“Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a flame.”
This quote has stayed with me through the six-week-long #FeesMustFall protests which have humbled even the seemingly untouchable Gwede Mantashe and which have filled our tertiary institutions with the tide of growing disillusionment to the status quo which students are reknowned for.
These protests are reminiscent of the anti-Apartheid protests of the last century, not just because of the determination and indefatiguable spirit of the protesters, but because of the kind of tactics which the Universities, and the Government behind them, has used to suppress the movement.
From speeches by our Minister of Higher Education, who claimed that #StudentsMustFall to the brutal use of force by SAPS and campus security to smash protests, to the various interdicts obtained by the institutions against its own workers and students – a casual observer would be left wondering whether he had somehow stepped into a DeLorean and been transported back to 1985.
More horrific, though, is the realisation that the people guilty of this brutality are the same people who protested against Bantu education in 1976, the same people who deplored the presence of police in townships.
Some of the “dirty tricks” which the management has used against students and workers at UJ are:
- Bringing bouncers onto campus, who roam the pathways of the institution, breaking up students walking in groups of more than three, trailing, photographing and videotaping students who are known to be part of the movement, and generally harassing and intimidating students in order to derail the movement. Video footage shows these bouncers hurling rocks at students, savagely beating an elderly worker in the ribs, while a member of campus security had her in a head-lock – a beating so severe that what was stripped to her underwear before being thrown out of campus, swearing at and threatening students and workers, and, on one occasion, telling black female students that they should learn respect, like white women have;
- Suspending student leaders so as to ensure that they were unable to access campus in order to study or write exams, and taking no steps for over a month to bring the suspended students before a disciplinary committee;
- Using the threat of arrest to enforce interdicts, instead of using legitimate methods of enforcement;
- Calling upon SAPS not only to disperse protesters, by using rubber bullets and stun grenades, but allowing SAPS to actively hunt fleeing students down through the streets of Brixton, in a display eerily reminiscent of what took place in the Marikana koppies;
- Singling out students and workers for meetings, and then coercing them to sign “agreements” which the signatory had no mandate to sign – and then trying to hold the protesters to that agreement;
- Refusing to meet with the students in General Assembly, and instead insisting that small groups of students run the gauntlet of bouncers and campus security in order to present demands to the Vice Chancellor, seated in his ivory tower, too far away from what was happening on the ground to know – or care – that he was behaving more and more like PW Botha in a sulk;
- Sending one of his Deputy VC’s down to meet with students, only to renege on unequivocal undertakings given by the DVC – like the unconditional uplifting of suspensions;
- Turning around, on the Friday before deferred exams were due to start, and telling suspended students that they are allowed to write exams, knowing full well that their inability to access campus has impeded their studies, that they were expected to write exams in the same week as their disciplinary hearings were being held.
The list could go on and on, in grotesque details, while in the background lies the knowledge that this VC earns R3,8 million per year. is an ex-MK cadre. He knows how to fight the kind of war of attrition which has weakened so many movements.
He has greatly miscalculated the effect it will have on these students, however. The flame is lit, and every attempt to snuff it out will be met with the lighting of a score more, until not even Rensburg will be able to find a shadow to hide his shameful mishandling of the protests, his wilful refusal to engage with students, and his egregious slavery to his Luthuli House masters.