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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