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Fees Must What?

The chaos on many of our university campuses in response to the announcement by the Minister that tertiary education will not be free next year, and that instead there will be increases of no more that 8% as determined by each institution, has sent shock waves around the country and ripples around the world. It is tragic to witness the orchestrated disruption of classes and destruction of property by raging mobs led by irrational and influential activists. It is sad to see proper channels of communication ignored and the democratic right of peaceful protest bypassed in favour of knee-jerk disruption and violence. At a time when our economy is struggling and everyone except the very rich are feeling the pinch, it is depressing to calculate the waste of money on extra policing and the restoration and replacing of damaged and destroyed property.

But more than that, it is what the current state of affairs reveals about the heart and soul of the nation that is most disturbing. The lack of consideration for fellow students and faculty and the lack of respect for the rule of law and those in authority points to an inner disease that, should it continue to spread, makes the future even more frightening. No society can survive if the laws of the land are trampled underfoot and democratically appointed leaders, no matter how flawed some of them may be as individuals, are not obeyed. Romans 13:1-7 makes this abundantly clear.

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.

This does not mean that we must blindly submit to authority. We should raise our voices against injustice perpetrated by those in authority. We should foster robust debate on issues that affect all segments of society. We should engage in peaceful protest. We should cry out against corruption. We should speak for those who have no voice. But wanton disruption and destruction is not the Christian pathway. Besides that, it is shortsighted and foolish since the money that will be required to repair the damage could be better utilized, and the time wasted can never be recaptured and spent profitably.

Having said that, in a country where the gap between the rich and the poor is the widest in the world, it is fitting that those responsible for setting of university fees find ways to make education available to worthy students who are poor and who simply cannot afford higher education. Heaven alone knows how much talent in our country has been wasted in the past because of unjust laws and raw poverty. We simply cannot allow this to continue. The State must do its part. Businesses and individuals must play a part. And the church must come to the party.

The IGNITION programme that is part of Rosebank Union Church’s Rays of Hope ministry is one small way we are seeking to finance and mentor underprivileged students who show promise and are committed to applying themselves to their studies. We have already seen talented young people educated and equipped for success in life through this initiative (See www.raysofhope.co.za). We would like to grow the programme, and challenge our members to give sacrificially so that we can go from our current number of 11 to the dream of 30. And we challenge other churches to adopt at least one poor student.

Although the focus of the current crisis is university fees, we must not lose sight of the fact that this is symptomatic of the wider problem of extreme poverty, gross inequality, and rumbling desperation in our country. While Scripture is clear on the need for citizens to respect those in authority in the land, it is equally clear on the responsibility all people, especially Christians, have to love and care for the poor and to do what they can to alleviate poverty. Living in luxury while the poor lie at our gates uncared for is simply not biblically acceptable (see Luke 16:19-31).

Despite the problems, this is not a time to despair. We have a great country, and hundreds of thousands of young people hungry for education and wanting to play their part in making our country even greater, so let’s pray for God’s mercy in the current crisis. Let’s pray that those in authority in this matter will be granted wisdom as they seek the best way forward. And let’s do what we can to make a difference.