Adam Habib would be justified in calling police back on to campus if necessary
Adam Habib, vice chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), will no doubt be horrified at the thought, but he could do worse than pay attention to how Margaret Thatcher's brave leadership and brilliant generalship broke Arthur Scargill and his mining strike in 1985.
Although the demand for free higher education still dominates discussion of the crisis at South African universities, the issue is no longer that but one of law and order. In particular, it is whether universities are willing and able to ensure that students who wish to attend lectures or write exams are able to do so in the face of disruption, threat, and violence. That is what they, parents, and taxpayers have paid for, and that is what the universities are contractually bound to provide.
Various misguided academics, journalists, and other apologists for some of the mayhem on campus claim that the right to "protest" should be protected. So it should. However, what students are up to at Wits and on many other campuses is not "protest", but something more menacing. Apart from using violence against fellow students, cleaners, and others to enforce their demands to shut down all the universities, some of them no doubt wish to destroy them as relics of "colonialism".
Professor Habib and other vice chancellors face a threat as dangerous as that which Mr Scargill posed to Mrs Thatcher's government and the British economy when he launched his violent year-long strike in 1984. She correctly defined the overriding issues at stake as the rule of law and enforcement of the law. She knew her key responsibility was to enforce the law in the face of violence and illegal picketing. She was also determined to protect the rights and lives of miners who wished to continue working in defiance of Mr Scargill's unlawful strike demand.
Contempt for democracy is one of the things that some of our student activists and Mr Scargill have in common. At Wits the activist minority dismissed the results of a poll showing that most students wished to get back to their books. Mr Scargill, of course, having previously lost strike ballots, was not willing to risk them again.