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Why I support the FeesMustFall campaign

As you follow the various fee protests at tertiary institutions in the country, are you growing weary or disinterested? Do you wish that things could just end? Well that is the sentiment perhaps shared by many.

Olivia Phalaetsile opinion

Anger and concern have been expressed on various platforms over the violence and destruction to property that we have witnessed. On two occasions in the past four weeks what started inside the Wits University campus spilled into Braamfontein leading to even more chaos. And as we followed the developments, the questions streamed in - why are students taking the protests there? What gains are being made with this action? Are they losing the plot?

I believe that we question the current status quo for all the right reasons - we want a relatively normal society where destruction is not the order of the day. We want to be able to live and work in a society where rubber bullets and teargas aren't featured. 

We want to avoid the critical issues and just live our lives. But this is South Africa, where none of that is possible while inequality and poverty are so glaring. You don't have to look far or ask a myriad questions. We know the realities of our country, of our communities. We know the issues of corruption. We know what has been promised to us for decades. Therefore we must at some level know, and acknowledge, that the fight for free education is not an unjust one. But we must not lose sight of the issues and the realities that we are faced with as a country. 

Students march to Department of Higher Education 4
Photo: Samkelo Maseko

We all condemn the burning of buildings, that is not being disputed. But we must also condemn government's reaction to protesting students. We must condemn the heavy handedness, while on the sidelines government says it supports the student struggle. For it really is the same government - the one that talks about a solution to the crisis being found with engagement is the same government sending in the police. 

I spent a day at Wits University recently watching police and students clash. The learning space felt and looked like a military zone. I watched a march start off peacefully. Then students disrupted classes and asked others to join their cause. The numbers swelled, and students stopped at the Great Hall. The voices grew louder and louder, with some wanting to occupy Solomon Mahlangu House. The police wasn't about to have anyone step over the line and enter the building. I saw students being forcefully pushed back…then the rubber bullets and teargas followed. And general chaos. It has become the mark of so many protests throughout campuses in recent times. Later on, students did enter Solomon Mahlangu house and had their meeting. It made me wonder why police were adamant earlier that they would not be allowed.

Wits Students
Maryke Vermaak

Upsetting scenes of screaming students at residences, raids and arrests are added to our new normal every day. But as South Africans we must be able to take a few moments longer to try and understand the issues before we criticise. You might be in a position where school fees and university fees can be paid. Not everyone is. Education is our greatest hope for equalising our society, and if we don't do this soon - open up the doors of learning for everyone, the poor will continue to suffer. Our society will make negligible gains, and the gap between rich and poor will widen even more.

The answer is not to send in the police and saying the right things. The answer lies in freeing people through education. It lies in government action. 

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