By Khanya Bungane
As we prepare to gather at FNB stadium on the July 29, 2023 to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), we are filled with immense pride and gratitude.
This milestone represents a decade of tireless struggle, resilience, and unwavering dedication to the pursuit of economic justice for all South Africans. The EFF has emerged as a powerful force that challenges the status quo and champions the cause of the marginalised and oppressed.
Since our inception in 2013, the EFF has become a beacon of hope for the disenfranchised, inspiring a new generation of activists and driving real change across the country. Through our unwavering commitment to our seven cardinal pillars, we have witnessed a series of triumphs that have reshaped the political landscape and brought the core issues of economic inequality to the forefront of national discourse.
Education is the cornerstone of any progressive society. It is through education that we empower individuals, break the chains of intergenerational poverty, and pave the way for a brighter future. The EFF has always recognised the transformative power of education and, over the years, we have implemented policies that prioritise accessibility, quality, and inclusivity. Today, we proudly reflect on the successes we have achieved in this critical area.
From the outset, the EFF recognised that the apartheid legacy had left a stark divide in educational opportunities for South Africans. The wealthy elite had access to quality education while the majority languished in underfunded and dilapidated schools. In response, the EFF made it a priority to address these inequalities head-on and fight for educational justice.
One of our primary achievements in education has been the successful campaign for free quality education for students from low-income backgrounds. We firmly believe that access to education should not be limited by financial constraints. Through the participation of the EFF Students Command (EFFSC) based on university campuses across the country, #FEESMUSTFALL was championed during the years 2015, 2016, and 2017, which was a call for free decolonized education. This nationwide call for continues to be echoed in South Africa since the first nationwide protests in 2015.
As an organisation whose generational mission is to champion free education in our lifetime, and as the only student organisation post 1994 that is unequivocal in its stance of demanding free education now, the EFFSC is at the forefront of all picket lines. As a result, thousands of students from disadvantaged backgrounds have been able to pursue their dreams of higher education without the burden of exorbitant tuition fees.
Through constantly lobbying the Department of Higher Education and NSFAS we have seen the turning of NSFAS from a loan to a bursary; the expansion of financial assistance to the missing middle; an increased NSFAS budget; the writing off of R835 million in fees debt; and more recently NSFAS finally granted SASSA grant recipients immediate access to funding without going through excessive applications that include the humiliation of proving their poverty.
This has not only empowered individuals, but has also contributed to addressing the socio-economic inequalities that have plagued our society for far too long.
Whilst advocating for South African students to be taught in their mother tongue from primary to tertiary level, the EFFSC, through the #AfrikaansMustFall banner, has been firmly calling for the apartheid culture in institutions of higher learning to be uprooted. In dual language universities such as University of Pretoria, University of Stellenbosch, University of Free State and North West University, exclusion and discrimination against those who are not Afrikaans speaking, mostly black students, is apparent.
As a result of immense pressure from the EFF Students Command, #AfrikaansHasFallen in the University of Pretoria and it will definitely fall in other universities as well. Ultimately the black child will be taught in the language they know and understand better.
Furthermore, the EFF has consistently championed the cause of early childhood development (ECD) and basic education, calling for it to be free and accessible for all from the age of 3. We have called for increased investment in ECD centres, ensuring that children from disadvantaged backgrounds receive the necessary foundation for lifelong learning. By advocating for improved infrastructure, teacher training, and resources in basic education, we have fought to uplift the quality of education for all learners, regardless of their socio-economic status. This call forms a part of what is central to the EFF: dignity for the black child.
This essential aspect of the education of the black child is why as an organisation we have not hesitated to answer calls from our supporters and other community members to attend to primary and high schools that are discriminating to learners in any way.
The EFF has severally intervened in places such as Brackenfell, Pieter Langeveldt Primary School, of Dr Monare Primary School in Mamelodi, Botlhabatsatsi Primary School and many more to settle inner disputes and make the learning environment conducive for all, while holding accountable bad leadership.
The EFF has also been at the forefront of challenging the colonial and Eurocentric curriculum that perpetuates cultural erasure and limits the educational potential of our learners. We have pushed for the decolonisation of education, demanding a curriculum that reflects the diverse history, cultures, and experiences of all South Africans. By expanding the scope of our education, we nurture critical thinking and promote a sense of identity and pride in our learners.
Moreover, the EFF has consistently advocated for the rights and well-being of teachers. We recognise that teachers play a pivotal role in shaping the minds of future generations. Through our advocacy, we have fought for improved working conditions, fair remuneration, and professional development opportunities for educators.
This is why we have made several calls against the nature in which the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) is managed and the clear corruption and dysfunction inherent in the organisation. A motivated and well-supported teaching workforce is essential to delivering quality education to our learners.
While we celebrate these achievements, we are mindful that there is still much work to be done. Statistics from the recent Progress in International Reading and Literacy (PIRLS) showed that South Africa’s Grade 4 pupils came last out of over 40 countries when it came to reading ability, with 81% incapable of reading for meaning.
This highlights how South Africa still has one of the lowest performing education systems in the world, even though, according to the Centre for Development and Enterprise, we have one of the biggest budgets in the world for this sector. It is clear then, that this budget is not being instituted wisely, and this should be a case of embarrassment for the ANC led government 29 years after democracy.
Education is the key to unlocking the full potential of our nation. The EFF’s education policy, rooted in the principles of accessibility, quality, and inclusivity, has made significant strides in transforming the landscape of education in South Africa.
Through our ongoing efforts, we will continue to strive for a society where every child has equal access to free, decolonised education.
* Khanya Bungane is the Deputy Secretary General of the EFF Students Command.
** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.