Unrest, Inequality, and Education in South Africa

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Unrest has exploded at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, as what began as a peaceful protest about rising tuition fees erupted into clashes between students and police. In television footage, students were shown throwing rocks and stones at police, before the police retaliated with tear-gas in a bid to dispel the protesters.

History, Repeating

At the beginning of September the South African government announced a rise of up to 8% in 2017 tuition fees for university students – well above the inflation rate. This decision to push fees higher would drive many of the nation’s more impoverished (generally black) students, already burdened by debt, into additional debt that they simply could not afford. Anecdotal evidence shows many students would not be able to continue with their studies. This is not the first demonstration over the cost of university education in the country: the battle has been ongoing. The high cost of education in South Africa is prohibitive for many students (particularly many black students), meaning that regardless of their academic achievements, they are unable to achieve further education. What’s more, many middle class students (often referred to as the ‘missing middle’) find themselves in the difficult position of not being eligible for any grants or financial support to help them attend university, but unable to cover the prohibitively high costs independently. As a result, more and more people are finding they simply cannot afford to attend university than ever before, leaving them trapped at a social level that is unreflective of their potential. This highlights the enduring inequalities between black and white peoples in the country (which is the most industrialised in the continent) which have not dissipated, despite it being more than two decades since the end of white minority rule within the country. The social inequalities in South Africa continue to grow, and there seems to be no end point in sight where all peoples of the country will and can be treated equally. What on the surface began as a simple protest about tuition fees is, in reality, about so much more: it is about oppression, a lack of social mobility, and a desire for change. A heavy police presence remains at Johannesburg’s universities, as a result of the protests.

This time last year, protests about the rising costs of tuition fees lead president Zuma to freeze 2016 fees at 2015 rates: it is thought that this is what is driving the above-inflation increase in fees for 2017. But what does this mean for those individuals affected? Many of those protesting against the rising fees and the high cost of education in South Africa are academics, marching alongside their students. Racism, gender-based violence and oppressive working conditions for those academics working there, are all a dominant and enduring presence in South Africa’s universities.

What Benefit The ‘Talking Cure’?

Twenty years after South African apartheid in 1994, we are still dealing with a nation that is divided. The once-ruling minority still fill the majority of university places and the flames of this inequality continue to be fanned by the prohibitive costs preventing the most gifted black students, but without financial means, from accepting places and taking the benefits of education back to their communities. South Africa is very open about its problems, its corruptions, its endemic inequality. As a nation, it continues to talk about its troubled past.

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up by the Government of National Unity to help deal with what happened under apartheid, providing those that were abused, oppressed, and otherwise affected with a place that they can open up and talk about their pain and their mistreatment. As psychologists we know that talking about our problems can be a hugely beneficial, cathartic experience that can help us to overcome negative things that have happened in a positive and productive way. The TRC is often used as an example of how governments whose predecessors have failed their peoples (or where civil war and unrest have dominated) can help the population to emotionally adjust and address the abuse and inequality that they had to deal with. However, despite its continued commitment to talk about its problems, and the continued shining beacon of the TRC, as a nation South Africa doesn’t seem to be learning from its past, or from the lessons being shared within the TRC.

Time for Social Change

Now is the time for change in South Africa, and liberation psychologists can help to drive that change. It is time for us to engage with blackness, with the concept of black femininity and black masculinity, in order to build healthy communities and finally put apartheid in the past. Many of South Africa’s academic institutions are still embedded in this past, and have not embraced the change that came after 1994. Now is the time to eradicate the colonial past from inside those institutions, to make Universities a safe learning environment for students of all creeds and colours, and to open up the wonderful possibilities of education to everyone.

This article was written by who is based in North America.  It benefited from comments by a South African colleague, but as ever we would welcome responses from those closer to  the issues.

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NACCHO #Aps2016 Australian Psychological Society issues a formal apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People | NACCHO Aboriginal Health News Alerts

  “Apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People from the Australian Psychological Society. Disparities between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and other Australians on a range of different factors are well documented. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience much higher rates of psychological distress, chronic disease, and incarceration than other Australians.

“They manage many more stressors on a daily basis and, although suicide did not exist in their cultures prior to colonisation it is now a tragically inflated statistic.

The fact that these disparities exist and are long standing in a first world nation is deplorable and unacceptable.”

“We, as psychologists, have not always listened carefully enough to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We have not always respected their skills, expertise, world views, and unique wisdom developed over thousands of years. Building on a concept initiated by Professor Alan Rosen, we sincerely and formally apologise to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians for:

  • Our use of diagnostic systems that do not honour cultural belief systems and world views;
  • The inappropriate use of assessment techniques and procedures that have conveyed misleading and inaccurate messages about the abilities and capacities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people;
  • Conducting research that has benefitted the careers of researchers rather than improved the lives of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants;
  • Developing and applying treatments that have ignored Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander approaches to healing and that have, both implicitly and explicitly, dismissed the importance of culture in understanding and promoting social and emotional wellbeing; and,
  • Our silence and lack of advocacy on important policy matters such as the policy of forced removal which resulted in the Stolen Generations.

“To demonstrate our genuine commitment to this apology, we intend to pursue a different way of working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that will be characterised by diligently:

  • Listening more and talking less;
  • Following more and steering less;
  • Advocating more and complying less;
  • Including more and ignoring less; and,
  • Collaborating more and commanding less.

“Through our efforts, in concert and consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we envisage a different future.

“This will be a future where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people control what is important to them rather than having this controlled by others.

“It will be a future in which there are greater numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychologists and more positions of decision making and responsibility held by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Ultimately, through our combined efforts, this will be a future where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people enjoy the same social and emotional wellbeing as other Australians.”

Read the full article at this source: NACCHO #Aps2016 Australian Psychological Society issues a formal apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People | NACCHO Aboriginal Health News Alerts

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Article on liberation ethics, coloniality and psychology

Here is a link to my article, “A Renewal of Ethics”, in the British monthly, The Psychologist.  The article is based on a lecture I gave at the British Psychological Society conference last Easter.  Rather breathlessly, it considers some ethical challenges, the inadequacy of dominant frameworks for guiding action, the origins of the contemporary malaise in the colonial encounter, and some alternative frameworks to consider.  Liberation thought runs through the article.  I’d like to develop the analysis presented in more detail in further work, so I’d really appreciate constructive comment, either on this site, by email, or where possible in  person. Read the article HERE.
Mark Burton

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