Who is the shut down benefitting?
By Filipp Stoliarov
Whenever I look at protests and all other forms of political and socio-economic expression, I turn to my poorly paraphrased misappropriation of comrade Lenin’s sage-like quote, “Look not at who is saying, but who stands to benefit from what is being said.” It is within this logic that I am against the latest call for a university shut-down.
#FeesMustFall activist, Athabile Nonxuba, gathered supporters and onlookers during an organisation meeting on Monday, 4 September and communicated the plan of action to a shut-down of UCT. The basis for the shut-down stemmed from on-going negotiations for in-sourced workers and their wages as well as the academic and financial exclusion of students who have not yet settled their fees from previous years. This initial meeting drew a crowd of approximately two to three hundred people.
So herein lies the dilemma. At what point does majority collective consent matter for protest action and of equal importance how can we protect our constitutional right to education at the same time?
The two points are intricately linked and rest heavily on the history within South Africa. Protest action was a large element responsible for the destruction of Apartheid and continues to be an essential and viable method of enacting socio-economic and political change.
However, what separates a protest of the few versus a protest for the many? Herein lies the fundamental issue with the latest call for a university shut-down. In whose interests is this shut-down? The issues raised by comrade Nonxuba are valid, urgent and require immediate action but how does a shut-down speed up the resolution of those issues? Many will argue that this removes the institutional power from the university, and in extreme circumstances is the appropriate course of action.
But, it also removes the personal power of choice and education from the people who require it most. The right to protest is one I will protect at all costs, but with equal importance are the rights to consent and education. In order to effectively mobilize authentic and widespread support, our protest action needs the collective consent of the majority not the minority. To intimidate and force university closures is not effective protest action, it is power politics that benefits the few, not the many.