Why we fight each other

Univer­sity bat­tles have high­lighted the brit­tle na­ture of non­ra­cial­ism in post-apartheid SA. and of­fer their thoughts on why the cam­puses flared into chaos and what can be done to con­tain the flames of fury fed by ‘oth­er­ness’

CityPress - - Voices -

The dis­turb­ing scenes of vi­o­lence on South African univer­sity cam­puses may, at first glance, cre­ate the im­pres­sion that a race war is rag­ing on th­ese cam­puses. For­tu­nately for all of us, this is not the case. The ma­jor­ity of stu­dents, black and white, in­clud­ing mem­bers af­fil­i­ated to AfriForum Youth, would like to con­tinue their stud­ies peace­fully in a cam­pus en­vi­ron­ment where re­la­tions are char­ac­terised by mu­tual recog­ni­tion and re­spect.

What we see on cam­puses is the work of a small group of Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers (EFF) ag­gres­sors. They stir up un­rest with their vi­o­lent, provoca­tive and dis­rup­tive be­hav­iour. Th­ese ag­gres­sors are, in many cases, prompted by a few ex­treme left (mostly white) lec­tur­ers.

The protests on cam­puses be­gan last year with a fair claim that fees should be more af­ford­able. This was ac­tively sup­ported by a large num­ber of stu­dents from dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties. But the EFF has op­por­tunis­ti­cally jumped on the band­wagon, hi­jacked the protests and turned them into a de­struc­tive move­ment.

The for­mula used by the EFF is sim­ple: dis­rupt classes, com­mit van­dal­ism, use vi­o­lence and vic­timise the non-par­tic­i­pat­ing stu­dents to en­sure that they, the ma­jor­ity who want to carry on with their stud­ies, keep quiet and do noth­ing.

Pusil­lan­i­mous univer­sity man­age­ments then ig­nore the in­ter­ests of the ma­jor­ity of stu­dents and try to ap­pease EFF ag­gres­sors by not act­ing firmly against them, and by giv­ing in to their de­mands with­out re­sis­tance. What the univer­sity man­age­ments ap­par­ently do not re­alise is that the EFF squad can­not be ap­peased.

It is in the in­ter­est of ev­ery­one in the coun­try and the coun­try’s econ­omy that cam­pus dis­rup­tors should no longer be al­lowed to get away with their il­le­gal ac­tions. They have ev­ery right to protest peace­fully, but they def­i­nitely do not have the right to use vi­o­lence and dis­rup­tion to the detri­ment of other stu­dents. The sad events at the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria last week started with a small group of EFF sup­port­ers who dis­rupted Afrikaans classes, as­saulted Afrikaans stu­dents and made anti-Afrikaans, racist com­ments. Again the univer­sity man­age­ment tried to pacify the EFF in­stead of act­ing firmly. In the ab­sence of ac­tion by the au­thor­i­ties, the stu­dents who have been tar­geted by the EFF de­cided, for un­der­stand­able rea­sons, to show their op­po­si­tion peace­fully by form­ing hu­man chains to pre­vent fur­ther dis­rup­tion and at­tacks. This group of stu­dents de­fended them­selves only af­ter the EFF mem­bers hit them with bot­tles and other ob­jects.

This was not a racial bat­tle; it was a group of EFF ag­gres­sors, who are a small mi­nor­ity on cam­pus, who con­fronted the Afrikaans stu­dent com­mu­nity. The rep­e­ti­tion of this kind of in­ci­dent should be pre­vented. AfriForum, there­fore, in­sists that univer­sity man­age­ments, in co­op­er­a­tion with their se­cu­rity ser­vices, fol­low a zero-tol­er­ance pol­icy re­gard­ing any group of stu­dents that dis­rupts classes, van­dalises cam­puses, per­pe­trates vi­o­lence and ut­ters racist hate speech. If this hap­pens, peace­ful stu­dents will not have to pro­tect them­selves.

Se­condly, the ma­jor­ity of stu­dents, black and white, must act as a united front against those caus­ing trou­ble and un­rest.

This will send a clear mes­sage to the EFF that the ma­jor­ity of stu­dents want to study and that they are not happy with the EFF’s ef­forts to pro­mote po­lar­i­sa­tion and vi­o­lence.

AfriForum is ne­go­ti­at­ing with a va­ri­ety of stake­hold­ers to en­sure that black and white to­gether take a stand against this dis­rup­tion.

Con­flict res­o­lu­tion fo­rums are to be es­tab­lished so stu­dents and stu­dent or­gan­i­sa­tions can peace­fully dis­cuss their griev­ances.

