||UKZN strike is a battle against market capitalism
Our history has taught us that co-option and complicity with systems of
exploitation only lead to further injustice, writes Lubna Nadvi.
As global neo-liberal thinking continues to pervade and infiltrate
virtually all aspects of our daily lives, and we seek opportunities to
engage critically around this phenomenon, one is inevitably forced to
think about how the logic of corporatisation has co-opted even that most
hallowed and revered of critical intellectual spaces, the university.
Some university spaces have however refused to sell their souls and
have, as a result of organic grassroots resistance, begun to revolt
against the gradual commercialisation of knowledge, the privatisation of
resources, the exploitation of workers and the violation of academic
freedoms that have been held as sacrosanct for centuries.
This is however not an exercise in preserving an ivory tower mentality,
it is in many ways an attempt to consolidate existing progressive forces
that have historically rebelled against conservative ideals and fascist
politics and forged fresh critical spaces to build a university of and
for the people. There is in our midst the emergence of such an entity.
Behold the still nascent University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Historically, the global university has been a space for scholars and
academics to create and disseminate constructive knowledge and to
produce graduates who would go out into the world and ideally use their
skills to contribute towards the building of a better society.
However, the university is much more than just a pedagogic and didactic
space. It is a place where intellectuals can challenge each other and
debate ideas and theories that impact on the world.
It is a space for students to cut their political teeth and develop and
hone their leadership skills, between classes and the inevitable
drudgery of examinations. For many, though, especially in the third
world, a university education has been a privilege and not an affordable
Consequently, there have been many non-conformist spaces of learning
that did not have the aesthetic beauty of ivy-clad buildings or
oak-furnished lecture halls, but were forged in struggle and conditions
of oppression. An ideal example is the limestone quarry on Robben
Island, where Nelson Mandela and his comrades exchanged political ideas
about what constitutes a better society and developed intellectual
cap-acity while labouring under the harsh conditions of incarceration.
The university borne out of collective struggle is for many of us
contemporary scholars, the ideal place of learning, because it reminds
us of our links to our past and the responsibility of challenging the
invidious nature of institutionalised oppression, which has become the
hallmark of contemporary globalisation.
And so the struggles currently being undertaken by the workers of the
University of KwaZulu-Natal (both academic and support staff) is not
simply a self-indulgent exercise in marxist rhetoric, it is a very real
battle against the assault of market capitalism, that renders workers
vulnerable in a system that denies them a fair living wage, pits them
against autocratic forces where their dissenting voices become silenced
and denies educators reasonable access to resources, which would allow
them to provide a better service to students.
It is in every sense, a just struggle.
But all struggles come at a cost. In this case, many parents and
students of the university may feel that they are being sacrificed at
the altar of a vague ideological battle, where many of us are just
asking for more money, and that we should stop and go back to doing our
Well, yes, many could do that, thereby perpetuating the structures of
exploitation and inequality while those at the apex of the system
continue receiving outrageous bonuses and increases.
The struggle is not just about money though. It is about demanding a
fair, transparent and equitable system, which has resonance with working
conditions elsewhere that have been established as just and reasonable.
It is about wanting to have the capacity to offer the best possible
education to students who come to the institution, yet not be so elite
as to deny historically disadvantaged students the opportunity to obtain
a world class education.
If the history of inequality has taught us anything, it is that
co-option and complicity with systems of exploitation only lead to
further injustice. And that is not what a university should be aspiring
And so this current battle must become a community struggle, because
UKZN belongs to the people who send their children to the institution.
They should demand the same degree of accountability from the
university's management as those of us that work there. In the words of
the global solidarity movement, the people united . . . will never be
* Lubna Nadvi teaches Political Science at the University of KZN.