How have we spoken about the struggle of students against fees, and the selfless solidarity they have shown with workers who have been outsourced and treated as slaves at universities? It is a fact that students have shown great working class consciousness, not only in their demands for free education, but also in their demand for better wages, and working conditions for vulnerable university workers. However, the dominant narrative that surrounded their movement, as it attained national character, was largely liberal. This was not always the case, neither was it actually articulated on the ground. In fact, on the ground, much more militant interpretations of demands and actions dominated.
The liberal narrative, because of its bourgeois advantage, captured the student protest movement’s public discourse, and began to clothe its voice with its own interpretations. For so long now, the people of South Africa have protested, shutting down many townships, highways and government offices on their doorsteps. So much so, that the world looks at South Africa as the protest capital of the globe. These protests have, however, not found any favour with the liberal fabric of interpretation in our public discourse. The student movement on the other hand did, despite the fact that it did nothing different to what the poor, in many degenerate townships and informal settlements do. Yet, it became fashionable, receiving romances from liberals of all walks of life.
Like the township protestors who close roads and disrupt the travelling of the employed, the students closed roads, disrupting lectures and exams; the township protestors who stone police cars that interfere with their disruptive activities, the student movement did the same. Like the township protesters, who marched without permits, or without informing the police for a Section 205 disaster management meeting to be convened, so did the students. They took to the streets of all major cities without any permission. By law, all their gatherings were illegal, like it is the case with many of the protests in the townships, but with students, they hit the heart of city centres where, many township protests normally cannot arrive.
This is, also, the case with the now historic wildcat strike of the Marikana workers. The reason why police antagonised them, was because they were on strike without a permit, despite the fact that they gathered on a mountain, without disrupting anyone or traffic for that matter. By law they were on an unprotected strike, and so were the students.
To arrive at this, student protests could never start with the liberal narrative of peace. Liberal Peace is a concept through which liberal public discourse sought to co-opt through struggle, in order to tame them, and control them because their mass power threatened the very core of the liberal establishment. Yet the students, in order to arrive at the position they found themselves in, had to do multiple shut-downs, and in the process violate many university rules. This is why, initially Vice Chancellors, like Adam Habib and Jonathan Jansen were condemning the protests, because these protests were disallowing others to learn. They would disrupt lectures, interfere with freedoms like that of the movement.
If the liberal narratives of peace were anything to go by, students would have not arrived at the mass hegemonic spectacle they demonstrated. This is because protest, by its very nature, is disruptive, the kinds of disruptions that bourgeois liberal thought discourages and condemns as violent. Like burning a tyre, throwing a stone at the police, pushing parliament gates, with the aim to go inside and launch a sit-in while they pretend to discuss budgets.
So, why was there so huge a liberal approval of the #FeesMustFall movement, when the movement did everything liberals despise about protest? To answer this we must go right at the heart of the liberal message about protest’; that is must be peaceful, or as others put it, using the Constitution, and it must be non-violent. The basic idea, here, is that of peace; protest must not distract property, and it must allow others to go on with their lives. The idea of the application with police for a permit is nothing, but to allow necessary means to be made for inconvenience not to be caused. Thus, as soon as liberals joined the discourse en-mass, they began to insist on peace, non-violence and monitored the legitimacy of these protests on this basis alone.
The liberal interpretations of protest as non-violent or as peaceful was due to the reality that militants had suddenly gained hegemony over a question most potent to the hearts of liberals – education. Education is the foundation of how a liberal evaluates anyone, because when one is educated liberals assume that such a person is of “reason”. Students were militant, using all the repertoires of protests otherwise seen in everyday South Africa to fight for fees to fall. This is very disorganising to liberals because of their valuing of education. They could no longer be seen as opposing a passionate desire to learn, to do intellectual production, and engage in the industries of knowledge.
