Picture: Tracey Adams/ANA.
On April 29, 1972, during his graduation speech, the late Onkgopotse Tiro said: “When we want to know why, we are told that the senate has decided so. Apparently, the senate is our parents. Time and again I ask myself: How do black lecturers contribute to the administration of the university? For if you look at the committees, they are predominantly white, if not completely white. Here and there you find two or three Africans who, in the opinion of students, are white black men.”

I look back to 2012 when I completed my studies for a National Diploma in Journalism - 40 years since Tiro boldly uttered those words, I found myself labelling the black lecturers that taught me white-black. They, too, did not represent what the predominantly black students they taught stood for. It was as if our cultures and traditions and uniqueness as black, rural and impoverished students were invisible to them. They did not recognise us.

So, when the 1972 students called their black lecturers white black men, it dawned on me that the more things change, the more they really do stay the same. Precisely 40 years later, I felt the same way about my black male lecturers.

I couldn't fathom why the black lecturers we had couldn't empathise with our struggles as black students. We certainly lacked money, we did not grow up in spaces that inspired our confidence, and English wasn't a language I was really good at. However, I was determined to make it work.

Just like Tiro, I also did not understand the role of the black lecturers in the administration of our department; I guess labelling them white-black was totally spot on, again.

In my final year, I was taught by men only. The only female lecturer (white) I had that year joined us late in the year, all thanks to the retirement of one of the men (white). The year 2012 marked 18 years of our democracy, but change and transformation were nowhere near the doors of the university.

We need to transform our universities. As a staunch feminist myself, the visible lack of transformation in our university is upsetting. But there is hope.

The Nelson Mandela University's (NMU’s) appointment of Nozipho January-Bardill as chair of council, Dr Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi as chancellor and Professor Sibongile Muthwa as vice-chancellor is something to celebrate and remind us that change is imminent.

Let me juxtapose the issue of lack of transformation in our universities with the challenges of the young people in our country (especially from the black rural areas) who are battling to get education, since it is Youth Month.

We have a serious crisis in accessing education in our country and continent. Indeed, we have to prioritise educating our youth to the highest level possible.

According to Stats SA, unemployment among young people aged 15-34 is 38.2%, implying that more than one in three did not have a job in the first quarter of 2018.

As we look forward to honouring the young people who fought and died for better education in the Soweto uprising on June 16, let’s conscientise young people to build on their skill base through education and training to be marketable and employable.

I shall close with Tiro’s words: “In conclusion, Mr Chancellor, I say: 'Let the Lord be praised, for the day shall come, when all shall be free to breathe the air of freedom which is theirs to breathe and when the day shall have come, no man, no matter how many tanks he has, will reverse the course of events.”

Freedom, to the youth of our time, is free quality education.

Happy Youth Day, young South Africans, and let the fighting and perennial spirit of Onkgopotse Tiro be revived in you.

* Kabelo Chabalala is the chairperson and founder of the Young Men Movement (YMM). Email, [email protected]; Twitter, @KabeloJay; Facebook, Kabelo Chabalala

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.