As the protests over Wits University’s proposed fee increases continue, linguistics lecturer GILLES BARO argues why students and staff who have remained on the sidelines should stand in solidarity with the protestors.
Dear Wits staff member or student who feel entitled enough to complain about the protest or the blockade of campus gates:
You might not have been able to get in or out of Wits campuses on Wednesday with your private motor vehicle. You might have experienced for one day what many students at this university experience on a daily basis: the struggle to access transport because of economic difficulty; the struggle to access campuses because of the policing of pedestrians and the lack of safety on certain streets such as Enoch Sontonga or Mandela Bridge (about which Wits management couldn’t care less); the struggle to access the university and education because of neoliberalism and white supremacy.
You might have experienced a student protest – a real protest, a leader-less outcry of students, workers and staff of Wits University who decided to challenge the announcement of a fee increase. It made you angry and upset because it worked: it destabilised order, it forced people to engage with the struggle and no longer be bystanders.
What these students want is transformation, they want access to education for all, they want to make their university a better place for everyone. They are believers. They make change happen. You should be thankful.
Students aren’t responsible for inflation and the devaluation of the rand, and in a context of neoliberalisation of universities and global poverty, they shouldn’t be the ones being asked to pay for it. Wits management, the vice-chancellor and the deputy vice-chancellor should be actively protesting against government for more funding, rather than asking those already struggling to cough up the difference.
Please do not confront the students, do not intimidate them, do not resort to violent tactics, do not use words such as “unlawful,” “violent” or “inconvenient” to describe their actions.
Violence is having students sleep in libraries and financial aid students being told they’re not poor enough to receive funding for next year. Violence is the income gap between Wits’ outsourced workers and Wits management.
Inconvenience is walking on roads deemed “unsafe” by the university, but which are on the other side of the gates and which are unavoidable for students who are unable to afford motorised transport. Inconvenience is forgetting one’s student card at home and being questioned by campus security after trying to get into Senate House on foot, even as those driving cars are ushered in without being stopped or checked. Inconvenience is going to a lecture hungry.
It should be unlawful to stop brilliant students from completing their degrees because of a lack of funds.
So leave your car behind, take the bus, WALK, and join in with the marches, protests and blockades, push the deputy vice-chancellor and vice-chancellor to find other solutions, to engage in transformation and to confront the government.
Because what’s the point of coming to work or studying if current students can’t come back next year to finish their degrees?
Gilles Baro is a lecturer and a doctoral student at the University of the Witwatersrand studying the inner-city of Johannesburg from a linguistics perspective.
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