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‘But it’s right here in the constitution!’

In the recent wave of Fees Must Fall protest, once again we have seen a certain argument for ‘free’ education arise, namely: that education is a right. It’s something we’re entitled to, either morally or legally, or both.

But in reality, this notion – and I admit, it could certainly be true hypothetically – really just isn’t the case. It’s yet another piece of leftist rhetoric which just seems so right! I mean, what kind of a cold bastard wouldn’t entrench the right to free education in law?

The short answer? Me, and for good reason: such rights are not good; in fact, they are really quite evil. This might seem strange. How on earth could educating people be evil? It’s not the education part which is evil, but rather the fact that it’s an entitlement enshrined in law. What would the implications of a legal right to education be?

First of all, it is fundamental to understand that anytime you want something to be required by law, you are essentially saying that you would use force to institute it. Such is the nature of government, i.e. a monopoly on the use of force. It’s no small issue in creating new laws, as you literally need to ask yourself: ‘Would I put a gun to someone’s head to do this?’ It might sound extreme, but that’s the reason the police carry guns around. The law is not a guideline; it’s an opinion with a gun.

So we need to ask ourselves then: what would the right to education entail? Education is not some kind of tangible object. It requires an educator, or more specifically, the labour of an educator. What one is saying in wanting ‘the right to education’ is really ‘the right to someone else’s labour.’ In making this statement, they simply do not take into account that such a legal right would mean the government exercising force in making lecturers, teachers, etc. work for the population. If you were the only teacher who lived in a country which guaranteed its citizens the right to education, you would be compelled by law to work, whether you were paid for this work or not. This is tantamount to slavery, and it is something which I have great moral issues with.

So given the ethical problem of having the right to another individual’s labour, what does South African Constitution say about this? The following is taken from the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Chapter 2, Section 29, Subsection 1:

(1) Everyone has the right:
a) to a basic education, including adult basic education; and
b) to further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.

An important fact to notice here is that in South Africa, the only education to which one has the ‘right’ is basic education. The key to (b) is the wording, i.e. ‘make progressively available and accessible.’ There is no end date to this and no specification that ‘available and accessible’ implies ‘without any sort of cost.’

As far as ‘available and accessible’ is concerned, in my recent letter to Blade Nzimande, I pointed out that the only way our higher education system can be made more accessible is if we institute market-based reforms and get some serious deregulation going.

However, in addition, I think it’s important that one also needs to read. I speak of Section 13:

13. No one may be subjected to slavery, servitude or forced labour.

Given my argument above, it would appear that this would contradict Section 29 which grants – to an extent – exactly that, i.e. labour. What’s more, the fact that it is in our supreme law means that it is something which (if need be) the government may institute by force. I’m no legal scholar, but that sounds to be not dissimilar to what Section 13 prohibits.

What’s at stake here has really now become a question of values. Supporters of Fees Must Fall need to ask themselves if they really do believe in the South African constitution, or, if they are like me and they don’t agree with everything it says, we need to be asking: isn’t there a moral issue at stake here? Is it a good idea to legally give someone the right to the fruits of another’s labour? I think what this issue will truly come down to is a test of values.

I end off with this video of US senator Rand Paul (R-KY) during a committee meeting. Bernie Sanders had raised the possibility of making free healthcare a right. Paul – a qualified eye surgeon – responded:

‘I’m a physician, that means you have the right to come to my house and conscript me.’

I so hope that the same won’t ever apply to our lecturers, or anyone else for that matter.

  • Harald Sitta

    Good point. 1st right is only a right in the legal sense if a concrete person possesses it and a corresponding duty of another concrete person exists and if I can formulate a concrete claim going to a concrete court of law. Everything else are airy proclamations. The right to basic education is basically the duty for parents and of minors to undergo school education . The rest is more or less propaganda. Of course i can argue that the duty to school education is a formed of forced child labor. But that we put children into school is so widely accepted that further and farther moral and legal considerations are rather pointless. Anyway not even this constitution constructs a right to “free’ education obviously meaning education without fees. What the #fallists imagine is rather an alimented work and effort less stay at university with free beer and babes for all and after getting a certificate a guaranteed job in public administration whre they can go on sponging until becoming pensioners. Of course sometimes we all dream of the “Schlaraffenland’ but most wake up and get serious.

  • Anon

    By this line of logic we should reject any idea if that idea is not already in the constitution. Likewise, Apartheid should never have been abolished because black people having rights wasn’t in the constitution at the time of Apartheid? Obviously you can see how no progress could be made through this circular reasoning.

    Moreover your secondary argument that the government would necessarily force people to work is similarly untrue. Even if an amendment providing free education worked as simplistically as an online blog might expect it to, teachers would be no more slaves than doctors are slaves.

    In the current form the bill of rights takes, every South African is guaranteed the right to health care services. Yet I have never seen any doctor forced to work if they don’t want to.

    This is not to say I necessarily support FeesMustFall, just that this argument is quite obviously weak. For in 2015 I could write a similar article about Gay rights in the united states titling it “Same Sex Marriage is not a Right.” Well of course it’s not – that’s why we’re having a debate about it.

    Come now, surely you can see how witless your reasoning is.

  • Eye Patch Morty

    “Education is not a right”

    Well in the words of Tyrion Lannister: “it’s easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor”

    Since you’re currently studying at Rhodes, I guess the current education system is working out in your favor.

    “This is tantamount to slavery”

    Really? Really? That’s the argument you’re going with?

    Reminds me of white people who say quotas in sport and BEE are basically apartheid in reverse. (While typing on a MacBook Pro in the suburbs). Not only do white people use this argument to minimize the real Apartheid that black people were subjected to but also in an attempt to create a false equivalency.

    If fees fell and tertiary education became a right, people would not be torn away from their families and sold at auctions. They would not be lynched or have the flesh on their backs flayed off with whips. Their names, cultures and religions would not be taken away from them and replaced by their oppressors names, cultures and religions.

    You don’t hear black people using the word holocaust to refer to any grievance or minor annoyances we experience, so let’s not throw the word slavery around when there are plenty of more appropriate words that can illustrate your point without making you look foolish.

    No wonder Rand Paul and his racist daddy both lost in landslides. It’s dumb sh*t like this.

    wubba lubba dub dub

  • Eye Patch Morty

    “Education is not a right”

    Well in the words of Tyrion Lannister: “it’s easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor”

    wubba lubba dub dub