No cause justifies use of violence

Students at North West University on Tuesday embarked on a violent protest action. The writer says while marching and closing down campuses may be legitimate forms of protest, the violence and the destruction of property that has accompanied the demonstrations must be condemned.
Students at North West University on Tuesday embarked on a violent protest action. The writer says while marching and closing down campuses may be legitimate forms of protest, the violence and the destruction of property that has accompanied the demonstrations must be condemned.
Image: Jackie Clausen

It is the start of the academic year at institutions of higher learning, and as is often the case, the period has been marked by student protests and the shutting down of several campuses.

This time students are demanding the scrapping of debts and to be allowed to register even if they owe universities.

These are reasonable demands, especially given the terrible state of our economy and the fact that the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has been slow in processing payments.

Ideally, no student should be prevented from getting education purely because they can't pay.

But we are disturbed by the manner in which some of the students have gone about demonstrating in support of their demands.

Marching and closing down campuses may be legitimate forms of protest, especially when students feel that their voices are not being heard by the institutions and the ministry of higher education.

However, the violence and the destruction of property that has accompanied the demonstrations in campuses such as the North West University and the University of KwaZulu-Natal must be condemned.

No struggle, no demand - however noble - justifies this level of criminality which does not only lead to public property being vandalised, but put the lives of the university community at risk.

In university students we hope to produce the country's intelligentsia and future leaders who will help it solve its problems.

But if we allow a culture of violence to take hold among the students, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. For if they are not taught to find solutions without resorting to violence, how do we expect the rest of the society to resolve conflict through peaceful means?

Student organisations should isolate those within their ranks who exploit student demands in order to engage in criminal and violent activities.

But more importantly, the police and university security must do their job of protecting the public and apprehending the offenders.

Once they are arrested, the criminal justice system should met out the kind of punishment that sends a strong message to current and future students that violence is not an acceptable form of protest.

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