Pandora’s box of protests

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SOUTH Africans are getting fed up with the #feesmustfall protestors on university campuses.

Any moral high ground these students once had was abandoned long ago, when they started disrupting classes, harassing and intimidating lecturers and fellow students who wanted to study, destroying property, looting and burning buildings.

It rings hollow when students claim their protests have been “constitutional” and peaceful, when everyone around can see what they have been doing. Likewise the claims of police overreaction and brutality in response to their provocation. We have seen with our own eyes the footage of students throwing rocks and bottles at police at Wits University, of rampant looting at Fort Hare University, of the burnt out library at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Early in the protests, a cellphone video was released showing how student protestors at the University of the North West manhandled a female lecturer after disrupting her class. The lecturer had asked her class if they wanted to continue with the lecture or listen to the rants of the protestors. The class full of students replied they wanted to study and the thugs did not like that, so they grabbed the lecturer and dragged her out of the classroom.

And last week, it appears protesting students caused the death of a security guard at Wits University, when they released a fire extinguisher. Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande has called for an investigation into the man’s death, and expressed shock that the university administration failed to report the incident.

Nzimande has not covered himself in glory for how he has handled these protests from the beginning, but his statement following the security guard’s death is a step in the right direction.

He said: “This incident, painful as it is, is proof that there are people who are hell bent on holding our universities to ransom and have no regard for the vast majority of law-abiding members of the university community who do not want to participate in protests.

“This majority sector highly values the integrity of the academic programme and has shown an understanding of and appreciation for the lengths government has gone for support to the poor, middle class and missing middle students in the recent fee adjustment announcement.”

The Rhodes protestors have been no angels either, with their constant disruptions of lectures, intimidating other students, destruction of property and taunting and obstructing the police.

Pandora’s horrors were released when university administrations and government first caved in to students’ demands last year. Now there seems to be no putting them back in the box.

– Jon Houzet

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