Why I am a proud student today

I have been glued to every social media outlet, news agency and person on the ground (Pontsho Pilane- @Pontsho_Pilane, 702 News- @Radio702) I could get my hands on this afternoon…I may not be actively protesting but I am invested in the outcome of this issue. What has struck me the most is the unity that students have shown—their extraordinary ability to come together for a common cause. This is no small feat. While a small group of people, whether they be SASCO, ANCYL or others students (ahem, TUT) went on a rampage, burning portable toilets, breaking fences and intimidating police the MAJORITY of the other student protestors were shouting at them to cease the violence. I saw hashtags on twitter of “#noPeaceNoProtest”, and this concurrently made me sad and very proud. Sad because it reinforces the fact that the minority who resort to violence belittle the struggle of the majority. Proud because I think there is little that is greater than witnessing unity, when collectively a group upholds what they stand for. We need more of this in South Africa. We need more of the majority weeding out the diseased minority. The minority who seem to, unfortunately have louder voices because let’s face it, violence incites a response. I hold a great deal of respect today for those who were not violent, to the leaders that helped make it so and contempt for the few that tried to ruin it all.

But my heart also aches for the students who had worked so hard for this cause, who have spent the better part of two weeks working towards this moment only to have some of their . Wits SRC, Shaeera Kalla (@Shaeera_k), Nompendulo Mkhatshwa (@Ulo_Mkat) you are the kind of leadership that we need more of. At the start of this movement I was unsure of where I stood, over the past two weeks I have begun to realise more and more the importance of these protests. I may have been on the sideline but what I think is just as important is what I wrote about at the start of this movement (SO much more than meets the eye…Wits student protests)—the goal of eliciting thinking, of winning over the hearts and minds of those who do not know where they stand, of those whose support you need and to those who are ignorant and maybe, just maybe even changing the minds of those who were bigoted, removing their blindfolds and allowing them to see more clearly what is actually happening out there. I have witnessed acts of compassion, support and comradery. University staff, outsiders, fellow students come together to show their support, to provide food and water and even lecture to those occupying Senate House (I do not quite understand the need to change the name….). At first I felt inconvenienced, at first I was angry and disappointed. Because I did not understand, not really. I forced myself to think about the issue. To ACTUALLY think, to debate with myself. Why is it that I feel the way I feel? I tackled with these thoughts since it all started. Slowly, my opinion and mind-set has changed. These actions are not only necessary, but they are vital to South Africa moving forward.

Today I am not inconvenienced, today I am not angry, today I understand, today I support and today I happily admit I was initially wrong. I was quick to judge without stopping to think about what this actually means. I was naïve about the way in which South Africa works, how people must struggle to get their voices heard and how even after all these years of democracy we are still not living in a free and equal society. Today I look up to the leaders of these protests, and admire their foresight. These protests have not been perfect, nor have they been without the nasty consequences of fighting against the system but if my thinking has been changed, is it not conceivable that others thinking has also changed? Even if only a slight bit. Issues breed contempt when they are unspoken, when they are feared and left to fester in the dark. In the light of day and discussion they will inevitably bring hurt as they are not easy to stomach. They are not pleasant and discussion will not be all unicorns and rainbows— but at the end of the day, when these issues are given the airtime they deserve there is a sense of ease that falls over all involved. You cannot expect issues to be resolved if they are left to fester. What happened today (excluding the violence of a few and the intimidation by others) at the Union Buildings in our Nation’s Capital is a huge step forward in solving this issue. President Zuma has stated that there will be a 0% fee increase. This is a victory for the students who have fought so hard. I do not yet know the extent to which the violence that followed from the small group of protestors has soured the actions of many today, but I can say that I am proud. I am proud that something that started on Wits campuses all those days ago has made such an impact nationally. This is not the end of the problems but rather the (potential) start of brighter days ahead. Of a government that is held accountable for their actions and who no longer is allowed to conduct their business without the mass scrutiny of their actions, of people who put them into power. I say well done and keep it up.

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So much more than meets the eye…Wits student protests

The last two days have seen a great deal of tension, hurtful comments, misunderstanding, mistakes (on both “sides”) and general upheaval at the University of the Witwatersrand as a proportion of students protest against the (gigantic) 10.5% increase in tuition fees for the 2016 academic year. This has forced me to do a great deal of thinking- something I think is incredibly important. To blindly follow without consolidating your viewpoint is dangerous and simply breeds the kind of behaviour we have witnessed on campus the past two days. The “us” versus “them” mentality. I find this extraordinarily damaging and in no way conducive of a peaceful solution.

