I’m not a student, but I pay the university and residence fees for one and another one to come in a couple of years, so I know how much all that costs. As a self-employed professional in the top 1% of earners it is still a difficult burden. So I know the dynamics. I cannot imagine how much pressure it must be on those who have very little and are struggling with the very basics like food and housing on top of high university fees. So, I get it. I understand the issues and I support the protest against increasing fees for tertiary education.
So if I was a student today I would lend my support to the cause in person, go to meetings, write placards, march to Luthuli House or Parliament, and let my voice be heard.
What I would not do is force other students to do the same. The reality of protest is that there will always be a silent majority who sit back and watch an active minority fight their battles.
There was a huge silent majority, both white and black, who did not like nor support apartheid in the old South Africa but did nothing to stop it. There is a huge silent majority that does not support the ANC’s current failure to serve all South Africans but does nothing to correct it. For many, they have bigger things to worry about. This is simply a reality of the human condition.
The problem is that this silent majority cannot and will not be forced into giving proactive support. It can only be encouraged.
So if I was a student today I would speak against barricades, intimidation, and physical violence. These will only spoil what has to date on the whole been a very well-disciplined protest. And the support of the public watching can be fickle. Use of violence and thuggery is the quickest way to devaluate a worthy cause.
I would let those who want to go to classes, go. But I would speak to them with both reason and passion, encouraging them to make visible their feelings of support of a cause that they do believe in, to take their place in history.
Those who don’t will only regret not doing so in years to come.