By Etta-Juju Dlulane
There’s a lot to be said for protest action in any form in South Africa: it is frequent, ranges from last resort to immediate action and only submits itself to two crucial rules – virtually no political platform exists without it, and it is near social suicide for any citizen of our beloved country to even imply that it should not be allowed. But does this mean all protests are just? Does this mean all protests are fair?
Case in particular point: the SRC protesting the continuation of the academic calendar whilst some students have fee blocks or are struggling to clear registration. While much has been said about it, the sticking point is this: is it unconstitutional for UCT to continue their academic calendar whilst some students have been blocked from learning and is it unconstitutional for the SRC to disrupt the education of other students by protesting?
Obviously, no one wants to say the SRC is wrong for protesting because they are clearly right. It is unfair that some students will have a stressful start to the year because of the administrative failures at UCT. It is madness that NSFAS students – students who by definition are economically disadvantaged – should be blocked from learning because a governmental institution refuses to fulfil its obligations punctually.
However, there is another side to this: it is just as wrong and unconstitutional that the education of hundreds of students is being disrupted due to the protests. It is unfair that the stress of fee blocks and registration and administrative failures is being felt by students who are hardly aware of the problem at hand – partly (mostly) due to poor and vague communication by both the SRC and UCT. Further, in some ways the continuation of the academic year makes unfortunate sense. Far too much damage has been done by the COVID-19 pandemic already. The expectation for educators to adjust an already tight schedule to a later date is nearly nonsensical. There are board exams – some written internationally – that are beyond UCT’s control but will nonetheless be written by UCT’s students that demand learning be done punctually. Careers, communities and families depend on this year running seamlessly at UCT.
All this does not mean that the SRC protests are unjustified, because in some sick turn of events the students they are protesting for have the exact same problems as everyone else. They are, however, unfair. And this is where the crux of the matter is – where it concerns protest action, justice and fairness find it difficult to co-exist. So the decision individually falls on all of us: will we be just or will we be fair?