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.