Students and universities, I call for peace


AS AN advocate of human freedom, which is something out of reach for millions across the globe, I find it extremely painful to see the current wave of protests in universities turning violent. It seriously hurts me.

On Monday this week, a man’s vehicle was overturned by the rioting students in Johannesburg. The owner was inside the vehicle when it was overturned and suffered injuries.

He’s not the only one who was abused by rioters, it was reported on Radio 702 that students banged people’s cars and threatened to beat them. How sad.

This is the behavior we’ve seen since these riots began last week –the behavior that leaves me in awe and dismayed.

In my last week’s piece I wrote that all I want from both camps, the universities and students, is to engage one another in peace. Students should come to the negotiating table aware that education costs money to produce. That, as much as it is expensive for them, it is also expensive for universities. Unfortunately this is the reality we have to face.

I’m certain that the peaceful negotiations on the proposed new fees, that would have incorporated suggestions on how to fund the financially needy students, would have resulted in a better outcome.

Perhaps this peaceful approach would have been much easier at the beginning were South Africans clued up on the fact that the society doesn’t entitle us to anything – whether it’s food, or healthcare, or education. We are not born entitled to any of these things – we have to work for them and they cost money. Again, this is the reality we have to live with.

I do believe in freedom of speech, and, as a champion of liberty, I believe it is one of the fundamental pillars of our young democratic society. Students do have a right to protest, but their protests should be peaceful, and nonparticipants should not be deprived of the opportunity to continue with their studies.

The shutting down of campuses over the past week due to riots is unacceptable, at least in my opinion. How many students want to go back to class and continue with their courses? How many? Is this fair?

What worries me is that none of the prominent intellectuals I know share a view similar to mine on this. None. None have called for peace during these riots; rather, they all try to justify the gangsterism demonstrated by students.

All the opinion articles I see on the web justify this wave of violent protests. What a bafflement. The journalists I follow on social networks are fuelling the fire. How hypocritical and irrational.

My fellow South Africans, we live in an imperfect world. The American economist, Thomas Sowell once said, “There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs”; he was right. And for South Africa, still grappling with the legacy of apartheid, it’s tougher.

The challenge we face has very much to do with how we eradicate the legacy of apartheid while people’s liberties are kept intact. Over the past days people’s liberties have been violated, and I find it startling that no prominent intellectuals have spoken against this. Well, at least I haven’t seen or heard of one. They all praise students’ activism.

I urge universities to maintain order and use severe force where necessary to protect people’s liberties. It’s good to hear that my alma mater, the University of Cape Town, was granted an interdict against protesting students at the campus. I hope the others will do the same soonest, before more harm is done.

You’ll note in this piece that I suggest no solutions to what is perceived to be a much bigger problem with South Africa’s higher education – its rising cost that hammers the previously disadvantaged. I will leave that with think tanks such as the South African Institute of Race Relations and the Free Market Foundation South Africa. They’ll make the proposals.

I just hope their proposals will be pro-market and will acknowledge the fact that nothing is for free – that the society doesn’t entitle us to anything as human beings – and that we all have to be financially responsible in some way for our education.

I have said enough on these riots. I hope that South Africans will hear my lone voice calling for peace, human liberty, rationality, common sense and logic. Because if they do not, they’ll continue to be trapped in this socioeconomic crisis they are in. PM


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