I experienced a violent outburst at the #WitsFeesMustFall protest

Civil engineering student RAYHAAN ESSOP (26) was caught on the Wits University campus during the #WitsFeesMustFall protest on Wednesday, and got involved in an altercation with protestors. He told Benazir Cassim about the incident.

I experienced a violent outburst of the protest on Wednesday, but thankfully I wasn’t injured. I got into a mob fight, or more correctly, a group of protestors rushed at me but I was unhurt. I agree with the reason for the protest but I disagree totally with the manner in which it was done.

I was trying to leave campus by car, on Wednesday afternoon, when I saw a group of protestors place concrete bins in the lanes of the entrance and exit at Enoch Sontonga Street. We tried to get out of the third year parking area and they’d put two cones in our way. I got out to throw the cones into the bushes and then they rushed from the entrance boom to where I was.

Rayhaan EssopThe cones were thrown back at me, and I threw them back into the crowd of about 10-15 people. The crowd rushed at me, hitting. One guy came around the car to hit me. We tussled and I got out of the fray but then they stopped us at the parking boom and didn’t allow us to go anywhere by car. They then also stopped people from leaving through the turnstile.

It seemed as though there were individuals at the forefront of the protest group but I realised that no one was there to lead and direct them in their actions, and that’s why we had an altercation. I heard them shout “white privilege,” not specifically at me but at the people I was with we were told “If you are not protesting with us, then the fee increase doesn’t bother you because you are privileged, and so we are against you too!”

I think that the fee increase of 10.5% is heavily unfair to students, and the apparent lack of transparency regarding the fee increase is unacceptable. I don’t even know the full reasons for the substantial increase. Fee increases like this will act to further the divide between the classes of people who can and cannot afford tertiary education costs. Ultimately, this is counterproductive to the sustainability of any equality-driven directives and ideals to which our country should be aiming. If management made the decision without students, why are students experiencing the adverse effect of the protest?

I think an alternative to a Wits shutdown would have been a Senate House shutdown, creating a blockade of university management rather than a blockade the entrances and exits of the university. Instead of restricting the movement and learning of other students, the restriction of movement and activities could have been imposed on management.

The protest was aimed at getting the attention of management to facilitate dialogue on current issues. I think my suggested approach would have solicited a faster response from management than the method adopted yesterday.

I was not part of the protest even though I believe that the reason to protest was valid, but I disagree with the way the protest was carried out. No apparent leadership means no directing of activities, thus allowing mob mentality to take over. This may be why I was caught up in a violent altercation.

What are your thoughts on the fee protests at Wits? Comment below or tweet us @thedailyvox. 

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