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Does The Movement Move You?

I’m feeling inspired. It’s raining outside, I’m snuggled under a blanket looking out my window and listening to a great playlist. Is there anything more blissful? But before I go on, I must warn you that I am about to get slightly serious.
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I started this blog around 4 months ago and it has been hard work keeping up with writing, but one of the many reasons that I started this blog was because of my views on politics
(specifically the ones at my university), and surprisingly I haven’t made any posts about politics. I’ve started writing them and spilling my thoughts into blank documents but the furthest they’ve gotten is the folder on my desktop called ‘blog.’  I find these (the more serious topics) are the hardest posts to get right, mostly because my thoughts and opinions are always changing! I mean come on, my writing was meant to help calm down the thoughts in my head!? Well, that turned out great.

I mentioned the politics at my university being a contributing factor to starting this blog. For those who don’t know I go to the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa and as you may be aware, this is where the ongoing Fees Must Fall protests have taken place. And let me tell you, every time I talk to someone new about these protests or read the news about the marches, or go onto campus and see broken windows and burnt buildings… My views change. When the protests started in October 2015 I was busy studying for my matric finals and so I didn’t necessarily have the mental and emotional capacity to focus on anything else. However, when I started university in January 2016, I was exposed to the Fees Must Fall protests for the first time. At this time, I fully supported the students’ movement (which consisted mainly of peaceful marches) as it angered me to think that money was a determining factor for who got a tertiary education and who didn’t. It bewildered me to think that there are so many bright and intelligent students who are deprived of an education because they could not afford it.

 

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As the year went on, the protests became larger and students grew braver. I remember being evacuated from a library when protesters entered the library spraying fire extinguishers everywhere (this was not the only time I was evacuated from a library or
some place on campus on account of protests). My support still resided with the movement. We would go about our usual days sitting in lectures hearing the faint sound of singing and marching throughout the campus as we learned schizophrenia, morality, god and justice through the law.

Through this all I still strongly believed in the cause because as I sat in my lectures with so many students on their phones not caring about what the lecturer in front of them had to say, all I could think about was the student sitting at home not being able to go to university or the student working every free hour they had to scrape up money for their university fees.

A student throws a rock at a South African police car during clashes over high tuition fees at Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand

Soon protests and riots became more serious. In September 2016, Blade Nzimande’s announcement for an 8% fee increase seemed to be the tipping point. This moment was when the protests were the largest I had ever seen them. A sea of protesters and reporters engulfed the campus, turning universities into war zones rather than a place of learning. For the next month or so I stayed at home watching the news and having endless debates with my family as to whether this is the right way to go about things. The news showed us how police and protesters battled it out on campus, the sound of rubber bullets and stun grenades echoed through universities. The situation continued to escalate as rocks were thrown at police and the buildings, computer labs were flooded and more buildings were set alight. When access to campus was restricted, riots moved to the streets where looting began. The only thing that ran through my mind was ‘how could burning libraries possibly aid free education?’ Many other thoughts ran through my mind for those looting in the streets were not the same people I had supported at the beginning of the year, conveying their course through powerful and peaceful marches.  Each day protesters became more and more frustrated about the stagnancy of the fee issue. Government just watched as everything unfurled, a student’s cry for help soon became more than that. It became an explosion of bottled emotions and feelings of the history in our country, for some, these riots were not just about fees anymore.

The 2016 academic year may have ended, but this did not mark the end of the fee increase issue for late last year universities across the country announced an 8% fee increase for 2017.

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This issue is one that hits close to home for me. It is something that myself and those all around me are exposed to in our everyday lives. It has forced many to become numb to the sound of marching footsteps in unison, it has caused many to learn the pain of a rubber bullet to their bodies and others to find normalcy in having to leave lecture halls and libraries in the middle of the day for their own safety in order to avoid riots.

Before I end this post I would just like to point out that I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinions and these are just my thoughts. I am not here to slander anyone nor criticise actions that may have been taken. I have a lot to say about this particular movement and what I have written here is just some of it (merely the tip of the iceberg) and for this reason, I may have a follow-up post. Until then I would love to know what dome of you may think about the protests or just protesting in general?

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