Universities across the country are on fire. Our rage is the fire

Oliver Meth says these fires don’t need to be extinguished.

Fire is raging across South Africa. Fire over the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Fire in the streets. Fires of protection in defence of capitalist territories. Fire in protection of ANC headquarters Luthuli House. Burning state property, lecture halls and libraries.

So, what’s new? We’ve been here before, right?!

The recurring nightmare of teargas, rubber bullets, flash grenades and unlawful arrests at UKZN may be receding, but we must remain aware in this moment, present and fully engaged.

Twenty-two years into democracy, (we) black South Africans continue to experience exclusion – from primary school, to high school, to the university, to the workplace, to the spatial geography of our communities. It extends to everyday interactions in the streets, supermarkets and restaurants.

We were sold a false hope of “A Better Life For All” and given a life of exclusion and disadvantage. Now, that we are “woke” and demand what should rightfully be afforded to us, we are faced with expulsions, teargas, live ammunition and unlawful arrests – as we attempt to break through class barriers, systems that marginalise and keep us on the outside. We have had enough!

The sporadic protests include both students dependent on financial aid and those from the insurgent black middle class, have taken too much “kak”. Our focus is on a curriculum that we see as narrow and unreformed and on cultures and practices that position us as unwelcome outsiders in public universities in our own country.

Because we’ve been here before.

We are witnesses of the 1976 Student Uprising. We are witnesses and participants in the 2015 #FeesMustFall. We are witnesses and perhaps victims of police brutality, where our black bodies have been falling, countless time to the ground, detached from their humanity and treated like trash. The screams of the grieving piercing our hearts, just as the bullets pierced the flesh of our loved ones – in defence of a better life!

We’ve been here before.

If we have learned anything, it is this: there exist in this country custodians of an oppressive system – those who fear us and those who hate us – who will gladly kill us. And they are emboldened by a racist system that will tell them they’re justified and that black lives don’t matter!

The very core function of university management’s job description puts them at odds with justice and equality for black people because this nation does not prioritise justice and equality for us. So we can expect nothing but the empty promises, deadlocked negotiations and more fire.

There is no justice. Just us!

Then there are mainstream media outlets “reporting” on how students are terrorists, thugs, lawless people, capitalising on the police brutality and exclusions to the right for education.

So, let’s be clear.

If you’re not actually reporting on the issues that fuel this white supremacist system – lack of food safety, poverty, inadequate health care, war on drugs, slave wages and unemployment – and the criminals in power who perpetuate it, while also pointing to the system as the foundation of the devaluation of black lives, then you are not reporters. You are voyeurs, vultures salivating over the desecration of black flesh.

And the black rage rages on.

This is the language of the oppressed, of the weary, of the strong, of the brave. Of the furious – I salute the comrades.

The burning of university property is a grim acceptance of governance ruled by rights and recognition, sunk under the state’s description of what matters, what is counted as “morally legitimate” politics, authentic protest, acceptable forms of resistance.

But resistance contests these limits of respectability. In a war of defiance, resistance marks a union of forces that seeks to out-manoeuvre the policing of its legitimate parameters, that moves to negate its suppression. Anger forces itself to the surface. Will this rage be negated?

This student resistance is a form of affirming presence in a space that excludes the lived black realities of many.

The revolutionaries at UKZN and across campuses – and they are revolutionaries – are not just fighting for their lives and the lives of their children. They are fighting for their humanity. They are putting the world on notice that peace is secondary to justice and the world is listening.

This is war. Make no mistake about that. Do not doubt that our collective rage is justified. We should not be made to feel like savages. We should not be made to feel embarrassed. President Jacob Zuma, who remains silent while young citizens – the future – are under relentless attack, should be embarrassed.

We stay woke. Our right to fee-free education is something worth fighting for and it must be protected at all costs. A black person being killed in the fight for education is something to be enraged about, not something to reflect upon in silence.

We’ve been here before.

Universities across the country are on fire. Our rage is the fire.

And we don’t need no water, let it burn.

Oliver Meth is a social advocacy journalist and postgraduate student at the University of the Witwatersrand. Tweet @oliver_meth.

Featured image by Ashraf Hendricks

  1. JP77SA says

    An emotional and very well written piece. I cannot help but question though whether your promotion for war-like demonstration of rage will do more to deteriorate an already strained and crippled system to such an extent that it will be unable to fully recover; or whether it would improve it to the status you dream of for yourself and future generations?

    This is not an attack on the privileged, this is an attack on a system which at the very least offers hope for some of a decent education. The privileged are not that way because of skin color alone, they carry with them knowledge, community, capital, dignity and are highly strategic – things which are very hard to take away from them before hurting those you fight for more. They will recover, move into the private spaces, leaving the people you fight for digging through the ashes of burnt books and pieces of a public system which was once somewhat ‘functional’.

    My advice is to use what’s there, build on the issues you face and take away from it as much as you can. The ‘directors’ of this system cannot live forever, your time to take control will come, use this time to make sure you can rise to the occasion when it is presented to you. Don’t fight for change, be the change.

  2. Anon says

    Nazi scum burning books. Shame on you, shame on your middle class, you don’t deserve education.

  3. Smackemdown. says

    What a crock of horse turd, when are you going to realise that you not entitled to anything and that the world owes you absolute sweet blow all. Stop with the bowl in hand mentality, get of your fat lazy asses and start doing things for yourself, instead of destroying and burning things down. its about time you grew up and started taking hold of your own destiny, create your own jobs and with it will come success and wealth and hopefully along the way you’ll loose that massive black chip on your shoulder. You need to start realising that society and the world are sick and tired of your black inferior complex and that they are no longer willing to sympathise or listen to your cries when all you do is burn down things and destroy through your sense of entitlement.Grow up and stop acting like spoilt little brats that cant get their way, until such time as this happens you will not have any support or sympathy, and I implore the authorities of this land to stop being politically correct and exercise all their authority and come down on you like a ton of bricks.

  4. Jon Low says

    “Woke” means “dumb”. Really dangerously dumb.

  5. Marijke Du Toit says

    This response to what has been happening at UKZN is so inadequate on so many levels. It leaves me sad and also angry. I feel that comrades in the struggle for a society that transcends apartheid thinking and practice – against gender based violence, the violation of the environment and of human beings, really should not indulge in this sort of rhetoric. There is a continuum of violence and abuse that includes what ‘public order’ police and security are doing, arson that destroy irreplaceable resources and that place huge barriers against public, shared educational access. Think before you write. Don’t reenact mascylinist stereotypes of political heroism that involve fantasies of fire. Think for one thing, how the recovery of black working class community histories involves working in these libraries and using ‘colonial’ documents. Our shared past does not involve simple split between colonial villains and African victims. Any analysis of the gendered power struggles of contemporary South Africa remind us of this. Why underestimate your own capacity for building a shared future?

    1. Oliver Meth says

      From my experience the question of tactics and ‘Black rage’ on this issue has to be informed by an empathy to context knowing that you are not the one facing the harshness of that particular situation. These condemnations, and I see them as that, have actually played a steady and consistent role in inflaming the situation.

      1. Boitumelo Lebo says

        Oliver Meth, the pain that is felt is very real and as people of this country we are very expressive, I want to hear your voice, but I also worry for your sake and the sake of others, I have been burnt before and witnessing burning property it is not a way to solve the problem, and is not going to chose who or what it destroys. I plead with you and other comrades to remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr. I also plead that if you want to discuss such matters that you can contact me, although many comments are insensitive they come from a place of misunderstanding and that is not your fault, their ignorance is theirs, don’t take it as your own, because we know we are together and we can do better than that.

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