The South African Education Research Association’s 3rd annual conference continued on the campus of the University of the Free State in Blomfontein, South Africa today. Deputy SAERA President and ARNA member Lesley Wood convened the first meeting of an action research special interest group that plans to coordinate its efforts with ARNA, CARN, ALARA, and other international action research organizations to promote participatory and action forms of research for social justice and democratic citizenry. ARNA chair Joseph Shosh spoke of the importance of working for change both within larger educational research organizations like SAERA and also outside of those organizations within communities, universities, and action research networks like ARNA.
Later in the day, student representatives from the #FeesMustFall movement (http://edition.cnn.com/2015/10/27/africa/fees-must-fall-student-protest-south-africa-explainer/) addressed the conference delegates. Student leader Lindokuhlo Ntuli began, “Thank you for listening to us. Unfortunately, most academics do not. There is a duty for government to fund higher education for those who cannot afford it.”
Fellow student Busisiwe Ntsele commented, “As a Black woman in South Africa, there are fewer and fewer of you as you continue with your education. What happens to the other students? As professors, do you find out why students leave and don’t return to your classes? We need to be listened to. There shouldn’t have to be violence for people to be listened to. For the first time, I have seen black and white students come together for a common cause.”
Student leader Nokuthula Sithole added, “Intellectually, this protest revived something I never thoughts would happen at the University of the Free State. Here, too often, we’re taught to do just as the teacher tells us. We must instead speak up and talk about what we see happening to those in our lives, those who have the ability to bring about much needed change in the the entire community.”
During a brief Q&A session, ARNA member Bruno Costa noted that in his native Brazil, higher public education is free and asked student organizers if this was part of their demand. Ntuli responded, “We must grant free education on the basis of poverty, students who cannot afford education. There’s a need for current education to be funded differently.”
Aslam Fataar, President of SAERA, concluded the session, “We need to recognize in its complexity and its depth what you are telling us” before calling upon those assembled to bring their research agendas to bear.