No sympathy for the Fallists

Belinda Bozzoli says a violent fringe wreaked havoc at our universities

The speech below was delivered by DA Shadow Minister of Higher Education & Training, Belinda Bozzoli MP, in Parliament in the debate on the plight of the Fees Must Fall protestors, 11 September 2018

What are the duties of the citizen in a democratic order?

A democratic state is made up of institutions which allow citizens, rather than dictators, to govern; but which disallows them from imposing their views upon each other through violence.

The rule of law protects us from our own and others’ worst instincts, while providing a series of procedures, created by the representatives of the people through legitimate means, which govern our behavior.

Thus the law is fundamental to democracy. Without the rule of law we are simply a mass of individuals who, when we disagree with one another, may fight to the death to impose our will. You see this in failed states, where people are effectively governed by warlords.

Many hundreds of violent students, including Fees Must Fall activists, have undoubtedly broken the law. Over the past three years violent and destructive student protests have cost the fiscus at least R800m.

Many of them have had legitimate grievances. Universities have been underfunded; NSFAS has been inadequate and incompetent; accommodation is often appalling; and many others.

We in the DA have fought hard for improvements in all these areas. But the violence has been an illegitimate and minority response.  Here are some examples:

CPUT has lost R45m (Security control office and sports hall set alight. Auditorium damaged, financial aid office gutted and staff cars stoned)

CUT has lost R54m (Damage to substation, property and vehicles)

NMU has lost R20m (One building burnt down. Another building damaged by fire. One building petrol bombed, windows smashed and walls damaged)

NWU has lost R49m (Mafikeng campus set alight)

Stellenbosch has lost R21m (Administration block, Chamber of Mines building, Community Services and residences vandalised)

TUT has lost R47m (Dining hall set alight; Building burnt down; windows smashed, fire extinguishers discharged, concrete and steel fencing damaged; residences doors and windows smashed)

UCT has lost R 2.5m (Unique artworks, a vehicle and the Vice-Chancellor’s office set alight)

Fort Hare has lost R8.2m (Staff centre burnt down, buildings vandalised and looted, and students centre vandalised)

UJ has lost R144m (Lift, guardhouse, students bus, main Auditorium, small auditorium, Classroom, storeroom; restrooms, set alight and vandalised. Residences vandalised, fire-extinguishing equipment stolen or damaged)

UKZN has lost R103m (Buildings set alight and vandalised including the Administration building, residences and the law Library and all its precious contents destroyed)

Limpopo has lost R7m (Damage to lecture halls and administration building. Dustbins burnt)

UNISA has lost R7.2m (Chemistry Laboratory burnt, buildings vandalised and cars damaged, Dispatch department ransacked)

Free State has lost R8m (Building torched)

UWC has lost R63m. (buildings burnt)

Zululand has lost R49.5m. (Library, bookshop, some residences, water pipes were vandalised; a police vehicle and some staff vehicles were set alight)

VUT has lost R24 (CCTV cameras and campus gates broken, several buildings burnt and vandalised, residences burnt; mattresses burnt; cafeteria looted and burnt)

Wits has lost R29m (Buildings and residences vandalised and damaged)

This litany of destructiveness, violence and mob action is a national scandal.

Precious places have been destroyed against the interests of the very students themselves, including libraries, bookshops and the places where students live.

Precious, unique works of art have been burnt, and our heritage compromised, with our most eminent photographer, the late David Goldblatt, sending his collection out of the country because he was no longer able to trust that it would be protected at our leading University.

The logical thing to do in such a situation is to arrest and charge those who have done these things. But somehow this rarely, seems to happen. Why?

Some students have become racketeers. The protection racket is this: Stake a claim (say for exams to be postponed or something). If the claim is refused, engage in violence. Bring classes to a halt. Paralyse the institution. Break the institution’s rules and perhaps the law. Get arrested or disciplined by the institution. Carry on being violent. Then say you will stop the violence if your demands are met and the students being charged are released and those being disciplined are not subjected to discipline. Martyrs are created, and sympathy for them is engendered.

At this point the initial demands are met, the students are not charged or disciplined and the situation calms down – at least until the next demand is made.

However, Vice-Chancellors and the broader society are increasingly refusing to engage in this Mafia-like racket. On occasion we find that charges are being laid and not dropped; disciplinary cases are going ahead; demands are not being met in the face of blackmail.  And for the first time for many years students engaging in illegal acts may actually be jailed.

And so the racket is now playing itself out on a national stage. We now see the Minister of Justice being drawn into unseemly bargaining with students charged with serious crimes. We see a political party, itself a sort of student movement, trying to turn these students into martyrs and bringing their situation to Parliament.

It may well be that the ritualized pattern of violence, blackmail and concession will itself play out on a national stage – we don’t know what students are threatening to do if they are not excused. But whatever it is, it is part of an ugly, undemocratic game which we should have no part of.

As a result of these poisonous games, intangible as well as material damage has been done. Universities have become unpleasant places. The job of Vice Chancellor has become deeply unattractive. Academic staff are demoralized. The profession is emotionally taxing. Professor Bongani Mayosi might be the most prominent victim of these Red Guards-like tactics, but there are many others left traumatized by their experiences in Universities.

And the hundreds of thousands of students today and tomorrow, who want no part of the violence, and whose futures depend on their studies, are the ultimate losers. Campuses are closed for weeks at a time. Universities claim to have “caught up the time” but this is implausible in most situations. University education is in decline.

Education itself, and not only the buildings in which it takes place, has been damaged.

It is these present and future students we ought to be thinking and caring about – the vast majority. We cannot allow the rule of law to decay, or our society and education system to disintegrate.

This Parliament must be able to say to future generations that we protected them and that we did not allow their futures to be destroyed.

It is for their sakes that violence and mob rule must be brought to an end and legitimate grievances handled in a peaceful, democratic manner.

The crisis in our higher education system must be addressed to ensure that institutions of higher learning can continue to meet their objective of adequately preparing young South Africans for the job market.

Issued by the DA, 11 September 2018