Retired Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs says he is impressed by students in the #FeesMustFall movement who are calling for free, decolonised higher education.
“I think they’ve raised extremely important questions and what impresses me is their passion and their idealism. They are not doing it just for advancing themselves or how to get rich or out of personal ambition,” Sachs said on Wednesday.
Sachs was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities’ discussion on Chapter 9 institutions in Johannesburg.
Sachs said the students were voicing their vision of the way they thought the country should be moving forward.
“And I think in a sense it is a sign of the maturity of our democracy. That we can raise a new range of questions that create a new range of problems that require a new range of responses.”
He said there was a need for “much more” transformation in South Africa, however, it needed to be constructive.
Cautionary examples in Africa
“Transformation should be constructive not destructive. [It] should open the doors of learning and culture, not burn the doors of learning and culture,” he said.
Sachs also cautioned the students on their demand, saying the Constitution did not specifically speak of free higher education for all.
“The Constitution doesn’t speak about free education as such. Many people say it is implied in the Constitution, many people say the Constitution is consistent with those who can pay must pay, to enable those who can’t pay to have access,” he said.
He said students in other parts of Africa had also made similar demands to their respective governments and that they should be aware that it did not always result in the best outcomes.
“What people have to bear in mind is that elsewhere in Africa students rebelled, they won their fight for free education but sadly the education [level] went down because there weren’t resources for the universities and private colleges and schools took over.
“So the rich got good education and the poor didn’t, so I think people must take account of those factors.”
Either way, a dialogue on the matter needed to take place while the academic programme was underway, he said.