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The disruption of the Education Convention is a case of chickens coming home to roost

The disruption of the National Education Convention on Saturday the 18th March 2017, and its subsequent abandonment is a case of the chickens coming home to roost. The Convention, called to address and resolve Higher Education problems, descended into chaos and pandemonium. Instead of presentations, the country was treated to a spectacle of flying water bottles and chairs.

When similar disruptions play themselves out in Parliament, they are a source of celebration and encouragement by the anti-Government lobby, most of whom are resident in the Higher Education sector. So what we witnessed is a case of “You reap what you sow”.

Indeed, the 18th March 2017 must have been one of those days that Professor Adam Habib never thought would come even in his wildest of dreams. If anything, for someone irresistibly drawn to the podium and who is easily excitable, this was a nightmare. With his mouth frothing with anger and foam protruding from the sides, Habib found his voice drowned by persistent chants; “Habib Must Go”.

This experience was sufficiently sobering to remind him that political intolerance is anachronistic with democracy. About two years ago, Habib was at the forefront of those calling for President Zuma to go. Indeed, what goes around comes around.

For Habib, this must have been an embarrassing irony. After all, he is used to dishing the same medicine when it comes to politicians. When he does, the crowd, made largely of the anti-ANC chattering classes, roundly approves with standing ovations. This time, he was on the receiving end, getting a taste of his own medicine.

But Habib is not alone. He is part of the #ZUMAMUSTFALL brigade comprising of a motley of academics regularly paraded in our media space. This includes the likes of Tinyiko Maluleke whose main preoccupation seems to be to hallucinate about the impending downfall of President Zuma. Like his fellow travellers, the tactical approach is to invoke the idyllic past that never was, and proceed to blame current challenges to the President. Of late his public instalments are in expressing the shock that the object of their dislike is still standing. Like the rest, he is trapped in anti-Zuma vortex. As a result, he seems oblivious of many of the initiatives undertaken by President Zuma’s Administration in re-igniting the economy towards the growth path, under challenging global circumstances.

Maluleke’s article, “Zuma has run out of tricks”  (Sunday Independent, 10 April 2016) has become the staple diet that sums up his contribution. He writes;

“The ANC must urgently find the courage to request Zuma to resign. The harm to the ANC brand may become irreversible if the party does not act soon. Secondly…It is still not too late for Zuma to cut his losses and walk away voluntarily. The third thing is the deployment of citizen power and fury against a President who seems increasingly out of touch with the ethos of the country he leads.”

In his anti-Zuma crusade, Maluleke is joined by the likes of the predictably incoherent Professor Susan Booysen. Her reflection of the 2014 National General Council is one such display of incoherence. After lamenting that the “ANC’s angry weekend narrative seamlessly connected the media and negative citizen narratives about the ANC. It again expressed anger with the “oppositionist role” of the media” which would be considered a defence of the President. She goes on to argue that the “Weekend’s NGC will become known for its drafting of the first of the epitaphs to the Zuma era.”

Booysen and Maluleke can be forgiven for routinely displaying their economic ignorance. But it should be worrying when they are assisted by the likes of Jannie Rossouw, Head of School of Economic & Business Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand. Eager to join the lynch mob, he writes and argues that the South African economy-will be bolstered if Zuma falls (13 December 2016).

“The economy has suffered greatly under Zuma. Having registered 1.5% growth last year, GDP is expected to clock something close to zero growth this year and only slightly above 1% growth in 2017 and 2018. Growth has averaged less than 2% per annum since Zuma’s rule commenced in 2009”.

A cursory study of the economies around world indicates that South Africa is not alone in this. Many countries, including developed countries, are going through the same challenges of low economic growth. Like most economies, the fault-lines that define our economy became pronounced following the financial crisis of 2008 that led to the global down-turn. The country was affected by a precipitous slump in commodity prices. This was exacerbated by the prolonged period of under-investment in the economic infrastructure. Since then, the Zuma Administration has embarked on efforts aimed at reversing the effects of the global melt down and some of the global historic challenges. This includes the resolution of the energy crisis, the reduction of work place conflicts, adding implementation of the new sector niches like the oceans economy and initiatives such as Invest SA and the establishment of the One Stop Shop aimed at reducing the cost of doing business in South Africa. But these facts are inconvenient for those looking for the silver bullet to fail us in sorting out our socio-economic woes.

Interestingly, the students laid the weaknesses, failures and crisis of Higher Education squarely on the shoulders of the Higher Education leadership. The students did not settle for the simplistic and misleading narrative of blaming the President for everything. They understood that some of the problems predates the assumption of Office by the President. Lost to the Zuma-Must-Fall brigade is the fact that when all else fails, as it did in the past, the students sought the intervention of the President.

The hypocrisy of the anti-Zuma lobby is easily exposed when it comes to the deployment of security personnel at Universities. In “The Politics of Spectacle; Reflections on the 2016 Student Protests, Habib had this to say:

“In January 2016, a small group of students disrupted our registration process. They were violent and threatened staff and students. When negotiations failed to resolve the issue, we brought in private security, and I made the case for this in a letter to the University Community. The decision was opposed by a small group of liberal and left-leaning academics, largely from one or two schools in the Faculty of the Humanities, although it was supported by the vast majority of Academics at the University.”

Habib’s description easily applies to developments in Parliament where a Minority Party habitually holds the country to ransom. We have not seen the same level of condemnation as that is seemingly reserved for Parliament when it deploys the same efforts to restore Law and Order.

We couldn’t agree more with the observation by the former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, the chief organizer of the Convention that, “the Minister, who was our guest, who we invited, had to leave in circumstances that were unacceptable. This was a deeply sad day but dialogue continues. There can’t be heroism in shouting and screaming.”

How we wish that Moseneke would have made the same remarks when exactly the same spectacle played itself out in Parliament, especially during the last State of the Nation Addresses.

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