The right to protest is not a right to dam­age prop­erty

CityPress - - Voices - KHAYE NK­WANYANA voices@city­press.co.za Nk­wanyana is the spokesper­son for the higher ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter

It has almost been ac­cepted as a val­i­da­tion of strength for any stu­dent protest ac­tion at in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing that dam­ag­ing prop­erty must form part of ex­er­cis­ing this demo­cratic right.

This prac­tice from the most en­light­ened sec­tion of our youth is ex­tremely dis­taste­ful and ab­hor­rent. But more disturbing is the de­gen­er­ate qual­ity of lead­er­ship at this level from those elected to stu­dent bod­ies to pro­vide lead­er­ship.

In any course of ac­tion, there will be spoil­ers and agents provo­ca­teurs who will re­sort to all man­ner of sor­did acts. Th­ese di­ver­sions are as old as protest ac­tion it­self. But the task of the lead­er­ship is in en­sur­ing that be­fore the strike ac­tion even be­gins, a strong mes­sage is sent to stu­dents, and mar­shals are ap­pointed to con­trol crowds. Daily brief­ings by lead­ers and house com­mit­tees are main­tained.

Bon­afi­de­lead­er­sarethose­who­com­man­dau­thor­i­ty­totheir con­stituency, lead by prin­ci­ple and are al­ways will­ing to be un­pop­u­lar. A leader who re­coils when dif­fi­cult times arise is not a leader.

Dur­ing my stu­dent life, I don’t re­mem­ber be­ing part of a strike that re­sulted in dam­age to prop­erty. We al­ways knew our quar­rel with man­age­ment must not trans­late into any­thing other than the is­sues at hand, us­ing demo­cratic prin­ci­ples as guid­ance. Win­ning the moral high ground was al­ways pri­mary. We knew that the univer­sity be­longed to us and the fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of stu­dents, and there­fore must be pro­tected.

The re­cent strikes at in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing across the coun­try are a startling ex­po­sure of the di­min­ished qual­ity of lead­er­ship, where con­trol is lost from all di­rec­tions.

But care­ful ob­ser­va­tion re­veals that stu­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tive coun­cils fail to lead stu­dents dur­ing strikes, re­sult­ing in them be­ing over­pow­ered by the most pop­ulist of fron­trun­ners dur­ing strikes.

It could also be be­cause stu­dent body elec­tions take place dur­ingth­esec­ondsemesterand­var­i­ousstu­den­tor­gan­i­sa­tions use the mo­ment to project them­selves as more mil­i­tant than oth­ers to prop up their elec­toral chances.

My worry is the moral ac­cept­abil­ity of the im­punity with which th­ese acts of crim­i­nal­ity are car­ried out.

More is ex­pected from stu­dents at a sup­posed level of in­tel­lec­tual clar­ity. No amount of anger, des­per­a­tion and stress can jus­tify such acts. Pe­riod.

In­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing are the prop­erty of this coun­try and its fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. Young lead­ers in ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions must be re­spon­si­ble.

As we speak, some stu­dents at the Univer­sity of Lim­popo’s Me­dunsa cam­pus are now fac­ing crim­i­nal charges, and the same will hap­pen very soon at the Tsh­wane Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy.

Th­ese stu­dents’ fu­tures will be tainted by crim­i­nal records, some­thing they should bear in mind if they as­pire to en­ter the job mar­ket after univer­sity.

PHOTO: HER­MAN VER­WEY

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