In the past weeks we have seen a very high police and private security presence on some of our higher institutions of learning.
Being a student at Wits, I can specifically speak about the high degree of militarisation there. This high militarisation was also followed by the curfews that the university’s management imposed on its students.
Many students and academics have raised concerns regarding management’s response to the situation, yet it seems as though management is not hearing the concerns that have been raised.
Not only is the high police presence on our campuses generally discomforting, but it is not conducive for learning. University is meant to be a space where there is freedom of movement and thought; where we as students can freely share ideas. Yet doing so feels hard when you have the prying eyes of the police and private security at almost every corner of the university.
One may be inclined to think that our campuses would be safer with the presence of the police, yet this is not the case, certainly not for me. Not only is it hard to move around freely, but you are also terrified that the police may shoot at you. It sounds odd to suggest that the police would just shoot at a student who is not doing anything, yet the reported incidents of some of the Wits students being harassed by police in their residences give enough grounds to reach such conclusions.
Yet, when writing this article, the aforementioned issues where not exactly what I wished to discuss – instead I wanted to share how the high police presence has been psychologically traumatic for me.
Seeing so many police on my campus brought back memories of growing up in an abusive household’ it brought back memories of having to see my father being taken away in a police van, of having to go to the police station with my mother to report my father.
When the tear gas and stun grenades were being thrown towards students a few weeks back, being on campus and seeing that triggered memories of the violent home that I was nurtured in. With every bang of a grenade I remembered the hard sounds of doors being slammed at home; with every student who was screaming, I was reminded of my mother’s screams for help.
Seeing some of the students manhandled by the police brought back images of my mother being held and left with bruises. I was again reminded of the painful memories that I have tried so hard to let go of, and these were triggered by unrelated events.
Yet violence is violence and while it manifests itself in different ways and contexts; it is still able to trigger memories of past violent experiences.
What I hope to illicit here is that this high militarisation on our campuses does harm to many of us in different ways.
It goes without saying that it’s hard to function in this space academically. Whenever we hear bangs, we panic, we worry that the war has started, and for someone like me, and perhaps many others who have experienced violence, other memories come back.
It is very naïve of management to assume that business can go on as usual while our university space is not usual. The assumption that the presence of the police on our campuses makes the space safer is certainly not the case. The space for me has been a trigger, and this is something that you cannot mention to your mother, because it will trigger other memories for her.
I think that the university needs to seriously consider the kinds of trauma that they have subjected us to. With all these emotions brewing within me while I enter the university, I am still expected to be present academically and attend class.
And I am only one of the many students who have been on the observing end of the protests. One can only imagine what the protesting students must be dealing with. How are these students expected to be able to write their exams with sane minds and emotions? DM
Zinhle Manzini is reading towards her Masters Degree in Philosophy at Wits as a 2016 Mandela Rhodes Scholar. She is a proud coconut from the townships of Kagiso and is always trying to navigate between the spaces of being an academic and a girl from Kasi. A feminist, a reader, and a writer who’s sitting on an unpublished manuscript, she loves baking and making smoothies.
Instagram @conflictedblackwoman or Tweet @ZinhleManzini