and confused about what is going on in South African politics right now? Perhaps harbouring a secret suspicion that you are losing your mind, because your sense of reality is being put through the grinder?”
The editorial concludes quixotically, “Just remember, it’s not you, it’s them.”
But the business page is more succinct: higher education is essential to the long-term health of a robust society, and when it becomes too expensive for the average citizen to obtain, it must be given free.
I wrote yesterday that the increasingly serious student protests in South Africa is a symptom of a much greater malaise. Similar protests are occurring around the world: Germany, Chile, Canada, Britain, the U.S. – and in addition to South Africa in that continent, Kenya, Ivory Coast and Burundi.
Widespread social malaise often first erupts among students. My own proud involvement in the anti-Vietnam War movement cost me my higher education, but prepared my mind and my future for a much better life than my formal education at the time probably could have done. We used to call it, “The School of Hard Knocks.”
It’s much different, today.
Unlike a regional war or singular immoral occupation or single event atrocity, what modern day student protests across the world have in common is that they are all under siege from the same global threat: wealth.
The battle is not communism versus capitalism or secularism versus anti-secularism, but wealth versus intelligence.
The two are battling one another as viciously as capitalism and communism once did and the fight is as universal as climate change against farming or twitter versus the encyclopedia. Everywhere where societies don’t provide free higher education, the cost of higher education relative to a person’s productive life is the single most expensive necessity they face.
And now, often too expensive to acquire.
This is the definition of self destruction. In a time when we crave the moderation of compromise, this can’t be: It’s black and white. Education leads to intelligence and intelligence is good. When wealth prevents intelligence, it’s bad.
Beneath the widespread, disturbing student protests across South Africa is a country in very serious social and political turmoil. That turmoil can be parsed into several categories but the most striking is the lack of intelligence among those caught most deeply in the country’s unimaginable scandals.
What comes around goes around. Heed the students’ cries. Otherwise one day Trump will prevail.