A vi­o­lent tug-of-war

CityPress - - News - S’THEM­BILE CELE sthem­bile.cele@city­press.co.za

Three or­gan­i­sa­tions at the fore­front of vi­o­lent stu­dent protests this week deny a race war is un­der way, in­stead fin­ger­ing the Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers (EFF), who they say are us­ing the stu­dents ahead of lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions. Afrikaner civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tion AfriForum, Afrikaner political party Front Na­sion­aal and the SA Stu­dents Congress (Sasco) all claim that protests at the univer­si­ties of Pre­to­ria and Free State are not about race but lan­guage.

The three say they are look­ing for an am­i­ca­ble so­lu­tion to the lan­guage pol­icy – on whether Afrikaans is to be used as a medium of in­struc­tion – but progress has been halted by the EFF, who they in­sist are in­cit­ing the vi­o­lence.

EFF na­tional spokesper­son Mbuyiseni Nd­lozi said this week’s events at cam­puses around the coun­try was not a race war but “a le­git­i­mate protest strug­gle around trans­for­ma­tion”.

In an about-turn, Sasco – which last month called for protests to stop, along with ANC-aligned stu­dent body the Pro­gres­sive Youth Al­liance (PYA) – are now call­ing for their struc­tures to en­gage in “cam­paigns” at Afrikaans univer­si­ties, where there are is­sues of racism.

Sasco pres­i­dent Thabo Moloja says they were “mis­un­der­stood”.

“The protests dur­ing reg­is­tra­tion were about ... not al­low­ing for it to pro­ceed and our call then was for stu­dents to reg­is­ter and get into the sys­tem. We were not say­ing protests must end al­to­gether. If there are is­sues of res­i­dence or a lan­guage pol­icy, of course we must protest.”

But a highly placed source in the PYA told City Press that Sasco is out to re­gain promi­nence at stu­dent protests be­cause the EFF has gained mo­men­tum on cam­puses, and that the PYA is scram­bling for vis­i­bil­ity.

Moloja said protests this week had to do with univer­sity man­age­ments’ fail­ure to en­gage on the lan­guage pol­icy at Pre­to­ria univer­sity, also known as Tuks, and on a bro­ken prom­ise to in­source at the Univer­sity of the Free State (UFS).

“Where there are is­sues we will lead protests and other en­gage­ment, but ... not with the op­po­si­tion. We com­mit­ted a tac­ti­cal blun­der by hav­ing a coali­tion of stu­dent or­gan­i­sa­tions in protests this week. We use dif­fer­ent tac­tics. We want di­a­logue, with protest as the last re­sort. The EFF stu­dent com­mand sees protest as their first and only op­tion,” he said.

Nd­lozi re­futed the claim that the EFF were the ag­gres­sors and were us­ing the stu­dent protests for promi­nence ahead of lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions. “Elec­tions are fought in wards not univer­si­ties. We are there be­cause our univer­si­ties need to trans­form,” he said

Moloja said the fight be­tween UFS stu­dents was racist in na­ture and called for vice-chan­cel­lor Jonathan Jansen to step down.

Mean­while, AfriForum Jeug (Youth) na­tional co­or­di­na­tor Morne Mostert said: “We are not the ag­gres­sors. We sim­ply want proper con­sul­ta­tion with univer­sity man­age­ment around the lan­guage pol­icy. We do not only want to pro­tect Afrikaans, we are also pro­mot­ing Se­pedi at Tuks be­cause we be­lieve in mother tongue education for ev­ery­one.

“We are of­fi­cially dis­tanc­ing our­selves from Front Na­sion­aal and their ac­tions,” he said, al­leg­ing that was the party re­spon­si­ble for racially abus­ing black stu­dents this week.

Fran­cois Cloete of Front Na­sion­aal said his fore­fa­thers built Tuks and were promised by FW de Klerk in 1994 that at least four univer­si­ties would be re­served for them. “This is not a race war but the EFF is try­ing to make it one. What comes next af­ter re­mov­ing Afrikaans?”

Wide­spread plans to protest this week across the coun­try were foiled by Var­sity Cup or­gan­is­ers, who post­poned all in­teruni­ver­sity rugby matches set to take place this week, cit­ing safety con­cerns fol­low­ing vi­o­lence at a game at UFS on Mon­day.

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