For a long time I’ve had this niggling little voice in my mind, “Life is passing you by.” The more I thought about it, the more I agreed. I am almost 60 and the last 28 years madam and I have been together, I have worked full-time. That means I was away from home for almost 10 hours on a working day. And I am tired of office politics after 35 working years.
Then, on 20 September, the Higher Education Sector in South Africa, in which I worked, exploded.
The #FeesMustFall student-led protest movement already began in mid-October 2015 in response to an
increase in fees at South African universities. In October 2015, students from the university where I work, joined in the protest. The protests ended when the government announced a 0% tuition fee increase for 2016.
The protests flared up again in 2016 when the Minister of Higher Education announced that there would be fee increases capped at 8% for 2017, giving each institution the freedom to decide by how much their tuition would increase. Our students joined the protests for “Free Education for All” and on 20 September we woke up to text messages and social media warning us not to go to work, as students had barricaded entrances to campuses with burning tires.
For eight weeks, university staff members operated from various alternate locations. Many were working from home, including me, until staff set up temporary work spaces at the smaller campuses, where it was considered more safe. The main campus, where I have my office, was declared a no-go area. Students set alight a residence club house and the sport club house. The police were called in and there were numerous clashes between them and the students. Tear gas and water cannons were used to disperse angry mobs and rubber bullets were even fired. Staff who braved it on campus to fetch something, came back to cars of which the windows were stoned to smithereens. At most of the 21 universities in the country, teaching and learning were forced to a complete standstill.
During this time, madam and I had serious discussions about the future and visited our broker to talk finances with him. He indicated that we would be able to eat bread with butter and even add some cheese if we live frugally and make some changes to our lifestyle, should I go on early retirement.
The university in the meantime found alternate work and teaching spaces, one of which was the 2010 World Soccer Stadium and exams were written there and in other smaller locations like guest houses. The 2016 academic year was completed as “business unusual.”
Just recently, the university had announced that fees will be increased by 8% next year for students who are able to afford it. As usual, the government will be providing aid to deserving poor students. But student groups are already planning disruptions of universities next year. They will not give up until higher education is totally free for all.
I have informed my line manager and human resources that I will be taking early retirement and leave the university employ at the end of February next year. I am simply too tired to face the dark music any longer. It is time to enjoy life with my family.
I’m folding ’em. A gamble? Isn’t life?
“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done”~ Songwriter: Don Schlitz