#FeesMustFall and the Silent Majority: Encouraging Your Children to Go to War

Opinion Piece by Lelouch Giard

#FeesMustFall and the Silent Majority: Encouraging Your Children to Go to War
#FeesMustFall violent protests in South Africa

Before starting this piece, I would like to express my condolences to the family members of the Wits worker who passed away recently after being hospitalised during protests on campus. My heart goes out to those left behind.

For over a week now, many universities across South Africa have been in turmoil. To those on the outside, looking in, it seems as if the universities are slowly burning down – as if no one is doing anything to help. And to those of you who feel this way, you’re not wrong.

#FeesMustFall violent protests in South Africa
#FeesMustFall violent protests in South Africa

Many universities have lost buildings, including the University of Fort Hare (UFH), the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and the University of Johannesburg (UJ). Attempts at arson have also occurred on various campuses, but are more difficult to confirm.

#FeesMustFall violent protests in South Africa
#FeesMustFall violent protests in South Africa

Non-protesting students were locked inside residences by protesters, who proceeded to set fires inside those residences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (apparently not attempted murder, though – no police action apparent). Protesters at the University of KwaZulu-Natal flung faeces while disrupting tests, after threatening non-protesting students on social media.

Petrol bombs were found on Wits’s Braamfontein campus and there are unconfirmed reports of petrol bombs having been set alight at the University of Pretoria (UP) (at least two). Two vehicles were burnt at the University of Pretoria.

Some universities, including Wits and the University of Cape Town, have closed indefinitely. I say indefinitely because, although the universities hope to reopen next week, they may find this difficult with the current trajectory of the #FeesMustFall protests. Protesters across the country are calling for a nation-wide shutdown.

The University of Pretoria has started its Spring recess early (planned for 30 September to 10 October, it is now from 26 September to 10 October). I find it apt that the Beeld newspaper described this as “Tuks raising the white flag”, because in all honesty, our campuses resemble warzones.

#FeesMustFall violent protests in South Africa
#FeesMustFall violent protests in South Africa

And the question on many outsiders’ lips is: “Why are the other students not standing up for themselves? Surely those who want to study are in the majority.” You’d be right. The #FeesMustFall protesters calling for the academic programmes to be halted are in the minority. They are also much more violent and willing to go to extremes than the majority of students.

Through intimidation and violence, the #FeesMustFall protesters who condone violence and burning of university infrastructures have silenced the majority. The majority are terrified. And here’s why:

  1. The #FeesMustFall protesters are much more willing to make use of violence than the majority of students, who simply want to study. They have proclaimed “SCREW THE LAW!” (I would use a different expletive, but I try to remain semi-professional despite my disgust) through their use of petrol bombs and disregarding of court interdicts. These protesters have decided they have nothing to lose. So, selfish as it may or may not be, non-protesters are afraid for their personal safety, with good cause.
  2. The protesters are militant, making use of some basic guerrilla warfare tactics. They hide their faces and identities behind masks, hoodies and bandannas, clearly conscious of the consequences of their actions, but unwilling to stand up and own it. On campuses, they look remarkably like the brigands, thieves and terrorists they are fast becoming.
  3. Although non-protesters would love to put their faith in the South African Police Service (SAPS), the SAPS seem disinclined to engage the protesters when necessary. Despite a few reports of rubber bullets being fired and arrests being made, these incidences seem to be the exception. Whether it be because of Marikana or because officers are afraid to lose their jobs if a protester makes false accusations of brutality, the police are not arresting students who violate interdicts. They seem to wait until they have no other choice but to act. And often, when students are suspended or arrested for illegal acts, their fellow protesters protest further, demanding the release of their comrades who were rightfully arrested or that universities allow their (rightfully) suspended comrades back on campus. How can a non-protester feel safe when this happens?
  4. The #FeesMustFall movement has been hijacked and has become about racial division and narrow political agendas, more than anything else. So once a white student stands up against them, he or she is labelled as a privileged racist, however inaccurate this may be. When a non-white student stands up against the protesters, they are labelled a sell-out or privileged, a “clever black” as Zuma loves to say. They may be called “white on the inside”. Although these labels can be shaken off and words like these are usually less painful than sticks (“protest sticks” are a new popular tool of intimidation) and stones, standing up against the protesters does something that cannot be ignored: it paints a target on your back. These protesters tend to gather and support one another. So if one of them identifies you as a target, you are guaranteed to be targeted by many of them.
  5. Non-protesters are concerned about future employers. What if you are caught on camera, and it is known that you were involved in protests, even counter-protests? Future employers may think twice about hiring you, no matter which side you were on.
  6. Many, if not all, of the non-protesters cannot imagine ending this without violence. I certainly can’t. #FeesMustFall thugs are ALL disrespecting the law to start with, and they are eager for conflict.