AfriForum holds out a hand of peace and co­op­er­a­tion to ev­ery­one who wants to en­sure that education on our cam­puses con­tin­ues peace­fully. Co­op­er­a­tion in this re­gard, de­spite our dif­fer­ences, is in our mu­tual in­ter­est.

Kriel is CEO of AfriForum

The at­tack on protest­ing black stu­dents at the Univer­sity of the Free State (UFS) does not come as a sur­prise, given the his­tory of univer­si­ties in South Africa. Black stu­dents in­her­ently have a ner­vous re­la­tion­ship with the univer­sity. It stems from the re­al­ity that they can be re­moved as and when the univer­sity wishes, and thus black stu­dents are fun­gi­ble. Stu­dents nav­i­gate cam­pus with a sense of co­pi­ous grat­i­tude and an at­ti­tude of “I am for­tu­nate to be here, let me make the most of it”. The univer­sity space con­vinces us that the de­fi­ciency lies in us as op­posed to the univer­sity it­self. We do think that there is some­thing wrong with this place that alien­ates us, makes us and the his­tory of our peo­ple seem triv­ial and un­nec­es­sary.

It presents it­self as an ex­pert, all-know­ing, even on sub­jects that per­tain to the lived ex­pe­ri­ence of the black peo­ple, with­out invit­ing them to en­gage with it and to al­low the space for the re­jec­tion of the con­clu­sions that it has drawn. The knowl­edge repos­i­tory is full, and those who dare to ques­tion are la­belled rebels when they de­stroy arte­facts that pre­serve a his­tory they can­not be proud of.

In par­tic­u­lar, un­der the lead­er­ship of Pro­fes­sor Jonathan Jansen as vice-chan­cel­lor, racists have found refuge at UFS. Stu­dent re­la­tions have al­ways been frac­tured. The frac­tur­ing ex­ists in how res­i­dences are al­lo­cated and which stu­dents get sent where.

The frac­tur­ing is ev­i­dent in the in­sti­tu­tional cul­ture of the univer­sity, the names of the build­ings, and who is cel­e­brated and who re­mains for­got­ten. Fees are an ex­clu­sion­ary mea­sure.

They are not a com­mon is­sue for all. If this were the case, we would have seen a greater turnout of stu­dents who aren’t black at the picket lines sup­port­ing the free education move­ment. But this was not the case. Black stu­dents were the sol­diers at the fore­front and had to face po­lice bru­tal­ity, tear gas and rubber bul­lets for the ben­e­fit of ALL, as the cam­paign sug­gested: Free Education for All.

At univer­si­ties such as Free State we’ve seen black work­ers be­ing made to drink urine. How­ever, the per­pe­tra­tors faced min­i­mal con­se­quences un­der the sup­port of Jansen, the mas­ter coon. Not too far be­hind, at the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria, we wit­nessed the den­i­gra­tion of the black fe­male body us­ing black face paint at par­ties. This be­hav­iour demon­strates to us whites’ nat­u­ral dis­po­si­tion to­wards blacks.

#FeesMustFall is a move­ment that has caused a rup­ture in the false unity that has been im­posed on us. “We will re­mem­ber our en­e­mies by our scars.” But even still, fees must fall. There has al­ways been a race war – a cold race war – on our cam­puses. All that is hap­pen­ing now is black stu­dents are say­ing “we can­not take it any more”.

Stu­dents are not just speak­ing out. They are putting their bod­ies on the line and in­sist­ing that the univer­sity can­not con­tinue to op­er­ate as usual while black chil­dren are ex­cluded and, when they are in­cluded, be ex­pected to ad­here to white norms and forms of be­ing. No one can de­ter­mine how far this beau­ti­ful and dis­gust­ing mo­ment will last, and that is fine. Black stu­dents have not re­tal­i­ated to the vi­o­lence they suf­fer.

The re­ac­tion by the stu­dents is not pro­por­tion­ate to the dam­age that is done to black stu­dents daily in univer­si­ties. Blacks are be­ing emp­tied of them­selves and to fill the void they are left to look up to white­ness as a way out. But what is clear is that the South African univer­sity will never be the same and shouldn’t be. As stu­dents we are de­ter­mined to de­colonise th­ese univer­si­ties and at the heart of our strug­gle is imag­i­na­tion. Right now our strug­gle has no limit; its limit is imag­i­na­tion.

It’s not a co­in­ci­dence that this year is the 40th an­niver­sary of the Soweto up­ris­ing, June 16 1976, and stu­dents across cam­puses are ris­ing and shout­ing NO to Afrikaans, NO to fees. The spir­its of Biko, Tiro, Sobukwe are lead­ing us.

