This week saw a series of protests affecting the University of Johannesburg. Classes were cancelled, tests were postponed, but one of the most striking facts about the events is that the protesting was done by a small group of students while the majority seemed to continue with normal life.
According to the outgoing Vice Chancellor, Prof Ihron Rensburg, only 1℅ of the student population protested. The Open Journal went out and asked some students and a lecturer at UJ why they thought some students were not involved in the protest action.
Bryan Doyle, Physics Lecturer
“I asked my class this morning and the reason is that their degree is more important. They know that if they protest they might get the free education but they might also lose this year of studying. The main reason is we’re all selfish and it’s more important that I get my degree.”
Faatima Seedat, 19, Education
“I just think that education is important and here at UJ not many people find the protesting to be such a big issue. Look at us we’re all chilling and we want to get our education done with.”
Some students were just afraid for their lives.
Kwena Tlhako, 22, Interior Design
“I think they’re not protesting because…for example, I’ll speak for me. I’m not protesting because firstly I am afraid of what might happen. I’m scared for my life. So for my safety, I’m just going to stay away. And secondly, I really do feel like UJ won’t do anything about it whether we protest or not. So I don’t really even makes any difference, so I think that’s why people are not protesting.”
Kamogelo Ponoane, 21, BA Strategic Communication
“I think most of us come from poor backgrounds and we can’t afford to be arrested, expelled and all that other stuff. Because how are you going to explain that to your parents? They would understand that your fight is for a right cause but we can’t afford for you to do things like that.”
One respondent felt that the message was not communicated properly.
“It’s because there’s no clear indication or clear explanation to why they are doing it now, so few [people] know. But there’s no clear like [there] was last year. Everyone knew what we were doing that time. Last year we used to have platforms where UJ students would go in and explain the process. There [are] no platforms there’s no one whose telling us: “guys this what we should do this and this”. Those who do not know anything they just keep quiet and they don’t want to participate.”
Others were worried about the amount of risk involved.
Ryan Damon, 23, Law student.
“It depends on what you mean by protesting; because if you ask people if they’re in solidarity with the idea that fees should be free then I agree. Am I actually actively protesting? –No. Why is that? – Just because I see how violent it gets and obviously it’s dangerous and I don’t want to get involved. You don’t want to put yourself at risk unnecessarily. I do agree with the free education idea but also the destruction of university property comes into it as well, so from a moral standpoint, I don’t see how effective destroying university property will be in order to get free fees. I do think there are other solutions though.”
Lerato Mawer, 21, BA Politics in Philosophy and Economics
“I think some people want to pass. Some people are trying to go to class and finish their degrees. I’m not striking; it’s not that I’m not for the cause it’s just that I don’t like the risk involved. All I want to do is finish my degree.”