Bruce’s List: A daily guide to informed reads.
As a newspaper editor you always have to be careful of the juxtapositions that can sometimes occur on your pages. The worst kind are news stories about, say, blood diamonds appearing on the same page as a large De Beers advert. Today’s Business Day has a minor one on its front page where it enjoins us under its Great Reads teaser at the top of the page to read Aubrey Matshiqi’s “Fees Must Fall is a struggle for a civilised SA”, while two columns to the right is the paper’s big page one photograph of a FeesMustFall protester clambering over the desks of students who wanted to learn but whose lecture had been broken up. Let us all pray that some progress can occur soon, allowing students to complete their degrees. A country that can’t give them that is a basket case.
Of course, I understand perfectly what Matshiqi means and he is a most civilised and gracious man, but the picture on the page captures an act of rage and brutality and arrogance that spells real trouble for SA. The guy on the desk doesn’t care whether Wits University closes and never opens again. For all the inequalities and for all the desperation of many students who just can’t pay (be it tuition, accommodation or food) the guy on the desk is as much a part of the problem as is the inequality that he would no doubt want us to think he is a victim of. Neither he nor inequality belongs in a South African university. I hope the people who struggled to put the money together to get him to Wits in the first place see the photo. It cannot in any way have been a good investment.
It is hard to know where the university chaos will end. I cannot believe that there is not a solution and that deserving students cannot be educated for free. There is lots of money in SA but the state wastes or steals too much of it. The student protesters don’t seem to know this. Here’s Matshiqi this morning in Business Day: Fees Must Fall is campaigning for a civilised SA.
And there are some wonderful lines in this excellent piece of writing from Richard Poplak which, I’m afraid, do raise the question about free education not actually being free. We all know that. But Poplak, in this interview with Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib, goes further. Having forced universities to rehire outsourced workers, costs have gone up and, says Habib about next year’s fee increase, “Without 8% we’re dead in the water”. The students know this but in South African politics you never back down, no matter what: TRAINSPOTTER: Adam Habib – the rock, the hard place, and the cruel beauty of an uncaring universe.
The real culprits behind the failure to help students properly are obviously the people Thabo Mbeki had in mind yesterday when he spoke about the value of the constitution: Mbeki speaks out against 'thieves' who violate constitution.
Meanwhile, it is interesting to see Eskom diversifying its financing away from prying private sector eyes to more reliable development banks from friendly countries. I think this is the second big loan Eskom has announced out of China recently (the first was from the New Development Bank — the new “Brics Bank”). It means two things. First, loans between institutions are far less transparent than Eskom’s traditional route to finance — through the bond markets. Second, the loan comes (with more promised) as Eskom begins to take the lead on a big nuclear power acquisition. Until now it has been presumed that President Jacob Zuma had stitched that up with the Russians (who would partner Siemens). But there’s been no development finance from Russia. Russia is almost bankrupt. And the Chinese make nuclear reactors too, and good ones, under licence from the French. So we could end up with Chinese/French nuclear plant instead of Russian/German ones. That would be closer to what we already have at Koeberg, as Eskom’s Matshela Koko said just the other day: Eskom loan staves off funding fears.
Finally, just to remind you, China has finally joined the global top table and has had its currency, the yuan, become one of the five currencies (along with the dollar, the pound, the yen and the euro) in the lending basket of the International Monetary Fund. It’s a big deal: IMF officially gives China a seat at the adult table of world economics.