Pambo is a stu­dent leader

The cam­pus of the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria closed af­ter stu­dent protests and clashes be­tween groups of stu­dents. The is­sue has been framed as Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers (EFF) stu­dents de­mand­ing the com­plete re­moval of Afrikaans from cam­pus, force­fully op­posed by AfriForum stu­dents. Max du Preez, for Netwerk24, wrote an open let­ter to Afrikaans stu­dents call­ing on them to imag­ine the per­sonal re­al­ity of those they are op­pos­ing and to then ask, lis­ten and com­mu­ni­cate.

The sug­gested di­a­logue is the only sen­si­ble ap­proach and it is rea­son­able to ask Afrikaans stu­dents to reach out.

As for Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria man­age­ment, they’ve been asleep for years, as shown by their fail­ure to en­gi­neer open di­a­logue be­tween the var­i­ous and di­verse groups.

The re­sult is an emo­tional show­down be­tween feel­ing ex­cluded and feel­ing a threat to iden­tity; feed­back that spot­lights dif­fer­ences in skin colour.

Fo­cus­ing on own neg­a­tive feel­ing ob­scures the abil­ity to see the le­git­i­mate pain and/or fear of the other – hence the dire need for com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Com­men­ta­tors and the me­dia con­cluded that the is­sue was lan­guage (not un­rea­son­ably so, from the EFF mem­o­ran­dum).

How­ever, the lan­guage de­mands are only the per­ceived so­lu­tion to the un­der­ly­ing prob­lem of ex­clu­sion.

This fun­da­men­tal is­sue at Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria is cre­ated by the cul­ture in­side res­i­dences, as iden­ti­fied by the EFF clause that states: Res­i­dence and day house cul­tures are ... big­gest per­pe­tra­tors [of prej­u­dice].

It ap­pears there was lit­tle, if any, change from the early 1990s when I was a stu­dent in an Afrikaans res­i­dence (not at Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria, but rugby and the Dutch Re­formed Church were uni­ver­sal).

The valid neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ence of this cul­ture, at its root, was iden­ti­fied as syn­ony­mous with Afrikaans. This led to the de­mands be­ing ex­panded so as to make it easy to wrongly con­clude that the fun­da­men­tal is­sue was a lan­guage.

The cul­ture in­side th­ese res­i­dences is au­thor­i­tar­ian and forcibly ho­moge­nous, even if not overtly or covertly racist. There ex­ists defini­tive in­tol­er­ance of di­ver­sity of any kind, even if only through the self­ish ad­vance­ment of own world-views.

Otheri­sa­tion fol­lows and causes alien­ation. The ten­sion be­tween groups feeds on the groups be­ing ig­no­rant of each other’s world-views and ex­pe­ri­ences. There is a lack of com­pre­hen­sion of hu­man­ity of the other. This can only be ad­dressed through sin­cere com­mu­ni­ca­tion and it does not mat­ter who reaches out first.

Lead­er­ship at var­i­ous lev­els of the in­sti­tu­tion and stu­dent body, but not the “un­cles of AfriForum” (Max du Preez’s warn­ing) or any other sim­i­lar (or not-so-sim­i­lar group), need to get stu­dent-level con­ver­sa­tions go­ing to fight otheri­sa­tion.

Gen­eral points can eas­ily be made ap­pli­ca­ble to at least some other cam­puses (don’t read “Afrikaans” into that). Fur­ther­more, the lack of sin­cere and equal com­mu­ni­ca­tion ex­tends to our so­ci­ety in gen­eral (we work to­gether and even at­tend work func­tions to­gether, but we don’t visit each other at home).

The lack of know­ing the other and the avoid­ance of any­thing un­fa­mil­iar man­i­fest in the grow­ing ten­sion in South Africa that ap­pears as dif­fer­ences in skin colour.

This is only mil­lime­tres away from dis­tinc­tions such as na­tion­al­ity, gen­der and sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. South Africans can re­alise their po­ten­tial to set a global ex­am­ple of in­clu­sive di­ver­sity. Emo­tions are at a level that creates a real ob­sta­cle, but this can be over­come. I chal­lenge the univer­sity and all its stu­dents: get to know the other. Ditto South Africa.

Jansen is a free­lance writer

KAL­LIE KRIEL

VUYANI PAMBO

GABRIE JANSEN

PHOTO: MLUNGISI LOUW

RUM­PUS Vi­o­lence erupted be­tween pro­test­ers and match spectators at a Var­sity Cup game at the Univer­sity of Free State amid ten­sion over lan­guage and race

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