Why aren’t you protesting the protests?

Photo: Petrie Jansen van Vuuren
Photo: Petrie Jansen van Vuuren

In the past two years, the ‘Fallist’ movement has gained significant traction throughout the South African political landscape and society. The ‘Fallist’ movement refers to protest action which aims to have certain things, such as fees, school principals, or the President of this country, fall.

With Fallism gaining momentum all across the university campuses of South Africa, there has been a growing call for the ‘silent majority’ to take a stand against the #FeesMustFall movement. At the University of the Witwatersrand, a recent poll indicated that more than three quarters of the students who voted wanted classes to resume amid the ongoing protests. After this poll, many asked why the 21 730 who voted to recommence classes, did not take a stand against the protesting and disruptive students.

To many it makes sense. Here is a situation where there exists two sides who want two different scenarios, right? This, unfortunately, is completely wrong.

Photo: Petrie Jansen van Vuuren
Fallists at the Union Buildings, 2015. Photo: Petrie Jansen van Vuuren

Firstly, it is not as clear cut that the 77% of students who voted to resume classes are inherently opposed to the notion of “free education”. Secondly, this is the equivalent of saying that all of the law-abiding citizens of South Africa are personally responsible to rally against organised crime, since they do not agree with the actions of the criminals. Although this seems ridiculous in these terms, the exact argument is being made when it comes to the responsibility of students who wish to go back to their classes. Fighting crime remains the responsibility of the police force of South Africa. Never will it become the responsibility of South Africans to take justice into their own hands. Why does the same not apply with this current crisis?

Another key problem that the ‘silent majority’ face is that within the liberal tertiary education environment there exists no room for diverse opinions. On 10 October 2016 at the University of Pretoria, special Senate-organized engagement sessions were marred by disruptions by members of the #FeesMustFall movement who interrupted the dialogue and conversations between members of the University and various students. Although the opinion is voiced that the protesting students wish to engage on the matter of free education, the scope is grossly limited to like-minded and similar opinions. The fact that diverse opinions are shunned if they do not agree with what is the flavour of the week, hinders open and honest discussion on the topic. Protesting the protest is not only not the responsibility of other students, but it is also not the solution to our current problems on our varsity campuses.

There is an anecdotal acceptance that this current movement is just and honourable – similar to the student movement of 1976. This acceptance has led to little room for discussion, let alone possible solutions. By single-handedly coming to the conclusion that free education for all is a must and that it is affordable, without offering any proof, the movement becomes isolated.

How should calls to protest these protests be answered when it remains impossible to diverge even in the slightest way from what is perceived to be just by a loud, and often violent, minority? We must be frank about the environment in which these protests take place, regardless of which side of the argument one ‘falls’.

Author: Daniël is a final year law student at the University of Pretoria. On completion of his undergraduate degree he will pursue an LLM degree in constitutional law. He is the co-founder of the Tuks Leadership and Individual Program and the UP Debatsvereniging. He is an avid debater and orator and has coached numerous debating teams. Daniël has a keen interest in the liberty movement and hopes to advance the values of freedom of expression, a free market and freedom of religion in South Africa. He is a firm Gladstonian liberalist and a proponent of the rule of law.