University of Cape Town students pack their belongings and leave res and hostels as one case of Coronavirus infection is reported at the learning institution. Picture Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)
University of Cape Town students pack their belongings and leave res and hostels as one case of Coronavirus infection is reported at the learning institution. Picture Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)

Universities abandon their role in fight against Covid-19

By Bonginkosi Khanyile. Time of article published Apr 3, 2020

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Institutions of higher learning are a microcosm of society. They mirror the very same society and are not immune from the conditions affecting it. This therefore suggests that these institutions have an obligation of playing a specific role whenever society is faced with challenges.

With the outbreak of Covid-19, leaders of different universities were exposed for the worst. Their inadequate leadership and their inability to provide practical solutions in complex quagmires became more evident. 

Universities ought to be intellectual hubs and the skill reserve of the society at large. They are centres of knowledge production. Universities management led by Vice Chancellors should use their skills to better shape the society and assist it where possible.

As Covid-19 cases escalated, the government took a stance which was accepted by many. This is inclusive of politicians that are known to be number one critics of government. This time around they moved in one direction. 

That is the decision of locking down the country. 

As if that was not enough, universities uncritically joined the chorus. They called for the total shutdown of universities and instructed students to vacate residences.

Universities did this without even investigating the pros and cons of a lockdown strategy. Critical questions were never put to the fore.

In fact, all mechanisms put in place by the government to curb the spread of Covid-19 remain questionable. 

One was left dumbfounded as universities failed to provide critical inputs on such pertinent issues.

According to the government, in order to combat Covid-19 one must engage in social distancing. 

One must equally be in possession of hand sanitizers and or wash hands with water and soap from time to time. The question would then be what happens to individuals and families that are poverty stricken. 

I speak of those that are at the bottom of a social ladder. Those that do not even know when their next meal is. 

How are they expected to practise such measures taking into consideration their social standing.

These are some of the critical but simple questions that universities had to explore in search of practical and befitting solutions. It does not take a rocket scientist for one to establish the fact that these mechanisms as provided by the government are not only elitist in nature but are designed to favour the rich. 

For instance, a family of eight that stays in a four-roomed house in Umlazi township is expected to practise social distancing. How is that possible?

Shoprite, Spar, Woolworths and other mainstream businesses are operating. Yet tuckshops, and spaza shops are forced to close. (They have since been re-opened)

Now, imagine a household headed by an individual that is a street vendor by occupation. How is she expected to have food on the table for the tough days ahead? 

It’s far much worse for communities that do not have running water, yet they are expected to wash hands repeatedly. 

Covid-19 came to our country with those that travelled overseas, and it began to spread in the cities. 

With the country’s lockdown coming into effect many flocked to the rural areas and into townships. Those are areas with dysfunctional health systems, this was a recipe for disaster.  

Covid-19 is reported to have reached Khayelitsha informal township in Western Cape and Umlazi township in KwaZulu Natal. This virus is bound to spread like wildfire since the prescribed mechanisms to combat it are not workable in those areas. 

Such analysis are very basic. 

You would expect them to come instinctively from Vice Chancellors like Prof Nana Poku of the University KwaZulu Natal or Prof Adam Habib of the University of the Witwatersrand. 

Maybe one can forgive Prof Poku because his leadership at the University of KwaZulu Natal has shown that he lacks black nationalism. 

He has no love for an African child. After all he has never claimed to be a progressive VC and or to be always on the side of the marginalized. 

Instead he insulted black students by calling them “professional students”. He further celebrated having excluded more than 2000 students of which in their majority are black. 

It is more dumbfounding with Prof Adam Habib for in many instances he has projected himself as a patriotic individual. He has also claimed some struggle credentials and purported himself as someone that is ideologically inclined. 

Yet when a country needs progressive inputs from institutions such as universities. He was nowhere to be found. 

Many suggestions could have been made, like instead of effecting a lock down you opt to “freeze” the country. 

In this case freezing a country would suggest that for the next 21 days everyone remains where he is. No one travels. 

By so doing you can curb the spread of a virus through the avoidance of mass travelling. 

This is one out of many suggestions that universities would have recommended. 

It is very unfortunate that universities chose to abandon their role in the fight against Covid-19.

* Bonginkosi Khanyile is a youth activist and one of three students who were handed convictions for the #FeesMustFall related-crimes. 

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

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