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Opinionista

Campus violence – we can end it

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Deon Visser is a Chemistry professor at the University of the Free State. These are the opinions of the author alone, not the UFS management

On Tuesday, 21 May, a protest on the University of the Free State campus turned into violence when a senior financial official at the university became involved in a scuffle with students. Various videos were quickly floating around on social media. This article is not about that, it is about racism and miscommunication.

It is distressing to see how students of all races quickly resort to name-calling and pure hatred when communicating with one another on Facebook. I saw everything, from “white c**ts” to someone saying Sotho is a caveman language. (On a side note, I don’t speak Sotho, but a well-known Afrikaans author-lecturer mentioned to me a couple of months ago that Sotho is a wonderful and descriptive language. I happen to believe him, especially after seeing an article on Sotho names for plants etc.)

Racism is very alive and prosperous on our campuses and all races have contributors (bullies). I hate the fact that we almost saw student-on-student violence again, I detest the fact that classes are disrupted and the rights of those who want to rather study, they are of all races, are trampled on. All of this is not the campus and students.

In my opinion, it probably comes down to the wide cultural gap between white and black which creates unnecessary tension, simply because we don’t understand each other well enough.

Whites don’t understand protests; we probably even hate the sound of it. I know I do. Some of my students even fear it. But more so, I think we don’t understand that it comes naturally for many of our students. It is their “voice”. It was the only way, back in the day, how black people could make themselves heard and we need to respect that. Would we prefer to rather sit down and talk? Of course. But that is how we (whites) reason.

We need to change the way we think. Once we get past this fundamental (little) mind shift it becomes quite easy to think of the other side. I have never gone to bed hungry; I don’t know how it feels. I’ve always had access to electricity, warm water and shelter. I probably would also toyi toyi if my stomach was empty and my NSFAS money was within reach, but nobody was hearing me.

But black students also need a mind shift. Some seem to believe that whites “just don’t care” because they are comfortable in their “white privilege”. Not true. I see it in my classes every day. Most white students I know will happily share a meal with another. They will try to help where they can. The way to get empathy or solidarity from whites is through dialogue (with whites).

Do blacks need white solidarity? Why not? Would it not be better if all worked together on solving problems? I am willing to bet that a lot of white students would have joined the protest had they known what the real issue was and with the assurance that classes wouldn’t be disrupted and violence would be off the table.

We cannot, even if we are angry, hungry and worried, disrupt classes and tear up papers. We cannot threaten others with violence. We cannot become a wolf pack where males corner a female and threaten to “f&&$# kill her”. We cannot be violent towards staff. We cannot ask people to stop taking videos, because if we do, it means we have things to hide or criminal intentions. We also cannot ignore that some of us really struggle to just be on campus. Currently, I have an honours student who sometimes doesn’t have money for transport, so he has to hide away on campus during the night or find a place to sleep.

Violence begets violence. I know this from personal experience. I would react violently if someone were to push me around. In fact, I would probably be fired because I kind of lose my head in physical confrontations.

Similarly, positive actions beget positive reactions…

All of us want things to be better. I want my sons to have a bright future, financial freedom and happiness. We all, white and black, want the same things. We can get it if we work together, if we start seeing with others eyes and stop giving so much airtime to the Malemas and Zilles of this world. We really can. DM

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