This situation has troubled me deeply and occupied all of my attention since it began. This protest has divided the campus, and students and staff have been forced to pigeon-hole themselves into one of two boxes. This is where things get hairy. Boxes are a dangerous thing. We have been given one of two boxes in which to jump…the first is a very sturdy box, good, strong walls and space to hold plenty- let’s call this the “pro” box. The other box is patched together, it is a little old and fraying and needs lots of duct tape- let’s call this the “nay” box. The pro box is filled with people who are actively involved in the protests while the nay box is populated by those who do not actively protest. Now you are probably asking—which is the “correct” box? The one that is strong and sturdy? the pro box or rather the box that has looked better. I think neither are “correct” and when I say “correct” I refer to the notion of holding only one viewpoint…but people are not so simple. We are complex, multi-faceted individuals and quite capable of holding two conflicting ideals simultaneously. What I mean by this is that while all those who are actively protesting believe in what they are doing, there is a portion of the community in that box who have taken things too far- violence, intimidation and the destruction of property. Is that not holding two ideals? While on the one hand they are raging against the system that is failing them, the system that will incidentally exclude some of them from attending Wits in 2016 as they cannot afford the steep fee increases—there are others, members of the pro box, who do not agree with this violence, merely the base ideals that formed the box in the first place. Now there is the nay box, It is weaker as the population within its confines are not nearly so united on their similarities. There are some in this box that throw around unnecessary, hurtful and demeaning comments. Those who will never know the struggles of those whom the pro box fights for. I would argue that these people have not thought deeply about the situation. They are naive and display one-dimensional thinking. These bigoted nays are as bad as the violent pros….they are who cause the most trouble. The more logical pros and nays are who need to enter into a discussion. These are the people that are capable of coming to an understanding. The problem is that the violent nays and pros have louder voices, they control the tempo of the interaction and they inadvertently affect their more rational counterparts in each box. A violent pro can transform a logical nay into a less humane version and vice versa. Human nature is where this demonstration fails. It fails to take into account that people are inherently different and that these differences therefore necessitate a variety of approaches. The same way as not all people learn the same way, not all people respond in the same way to public displays of disagreement. There has been rampant assumption that these calmer nays are all “privileged”, that they do not care to get involved, and that they do not stand firm with their fellow students who are actively protesting. This is why the nay box is weak. This is why boxes are a problem and why they always have been. Why the “us” versus “them” mentality is short-sighted and ultimately pointless. You see these people likely empathise with those who are striking, many of them also potentially at risk of exclusion but the difference is that they do not believe in this type of protest. Many of these nays likely battle with the idea that there must be a better way to go about this strike, that there is a more amicable outcome to be had by not bringing the campus to a standstill. Realistically though is there an alternative? Do the powers at be listen if you do not shout, if you do not become violent? South Africa has a history of protesting to bring about change, heck the world has a history of protesting to bring about change. It is never pretty, it is never entirely innocent (recall those violent pros) and it is never nice to witness. But is there another way? Would the powers that be listen to logical debate, have they listened o logical debate? I can not know and we will probably never know. Life is influenced by those who can shout loudly, those who inconvenience the progenitors. I wish for a protest that would discard violence, intimidation and destruction and rather for one that instead fosters communication, that promotes understanding. Violent messages are heard, but I do not know that they are held for as long as a less violent message would be. A message that calls on human sympathy, a message that tugs at one’s heart strings, one that sings true with the plight of those from whence it originates.

Have I been inconvenienced by these protests? Yes. have I been made to feel unsafe? Yes. Have I been the recipient of violence?….Yes. Has someone truly asked me where I stand…..NO.

Assumptions— evil little things if you ask me. They cause chaos where there might not have been any.

Respect one another’s differences, understand that people perceive the world around them differently and instead of forcing your opinion on them enter into a discussion where you are willing to LISTEN and to change. Be malleable in your ideals. Afterall how do you know that the idea upon which you first arrive is the best one?

I hope that there will be an end to the violence and intimidation. We are capable of all getting along. We are human and humans after all have conquered the planet not because of our intelligence but because of our unique ability to cooperate. Lets invest a little more into fostering that in these times.