Ordinarily liberals expect those who are dissatisfied to engage in dialogue, a speech act of negotiations and letters, because they think authorities heed to logic. So, the question is, how then did liberals not only support, but also join the militant and hegemonic protest, towards the attainment of free education? Particularly because it so rejected negotiations with management. The answer is, they sought to dilate and tame the militancy of students. They used the liberal conception of peace to first find accommodation and space in the struggle. Both the media, and the general liberal crowd, began to patronise an entire movement, which from the start expressed itself with full determination that nothing, not even the police will stop it, from achieving its ends. With the full might of its propaganda platforms it slowly made its way into the protest through this sickening, patronising and insidious discourse of “peaceful protest”.
We began to see it when student activists get interviewed, they are asked about violence and thus made to constantly promise that they will not be violent. Liberal media always asks them to “control” the mass, the scary dangerous and unpredictable mass, from being violent. They tell the activists who have already arrived at mass hegemony, that the legitimacy of their protests relies on the promise of peace, that they are peaceful, and will be peaceful. The hope is that activist would forget the militant tools and language that built their movement, and begin to adopt the “peaceful protest” messaging.
When the Union Building national shut-down became violent, the key activists began to condemn their own despite, the fact that President Jacob Zuma had taken the whole morning, without communicating with protestors. Zuma’s disregard of the patience of students all morning showed that they did not think of the situation as urgent.
The legitimacy of the protest is the power of its mission, the moral might of its grievance that it has been so long and no one is listening to the obvious plea; that students will lose their chance at education. This alone, achieved through the disruption of normal running of universities, to allow all students to join in one voice, march and picket together, demanding this very simple, and otherwise obvious opportunity to be educated, is what makes them powerful and legitimate. Not their constant promise that they will be peaceful.
The bourgeois liberal conception of peaceful protest is a protest that is not confrontational with the authorities. It asks activists not to burn tyres, not to throw stones, to plan in advance so that the lives of others are not disrupted in traffic when they march. It always insists on emphasising the rights being compromised in the immediacy of protest, and not the legitimacy of the mission, in terms of the long time it has taken for anyone to heed to.
Liberal ideology will never be able to build communities of peace, it is, in and of itself, a very violent ideology. It anchors human survival on the evil economic system of capitalism. Capitalism whose ultimate desire is to commodify everything because at the heart of capitalism is the idea that the best way to distribute goods and resources in society is by putting them for sale. It believes that human potential, efficiency and excellence can be best realised if the human is driven by profit.
Capitalism uses everything and anything to survive. It is a well-known fact that it was at the heart of anti-black racism of colonization, where it transformed all, and any black body into a commodity called the slave, to develop supersonic western industries. It was at the core of apartheid’s forced removals, job reservations and transformation of all black bodies into cheap labour. Liberal ideology is incapable of peace because everywhere it arrived is has killed humanity. It is a murderous ideology to the core.
The idea of human rights is its heritage, but because of its liberal economic thesis of capitalism, it has undermined these very rights. By definition, capitalism is about making everything profitable; the reason why education has turned into a commodity, is precisely because of profit-making. Liberals do not care what kind of life must be a right, they only say we have the right to live. But this living is only to the extent to which we are useful to industry. When industry does not need us, we suffer in squalor living like we are already dead.
The #FeesMustFall movement is in the first instance a radical critique of liberal economic thought; it is the first step towards recapturing part of our life from the violence of capitalism, and its cheapening of human existence through the pursuit of profit. It is the first step towards building the ideal of peace in South Africa, because free quality education will by no doubt humanise black people, and resolve inequities.
Above all, there is no currency under the sun, in hell and in heaven, that could ever buy human potential. Human talent is priceless. To de-commodify education is to say let the smart, and not the rich flourish! Let it be about privileging the intelligent, the academically deserving, and not those who have money.
Having more money simply means you are better driven by profit than all of us, and not that you are necessarily smarter than all of us. Education must not be for profit, it must be for people. All other campuses where protests are still continuing for the attainment of this ideal, must be commended. The Economic Freedom Fighters believes absolutely in this ideal, and when it takes government it will implement it as a non-negotiable program. DM