Lubna Nadvi, an academic from UKZN’s School of Social Sciences, appeals to everyone involved in the UKZN protests to stop for a minute and think.
Dear students, staff and friends of UKZN,
I write this letter absolutely heartbroken at what is unfolding at our beloved university. I am heartbroken because there are students who are afraid about their future and whether they can afford to study next year or the years to come. I am heartbroken that the efforts to try to resolve the issues of fees and consultation on student issues through engaging in a conversation about what to do about these between the student body and management of the university has not brought about results that satisfy everyone. I am deeply saddened that our government has not provided the leadership and clarity that is needed to assist our university management in giving relevant answers to our students. I am more so shattered at the division within our student body, some of whom are saying “burn in order to be heard” and others who don’t want to associate themselves with any destruction of resources that they will eventually need for their studies.
I weep at the ongoing violation of many of our students who are just going about their daily business and are bewildered, scared and afraid of the presence of trigger-happy private security and public order police on our campuses. I am angry and outraged at whoever has had the audacity to simply burn valuable academic resources and historic buildings which can never be recovered. And at those who are still calling for targeting campuses which have “not yet been burnt”.
Everyone who has some agency and authority in this situation needs to just stop what they are doing and think for a moment. Is the bullet or teargas grenade that I am ordering to be fired going to injure or take someone’s life? Is the petrol bomb I am about to throw to burn this building really going to ensure that there will be no fee increase next year or that we will get to have all of our demands met, whether they are feasible or not? When we reach the point where all sides can only respond to the other with some form of violence because they cannot see beyond their line in the sand, then we might as well close shop and go home for the rest of the year. Because no one is going to win in this scenario and we will only, to use a political analogy, become a state at war with its citizens.
The simple truth is that our government has failed on the issue of resolving the crisis of funding in higher education. It has historically not prioritised budgeting for essential subsidising of education and only introduced an emergency measure to halt fee increases for 2016. Fears of what will happen in the years to come have not been substantively addressed. This has led to us as students, staff and management at universities turning on each other… because we don’t know how else to express our frustration or deal with demands being made on us. I am writing this to ask us to take a step back from our hard and fast positions to think about our collective best interests.
In crafting this appeal, can I please ask that the first thing we do is to stop turning on and being aggressive towards each other? Because we have to co-exist at these institutions of higher learning beyond 2016 and we cannot be in a perpetual state of war when we are meant to be ambassadors of knowledge. All our collective efforts to teach, learn and produce research to address social problems effectively amount to nothing if we can not harness these same skills in how we conduct ourselves when communicating with each other.
And can the second thing I ask for be that we find a collective UKZN community space where every student, staff and friend of UKZN can have a voice, feel safe to express themselves non-violently and where we can really hear each other beyond the war sounds that we are currently producing. And that we move towards finding workable solutions for OUR university. With or without government help.
I am not exactly sure how we achieve the latter… but if we start with the first idea of calling a truce, I am confident that everything else will follow.
Lubna Nadvi teaches and researches in the field of Political Science and International Relations at UKZN. She is also a community activist and comments frequently in the media on current issues.