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Statement against violence in Higher Education Institutions in South Africa

This is a statement from a concerned group of staff members at the university currently known as Rhodes against the methods utilised by the South African Police Service in their attempts to deal with student movements in higher education institutions today. As a group of concerned staff members, we note with concern that the current impasse between the SAPS, university management(s) and students is not taking this country forward, but is encouraging a climate of violence. The current situation at the University of Pretoria (UP), University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN), Wits University, Walter Sisulu University (WSU), Durban University of Technology (DUT), University of the Free State (UFS),  and University of Cape Town (UCT) require a demonstration of principled leadership at every level. At some institutions, the heavy presence of the police and private security served only to escalate the levels of frustration and violence from those who seek change within the higher education system.

This statement serves as a call to all sectors of the South African public to engage honestly on the crisis we face as a country and the lasting legacies of the “apartheid university” (as Premesh Lalu has termed it). The description by AC Jordan in 1960’s seems relevant even today:

Since the state of Emergency that was proclaimed after the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, the students in most institutions have found the situation intolerable. At the funniest rumour of a political disturbance of impending protest demonstration anywhere in the country, African institutions are immediately raided for “dangerous weapons” or for” subversive literature”, floodlit and patrolled by armed police for weeks no end. At Fort Hare the Special Branch has virtually a permanent office. The rough handling of students, male and female, by raiding police, has led to positive rioting, and this, of course, has led to arrests and imprisonments. Students as well as suspect African teachers have been dismissed in large numbers since early 1960, and those of them who went to the cities after dismissal or imprisonment could neither work nor prosecute their studies because of the network of laws affecting the African population in the country (Jordan, in Lalu, 2007).

AC Jordan’s observations on political conditions on campuses echo after 22 years of democratic governance in South Africa. The tactics and methods utilised to disperse students during the protests have been disturbing to say the least. We strongly condemn the use of force, intimidation and threats to staff and students within higher education institutions in this country. Furthermore, we appeal to all the parties involved in the current protests to start finding lasting solutions without recourse to any formof violence. We also deplore the calling onto some campuses of armed police as this has tended to create a climate of panic and the ensuing melee. The experiences of Marikana violence, which are still vivid in our psyche sensitises us to the overall social costs of violence.

We call upon academic and support to staff to exercise restraint in delicate times like these. We are aware of some academics who have unfortunately, and (we believe) ill-advisedly called for the increased securitization of campuses without counting the possible social and overall economic costs of creating possibilities of escalating tensions. It is clear that violence has become much more pronounced where conditions have been created for a clash with police on campuses. We strongly believe in negotiated settlements to resolve issues and differences. This happens when the different constituencies demonstrate good faith and mutual respect towards one another. We suggest that through involvement with different parties we could avoid bloodshed and protracted squabbles that undermine the integrity of the management, the students and intervening parties from elsewhere, such as the SAPS and private security establishments. In October 2015, the Vice Chancellor of the university currently known as Rhodes, together with protesting students, black staff and other allies made a decision to resolve matters internally without the need to invite the police on campus. Because all this was done in good faith, this saw a successful negotiation of a settlement that ended the impasse in 2015 and the completion of the academic year, which would otherwise have been lost.

That being said, we note with concern the recent intimidation and harassment of some key Rhodes University student activists. On Friday night, just outside campus, one of the female student was allegedly grabbed by two white men in police uniform and was threatened to ‘stop what they were doing (with other students) because something will happen’ to them. This incident is not isolated; there are others including some students on our very own campus inserting toxic xenophobic discourse into political disputes. Multiple forms of dehumanising violence are flourishing in the current climate where securitised brutality against protestors seems to be the norm.

We appeal to those in political leadership, those in the private sector, the university senior management and student representation to start listening to one another. There is a dire need to understand our times, the climate we are in and what these require of us. There are deeper cries for transformation of the University social, economic and intellectual landscapes such that our tertiary system of higher learning tackles the realities facing society and not merely remain the ivory towers that it has been for decades.  Universities need to grapple with the economic costs of violence, and this starts with the recognition of the fact that increasing securitization of the institutions does not work, but turns the institutions into war zones. Sithi konele ngoku.

We the undersigned:

Dr. Nomalanga Mkhize (RU)

Prof Enocent Msindo (RU)

Siphokazi Magadla (RU)

Lieketso Mohoto (RU)

Dr Babalwa Magoqwana (RU)

Dr Vashna Jagarnath (RU)

Ms Noluxolo Nhlapo (RU)

Dr Sally Mathews (RU)

Prof. Tom Martin (RU)

Prof. Dominic Thorburn  (RU)

Dr. Deborah Seddon (RU)

Prof. Pedro Tabensky (RU)

Prof. Kirk Helliker (RU)

Prof. Andrew Buckland  (RU)

Natalie Donaldson (RU)

Leila Dougan (RU)

Dr Nicole Ulrich (RU)

Dr Phindezwa E. Mnyaka (RU)

Jan Knoetze (RU)

Dr Richard Pithouse (RU)

Dr Minesh Dass (RU)

Prof. Lucien Van Der Walt (RU)

Prof. Anthea Garman (RU)

Sizwe Zondo (RU)

Judith Reynolds (RU)

Corrine Knowles (RU)

Prof. Alex Sutherland (RU)

David Fryer (RU)

Prof. Michael Neocosmos (RU)

Mwenya Kabwe (Wits)

Should you like to be a signatory of this statement please forward your name to Dr Babalwa Magoqwana at b.magoqwana@ru.ac.za

One comment

  1. While there is much of merit in this message, there is a disturbing lack of attention to simple rules of grammar amongst those currently known as staff at the university. That does not assist in rendering the message credible.

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