South Africa is a violent country steeped in a violent history and students are merely doing things the way that things are done here.
The fallacious notion that students may protest but only do so peacefully is redundant and fantastical.
Let me issue the customary condemnation of violence. Violence is wrong, it begets more violence, and it should pre-empted, discouraged and dealt with.
Students or alumni will tell you that the matters raised by students, be it fees, residence related disgruntlement or calls for decolonizing the curricula and academic spaces, never invoke so much spark as to attract the participation of a majority of students. If a university has 20 000 students it is hardly ever the case that 10 000 +1 are ready to sing “Iyoooo Solomon” and get their voices heard.
The general course of events are such that a concerned group of students protest and as a means of getting their voice heard the remonstration includes a disruption of normal academic activity. Satyagraha campaigns do not fare well; this we know because students have been protesting against unaffordable fees and lack of residence spaces long before the Must Fall movement. Most of these fairly peaceful protests failed to revolutionize the status quo. Universities are enormous, if you quietly protest in some corner no one will know. More pressingly, everyone stands to benefit from the implementation of the demands of students insofar as a decolonized and accessible university programme is concerned. As a certain vice chancellor recently made note at a Golf Day event, the 1st degree has replaced the matric certificate as the mandatory qualification for job entrants. This throws out the “university is a privilege” claptrap.
An oft made comment, that is usually the epitome of lazy thinking, says that students must use other means, discussion with management, to get their demands heard. This comment insults the intelligence of students. As is the case with labour strikes, and, to a large extent, service delivery protests the strike is the last resort. Discussions between students and management or the department of higher education are held on unequal grounds. Students- in whatever form of organization- effectively have to pitch their ideas to the decision-makers as opposed to egalitarian engagement. In fact to date there are decision making structures that decide on student matters without student representation. I am not advocating for a change of the structures, the students do not need my advocacy, I am merely offering a partial rationale for the strikes.
For an elucidatory understanding of revolutionary violence I implore you to read Steve Biko, Frantz Fanon, George Orwell and Fatima Meer’s “The (mis)trial of Andrew Zondo”. Should students be conferred with a criminal record for burning car tyres and blocking university entrances? No! What if a person burns a library, lecture hall or a residence? Yes, they must be charged! Same goes for physical harm of fellow students, lecturers, and people’s cars.
Regrettably there will be casualties of war. Sadists from student and security set-ups will use the protest as a cover for pursuing their anti-social urges. Some will suffer 3rd degree burns in their pursuit of their 1st degrees but history will judge the #FeesMustFall students kindly.