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[OPINION] #FeesMustFall: Wits keeps you on edge

As a former Wits student, I empathise completely with the students who are driving the 'fallist movement'. Throughout my tertiary studies, my parents had to make loans which were only settled long after I graduated.

Furthermore, the idea of protesting is not foreign to me; my then 13-year-old mother participated in the peaceful protest during the Soweto uprising in 1976, was locked up at Sophiatown (then Triomf police station) and appeared in court. My father was involved in protest theatre with Benjy Francis during the 1970s. Highlights of these were a production with the 'Blood Knot' in Eldorado Park and Lenasia, as well as a play written by Don Mattera, produced with students in Lenasia.

I therefore have a good understanding of how protests are and have long been a necessary means in facilitating radical transformation and revolution. From this perspective, I stand in solidarity with the Fees Must Fall (FMF) students.

As a lecturer and student mentor, however, I find myself frustrated at the vast consequences of the FMF protests.

In 2016, FMF resulted in the cancellation of our year-end function, minuscule increases in our 2017 salaries and various other budget restraints.

The more obvious frustrations stem from the destruction and looting of vehicles and buildings as well as the mindless violence against innocent people. Many opportunists have now jumped on board with motives which are not in any way aligned with the realisation of fees falling.

Camaraderie and power have clouded the vision and overall cause. Even as the epicentre of the protest action, the student leaders seem to be misguided in their approach, embarking on protests which are far from peaceful.

All of this has now culminated in the militarisation of Wits which has aggravated the situation even further.

Fortunately, I am not lecturing this semester, but I have several final-year post-graduate students whom I supervise who have probably been impacted by this the most.

Many of these student have bursaries from future employees and need to fill their positions next year. Among these, students do not have laptops or internet facilities, which are necessary for the completion of their research projects. Consequently, research and productivity in that regard has come to a complete halt.

The spin-off of the current impasse is that students are now left frustrated and despondent.

I now find myself in a position where I am unable to engage in any conversation around the FMF movement without seeming impartial. Those who are for or against it have taken on an extremist approach; many of my colleagues are unable to see beyond the lost time and destruction, while my students participating in the fallist movement are unable to see beyond their cause.

We are well aware that free education has long existed in liberal democracies such as Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Germany, Finland and France.

The idea of free education in South Africa is definitely worth pursuing.

Until this is realised, however, there needs to be some common meeting ground which speaks to the needs of all parties involved. In the interim, I pray for peace.

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