Here are some choice comments:

  • “Stay close to white people. Hold one hostage if you must.” (A student at UP)
  • “I have aspirations to kill white people, and this must be achieved!” (A student at UCT)
  • “Those who are counter revolution should be dealt with like the enemy.” (An EFFSC member)
  • “Anyone who goes to classes, you are going to k*k, we are going to beat you up”. (A student at UP)
  • “Dear ukzn Pmb students‚ please be warned that if you are seen on campus with a bag or books from monday(26th September) to friday(30th September) will be dealt with…
    We advise you to strike with us or be against us… those who are against will be dealt with
    #FreeUKZN11 #FeesMustFall
    Makuliwe.. please pass on to your friends”.
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“I have aspirations to kill white people, and this must be achieved!” – A student at University of Cape Town (UCT)

With threats like these, some coming from organisations like SASCO (South African Students Congress, closely associated with the ANC (African National Congress)) and EFFSC (Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command), it is no wonder that the non-protesters are scared. To those who are encouraging the non-protesters to stand up and fight: you are encouraging us to walk into a warzone where we are unwilling to shoot or kill, even to protect ourselves, and where the opposition are very willing to injure, maim or kill.

With regards to the recent death at Wits… The worker (a cleaner) inhaled gasses from a fire extinguisher that protesting students released and was taken ill. He was treated on campus and rushed to the hospital, where he was treated for a few days, before being discharged and passing away shortly after. His employers are investigating the cause of his death.

The Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) claims that they are saddened by the news, but that they believe releasing this information to the public is disrespectful. They claim that they are reviewing their methods of protest, as if the death of a bystander comes as a shock. They claim that they viewed him as “one of their own”, even though there is no evidence that he was part of their movement, and that they will be conveying their condolences to the family of the deceased.

My opinion is that if your movement makes use of petrol bombs and burns down buildings, you have no right to pretend that the death or injury of a bystander comes as a shock. Whether the conduct of the protesters directly lead to this man’s death or not, they certainly caused him to become very ill.

They claim that no human life can “delegitimise an honourable cause”. Whether or not this is true, in my opinion their cause stopped being honourable when they started turning it into a war against universities, when they started burning down buildings and halting academic activities.

So, why are the protesters shutting down campuses? Initially, shutting down academic programmes was supposedly for a very simple reason: protesters wanted to ensure that they do not fall behind academically while they took on the one party that can actually make a difference: the government. Somewhere along the line, the message got lost in translation and now most protesters shut down campuses because they can and because that’s what they planned to do in the first place… but many of them forgot the why, the second part of the plan: taking on the government. The target has changed from the government to universities. The protesters have taken a step backwards, aided by Blade Nzimande’s hand-off of the responsibility to universities (it’s still largely the government’s fault, in truth, but he just wants it to look like the ANC is innocent).

Many studies show that, unfortunately, those who benefit from “free” education are those who were already privileged and likely to attend tertiary educational institutions. Translation: those who benefit from free education are NOT the poor and disadvantaged!

In fact, poor students are those who are suffering the most from these disruptions of academic programmes. Unlike the protesters, who are (mostly) middle class or higher, who can afford to study at home, who can afford to look something up on Google and who can afford hard copies of the textbooks to work out of, the poorer students cannot afford disruptions of classes. These students often wake up very early to grab a taxi to class and can only go back much later in the day, where they return to a home where they do not have the facilities to study or the textbooks necessary to work. These poorer students want to attend classes. So, ironically, the #FeesMustFall movement is oppressing the very people they claim to represent. And what poor student can afford to repeat this year due to protests?

The Democratic Alliance has launched a petition to reopen our universities, which can be found here. I don’t know if the universities could remain open even if they increased their efforts tenfold. Without the full backing of the SAPS, universities do not have the power to keep arsonists and anarchists off of campuses. Nevertheless, everyone who condemns these acts of violence and the disruptions of academic programmes should sign this petition (no matter what your political affiliation, let’s stand together as South Africans). At the least, this petition is a chance to give a voice and support to the silent majority.

For those who want to do more, please help me spread the hashtags #IWantMyClasses (I want my classes) and #Back2Class in support of students who are being silenced or dismissed by #FeesMustFall. Encourage students to engage this topic on social media, to raise their voices and say that they want to study.

It may not make a difference; perhaps it may not help at all. But we must raise our voices. We must stand together. We cannot remain silent.

Visit A Vigilant Voice for more articles by Lelouch Giard

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#FeesMustFall violent student protests South Africa
#FeesMustFall violent student protests South Africa