21 April 2019


Thuli condemns torching of universities, encourages excellence


Obakeng Maje


23 September 2016

Outgoing Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, has rebuked the use of force by students who protest against dissatisfactions either with government or their institutions of higher learning.

Madonsela was addressing a prestige lecture at the North West University's (NWU) Mahikeng campus on Monday titled "Challenges faced by institutions of Higher Education: Student Demands/Expectations vs Government responses".

The Public Protector told students that the core of freedom is social justice, which is mainly a call for the redistribution of not only wealth as a monetary commodity, but also redistribution of opportunities, and privileges within the society. She however urged students to rather use their active minds to fight against any social injustices that affect them.

"Social injustice matters, it matters now and everyone deserves social justice. As long as there is injustice somewhere, sustainable peace cannot be experienced anywhere," she said.

"The difference between the old and new state [government] is that the former would not listen to its people. However, the character of the new state as envisaged in the constitution makes accountability by those exercising public power central, while entrenching citizen participation.

"While the constitution promises an improved quality of life for all and a freed potential to each person, young people have the power to make a difference as they carry the dreams and hopes of our people. The youth can fast track the delivery of the South African dream, but not through violence," Madonsela said.

The Public Protector stressed that there was a need to invest in the potential of young leaders and recognize them not as leaders of tomorrow, but as leaders of today.
"It is important to acknowledge the young intelligentsia as the leaders of today and not of tomorrow. It is you who must, like Orwell [the late English novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic George Orwell] and Sankara [the late former President of Burkina Faso], analyse the problems of today and provide solutions as to how we as a country can overcome them, she said to a loud applause by the university's students.

"Young people need to conceive and offer new and relevant tools of analysis that transcend Marx, Sankara and others. Such should help us understand the role of the state today including whether or not the state is increasingly used as a tool for wealth accumulation or self-enrichment by some of those entrusted with public power and resources," said Madonsela.

South Africa's first female Public Protector told NWU students that they need to engage in dialogues to resolve the challenges they face. Should such dialogues fail, they can then make use of other constitutional avenues such as the Office of the Public Protector, the South African Human Rights Commission and file petitions, among others.
"In the 1970s protestors did not burn down the infrastructure. They knew that they would need them. When you are disgruntled at home, you dont set alight the house because you will need it for shelter," Madonsela said.

NWU Mahikeng campus students are among the thousands across the country who began protesting against high tertiary education feels in what was dubbed #FeesMustFall campaign. The administration and laboratory buildings of the campus were torched during those protests, forcing the university to go on recession for a month to calm the situation down. The damages were estimated at around R150-million.

Madonsela said there was a need to level the playing field and identify students who can afford fees and those who cannot.

"I undertook to assign the Deputy Public Protector to look into issues raised both by students and staff with a view to achieve a unified university anchored in social justice. I urge you to put your concerns in a 'vision document'. We will identify what needs can be met by the university with its limited resources," she said. "We will also look into what business in the North West can do. We assure the university community that social injustices can be overcome only if they realise that the power of intelligence lies in the mind," she said.

Madonsela used her prestige lecture to encourage students to be the best they possibly can be.

"We need more innovative young people such as Ludwick Marishane who invented the DryBath [the world's first bath-substituting lotion] and Nkosana Makate who came up with "Please Call Me".
"We need our own Marxs and Platos to generate new ideologies and philosophies to help us address today's problems".

This week saw NWU Mahikeng students embarking on fresh protest after Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande announced that universities were free to increase 2017 fees, as long as they do not exceed an 8% mark.