The other day while driving back to the office after a meeting I was listening to Redi Tlhabi’s show on the radio discussing #FeesMustFall. I was excited about how this was history in the making and decided impulsively to head on over to Wits and see what was going on and get some footage on Periscope, my latest social media love.
I parked my car in Braamfontein and walked to the gates at Wits where I encountered a few peaceful looking students. I asked them where all the action was and they told me to head down to Yale Road. As I walked down the road I came across groups of students milling around and so I started interviewing them on Periscope. I must say that the students that I spoke to were calm and thoughtful, not the rabble-rousing hooligans that I had been reading about in the media.
By this stage there was much activity, singing and chanting down the road, so I walked over to take a look. Students from the University of Johannesburg (UJ) had initiated a march from Braamfontein to the UJ campus in Kingsway Road. They were encouraging the Wits students to join in. I decided to join them and “scope” the proceedings.
The march took place with hundreds of students and the mood was festive with lots of singing and placards. There was a small police presence who walked along with the students. The only time I saw any animosity was when we marched next to the student digs and campuses. The marchers saw students who were not participating and jeered at them, yet others called out to them urging them to participate. Absolutely no violence was evident.
We finally arrived at UJ six hot kilometres later to find that the marchers were locked off the campus. The students inside the gates were watching the action from the bridge that spans Kingsway Road. UJ’s private security company were watching the proceedings as students sang and chanted, “Fees must fall!”
A lively student managed to climb up on the slab over the campus turnstiles, waving his flag vigorously and causing the students to cheer loudly. I was watching all of this through a fence on Kingsway Road. The next minute chaos erupted and students started running and screaming. The security were directly ahead of me and I clearly saw them picking up bricks and hurling them at the students, within the campus and outside of the gates. It was mayhem. It seemed that tear gas was released somewhere because my eyes started watering and we started coughing as we breathed in something foreign.
A few of the students were incensed and started throwing the bricks back at the security. Myself and other onlookers quickly took cover under the bridge.
Eventually it calmed down and I managed to run out from under the bridge and away from all the action, watching from further away. Some of the students were shouting at others, “No violence!” Others continued chanting. I could see that things were going to continue for a while and I needed to get back to work, so I decided to make my way back to my car – all the way in Braamfontein.
The very next day the protest at the Union Buildings took place with all of it’s drama.
So, what do we make of all of this?
Well, for the first time in ages, I feel a stirring of hope for our beloved nation. It’s great to feel respect for our youth, apart from the few who apparently took part in acts of hooliganism. It made me wish I was young again. We need the youth of South Africa and we need them to speak out loudly. May the rest of us who complain daily of the corruption in our leadership also find a voice and join the next march against corruption.
It has made each of us look at where we stand in the necessary transformation of South Africa. Words like “privilege” have been highlighted causing questions from every spectrum of society. Many white people have been offended by it and many “born-frees” have misinterpreted it, however the best explanation I have managed to find is found on this video and is well worth taking the time to view.
I believe that #FeesMustFall is about way more than the tuition fees, although it is vitally important to make education accessible to all in some creative and constructive way, it is actually about the mismanagement of our beautiful nation. The youth have been gutsy enough to take the government on and make a stand. Our own mini “Africa Spring.” However, surely it is time for the rest of us to take up the call?