Let me begin by saying two very important things: 1) those of you who know me well enough will know that my opinion on any matter is seldom voiced and 2) I consciously decide, on a daily basis, to respect each and every person that might cross my path and their inherent dignity. In my opinion, the worth of human dignity and the incredible power it has is invaluable.
However, even with this in mind, I am hesitant to voice my opinion on the #stelliesfeesmustfall situation – which I realise I have the absolute right to do, just as the protestors do. The hesitancy that I am experiencing is because of the fact that there is violence and malicious intent, albeit in the minority, within this group.
I completely understand the anger and backlash towards the increasing of study fees and I understand that this is an emotional subject. I understand it in its totality and its entirety, seeing as just five years ago I was told by my parents that there is absolutely no way to financially see me through a tertiary education. Scholarships were out of the question seeing as I fall, as so many of the protestors today, within in the too-rich-for-a-scholarship bracket.
With my personal struggle and experience of getting to go to university and getting to further my education, I know and understand the pain of having to pay such an incredible amount for an education… I truly understand…
But, and here is the part where I am so nervous to voice my opinion that my hands are shaking over my keyboard, there is a right and wrong way to obtain the attention of those who have the authority to change our situation for the better.
Today, October 21st, at approximately 11:30, I was in my faculty’s computer lab working on an assignment. At that momentwe were told to evacuate the lab because the #stelliesfeesmustfall protestors have just arrived at our door.
Hurriedly I packed my bag and left my assignment as is on the computer, momentarily completely oblivious to the fact that it is due at 12:00 and I still have a lot to do. As I speed-walked out of the lab and into the halls of my usually serene and peaceful faculty, I was met with a great group of people charging throughout my beloved place of learning.
They were singing, dancing, and yelling. They were a diverse group with students from all across the spectrum. They were angry. And I felt for them. I truly did. In my opinion, the protesting was lively and loud – exactly as it should be if there was ever going to be listened to them. But two things happened within the period of five minutes after my feeling of empathy.
The first thing that happened was that one of the girls that formed a part of the group, came up to me, and in a very confrontational tone and stance, asked me “why are you looking at us like that?”
The disgust and anger in her voice startled me; it ripped me away from the thought that must have manifested on my face and urged her to talk to me. The thought of oh, damn! I literally only have ten minutes left to finish two pages of my assignment before it is due.
It had been the first time since my hurried exit of the computer lab that my assignment popped back into my head.
I answered her question by asking her “what look? I wasn’t looking at you. I was freaking out about an unfinished assignment that’s due in nine minutes.” She looked at me, rolled her eyes, and went on to shouting and chanting on of the group’s various chants.
Her angry eyes lingered on mine for a moment longer than usual, as she sang a Xhosa song to which the meaning of the words will forever be lost to me.
This experience planted a little seed within my tummy; a seed that sprouted from the flashing idea that maybe she wants to harm me. I felt unsafe and very uncomfortable. Goosebumps came just as the second reason for this article occurred.
The second incident was that of the Faculty of Theology’s dean, Prof Bosman, addressing the mulling crowd. A wonderful man, an inspiring teacher, and a kind-hearted humanist stood in the middle of the staircase. He began to speak, addressing and acknowledging the group’s demands and their opinion. He informed them that, from the Faculty of Theology’s side, a process to understanding and addressing the issue was already progress.
Prof Bosman's calm and collected demeanour seemed to pacify and satisfy the audience. He spoke softly but his words were loud. He absolutely demanded the attention of the crowd by just being gentle.
Then he said the following, “However, I would like to urge you as protestors to respect those students who are exercising their democratic right to prepare for the upcoming examinations…” Anything that he would have liked to add to that statement was drowned out by the collective scream of incredulousness from the group. One protestor went as far as to shout “take the mic away from him!”
And this is what infuriated (and still does) me. This experience is what watered and fed that tiny seed of doubtfulness with regard to the nature of the protest.
I am all for being able to pursue a tertiary education. I am all for empowering yourself to make the absolute best of yourself and your life. I am all for a decrease in student fees!
But life demands that that also means that as a protestor, arguing for these exact rights, do not have the right to take away from my preparation for my upcoming exams. I have worked too hard for far too long to be told that I may not graduate come December, because of not having ample time to prepare properly.
I do not deserve to have my progress on an important assignment (it constitutes 30% of my class mark – I checked) interrupted by a group that cannot listen to a completely relevant and completely pacifistic statement – which honours the group’s rights. I do not, as many of our fellow students have, deserve to have my classes disrupted/cancelled a week or two before our final exams for the year.
Tell the authorities what you want to. Voice your opinion. It is your absolute right to and I will forever respect and defend that, your dignity, and your right to say what you want. But, please, I am begging you; do not infringe upon my preparation for and my writing of exams. Grant me the privilege of finally completing something I have been working on for so long; something that I am so looking forward to receiving – my very own Bachelor’s degree.