The scourge of depression related suicides have increased in the recent history especially amongst the youth. Despite the relatively growing awareness about causes of depression and the numerous ways to mitigate these suicides they have not abated. Depression in South Africa has ceased to be a minor disorder but has become a pandemic. Research and articles have been published on the main causes of these suicide related deaths. It is common cause that one of the main causes of these suicides are socioeconomic conditions especially among the students. Earlier this year I wrote elsewhere that these suicides must be seen as more than just isolated cases by students. Universities are extremely implicated in these cases and ought to be held accountable for the refusal to take substantive steps in order to avert the continuation of the suicides. Equally the government has not been seen taken steps to deal with this issue especially among the youth in the townships and in rural areas.
In 2015 and in 2016 students all over the country were fighting for a decolonized education. Their unanimous cry was that the universities in South Africa do not reflect who they are, their aspirations and their geographical location. As a result of this many students felt alienated in a space where they mostly spend their time. Their cry, which was an invocation of the Fanonian cry, was that they can no longer breathe in these universities. It seems that this cry was not only a metaphoric one but a concrete one and these suicides are a testament. Universities, like Wits University, seem to care little about the wellbeing of students and more about generating income and reputation. They have not bothered to take substantive steps to reform the curriculum which the students have repeatedly rejected as a colonial curriculum that does not reflect their realities. They have not done much to ensure that students succeed, what seems to be their only concern is the input of students not the output. Here one is not calling for universities to make it easy for everyone to wantonly pass but it must create conditions that make it possible for students to succeed. In my view our universities have not done that, they have retained the status quo.
This year alone Wits University is reported to have had 10 suicides and 7 attempts of suicide. This happens after numerous calls to take action have been made by students . These calls have not been heeded by the university instead the university has only flooded the notice boards with posters directing students to the counsellors and therapists. This kind of nonchalant behavior by the university is worrisome especially because of how rampant the suicides have been among the students at Wits University. It is without doubt that the issue of suicide is one that affects the entire society but this does not mean that universities ought to be exonerated from liability where they could have done something. Both the government and the universities have a serious role to play in eradicating this problem that is annihilating the youth of South Africa.
It must also be noted that there is an entire contingent of young people whom are not necessarily included in the whole discussion around depression and suicide. As I have mentioned that the issue of depression related suicides does not only affect people who are in institutions of higher learning but it also affects the unemployed young people sitting in a corner. There has not been enough focus on the township youth and the youth in the rural areas who probably do not even have a vocabulary or language to articulate what they are going through. The exclusion and erasure of these young people cannot be allowed to happen as if they matter less than the urban youth. The government here needs to play a role, not only of going to these spaces and educating the youth about depression but also of implementing policies that will change the conditions of these young people.
For a long time we have been speaking about depression yet there is very little effort from our universities and government of taking initiative to deal with the root causes of these suicides. This behavior is typical in our country where we always diagnose the problem yet do nothing about it. Depression might not be AIDS or cancer but it is also claiming many lives of young people. There should therefore be serious intervention from the government and public institutions. We cannot continue to die in droves yet the only solution we are provided with is therapy when we know very well what the main causes of these deaths are.
***Mcebo Dlamini is the former President of the Wits SRC.