This weekend I saw someone, a friend from what seems like a lifetime ago. Dugald Cloete. In the circle of friends he was referred to as Duke. He was a really cool guy. I think the last time I saw him, before this Saturday past, was when I was visiting another friend who worked at a bank in Stellenbosch. I must have been 8 months pregnant when I bumped into him in the elevator. He worked at the same bank as friend I was visiting. Dugald was his usual friendly cool self, and I was very self conscious. I thought I looked like an elephant. Made some light hearted conversation and said goodbye. That was 12 years ago.

When I saw him on Saturday, it was shortly before the start of a trail run we were about to do. He didn’t see me, and I decided rather not to go to him to say hello. 12 years to catch up was a long time and I wasn’t in the mood. After the race, as my boyfriend and I left the wine farm where the trail run took place, we saw an ambulance enter the premises. It was an unusal sight for a wine farm, but perhaps someone twisted an ankle.

This Sunday morning when I  opened FaceBook, I discovered Dugald had a heart attack and passed away at the age of 38. He never finished the trail run.

Life is short.

I will cherish mine. And I will reach out when new experiences cross my path. No fear, no regrets. And I shall love. That is why we here I think. That is the greatest gift we can give ourselves first, and then the people around us is to love. We make a difference in this world by the way we love.

I’ll do a speed synopsis of the past six months just one, no two of the biggest topics since my last blog post, my PhD and #FeesMustFall.

PhD = speedbump. No, not speed bump, … detour?….no…a fender bender is a more apt description. Started to pilot my PhD study. I thought I knew what I was doing. But a few things came up that derailed me. In retrospect, true story, looking at my work now think I was on the wrong path in any case. My ideas were not well developed yet. There were too many holes in my PhD story for me to analyse the data properly.

All good. When I started writing again I started telling a better story. And as I am writing, the gaps in my previous story are becoming more and more evident. I was arrogant to think I could really rush it the way I was trying to.

My fender bender, for those who are wondering, came in the form of:

  1. Having to complete a Teacher Development Programme (TDP) course, which swallowed up a chunk of my time,
  2. Presenting a Stats 1 course for which I had no notes, PowerPoint slides, exams, memos or even the text book so start out with! Without much warning it was suddenly added to my workload in Semester 2. Each week I was preparing as I was lecturing. Teaching undergrad is so different from teaching postgrad. This took the most of my time,
  3. An Open Educational Resources (OER) project I decided to get involved in, which also took another chuck of time,
  4. My WiFi was down for almost a month, and this really is a limiting factor, not being able to work from home, and
  5. A new relationship. The time invested in this, even though it took me away from my studies for a while, is the most worthwhile investment of all.

Hhmmmnnn, …Guilty much Bronwyn? I must ask. Why bother even explain? Perhaps, yeah. Oh well. Happy to announce I am back to the grindstone. Yay!

The Fees Must Fall protest movement started again. In summary, I’m disgusted at the protesting students. I have sympathy for people, all people who struggle in  life. I believe that I have an idea of what it is like to struggle against a seemingly impossible force. I will not be arrogant and claim that I understand poverty the way that some of my students experience it, however I reject the notion and the sentiment or attitude that accompanied the student protests. The attitude I refer to is “Because I struggle, I will make your life unbearable, regardless of the fact that you are an innocent bystander”

That attitude is unacceptable. That attitude does not belong in My South Africa. There are underlying tones of racial hatred I got to see first hand. I was a witness and part of a group of lecturers who stood outside our building waiting for security guards to open the doors one morning, when a group of protesting students approached us. Without provocation or justification, one of them aggressively pointed to a white lecturer and flung accusations based on race at the lecturer. In my opinion, that student is the racist! That student is the person who does not belong.

This situation is more than just Fees Must Fall. The situation is a political one. At the end of the day, a university is after all a business. Yes I agree, that it shouldn’t and cannot be run as a profit driven institute, however just like every other business, there are expenses that have to be paid. The last time I heard, Eskom was charging universities the same amount of money per unit of electricity they consume as what other South Africans pay. Same goes for printing ink etc. etc. etc. Even when the university explained this, the students continued to make unbelievably unreasonable demands.

Their attitude reminded me of a two year old toddler pushing the boundaries and demanding the impossible. It is difficult for me to understand, how a rational thinking university student, having passed matric could think that their demands were justifiable. Demands such as previously suspended students (these are students who were suspended for a reason) should be granted blanket amnesty and be allowed to return to the place where they caused trouble. How on earth is that logical?…, I wonder to myself. The long term consequences of giving in to that demand would irrevocably eat at the moral fiber and conscious of these young adults. Giving in to such a demand, would do more harm than good. A university should be preparing students for real life, molding them and teaching them the way things work. When the university that I work for did that, they failed the students. Our protesting students might think they have won, but no they haven’t. It will bite them, come back to bite them. Sadly they are South Africa’s next working force. It won’t only bite them on a personal level – it will bite our whole country. This was just one of a host of demands they made, which the university handled so badly. By his own admission, the vice chancellor of CPUT said we needed to “buy peace”.

I don’t envy university management. I’m not passing judgement even though I know I sound critical. They have the most arduos difficult task, possibly in the world. If I was in that position, I don’t know if I would have done a better job of managing. However what transpired was certainly not right or fair to the non-protesting students or the staff. I joked with one of my brothers and told him I thought CPUT should pay some fees back to those students who were not able to get all the lessons they paid for due to protests. After all, when you pay for any service, including lessons, if you don’t get what you paid for, you should get your money back….no?

I could go on and on. But I won’t. Bottom line is I feel that this has more to do with South African politics than fees. This is a problem that should have been directed at our government, not so much at university management. However universities are easy targets, so the illogical toddler throws his toys at the university, not understanding it’s not the university that is responsible for the inequality we still see in South African society,…. It is in fact our corrupt and weak current South African government.

Be that as it may, Fees Must Fall did two things for me. First it propelled me to use technology to teach and engage with my students more than ever before. I have always championed the cause of using technology for teaching. I’ve been an ardent technology user but even more than before, I got onto our learner management system like a fly on poo. If I was good before, I know that I am better now. Second it afforded me time to reflect. Without PhD in my career, I really won’t get very far. Like a thump to my head, I was reminded that PhD is more important that all of the items I mentioned in my fender blender, aside from the relationship. All of those items are rubber balls, while the PhD and Stephen and my Femilyum are glass balls. All of the rubber balls would bounce back if I dropped it. It was time for me to treat the rubber balls in my life like rubber balls, and the glass balls, like glass balls.

Then I started writing again. What was really good was I looked at my work with fresh eyes. I hope I that I don’t have to stop to re-prioritize in such a big way again. Of course life “will happen again” and it wont be plain sailing.

But hopefully, I will remember that I need to keep on living without fear, and keep on loving without fear.

RIP Dugald. #PartOfThePlan #Stones