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Damage to property by students is not a validation of their cause

It has almost been accepted as a validation of strength for any students strike action in the Institutions of higher learning that damaging University properties must form part of the sum whole in exercising this rather democratic right. This is extremely distasteful and abhorrent to phantom from the most enlightened section of our youth. But more disturbing is the degenerate quality of leadership at this level from those elected as SRCs to provide leadership.

In our generation during our student life period, we led numerous strikes each year based on specific issues and we resorted to this tactic, after all methods of addressing the matters especially through negotiations have reached a cul-de-suc. This was a tactic to impose a positional shift from the management and foster trade-offs in our favour. This, we always did with much success. The planning and coordination of the strike action was always meticulous, stage-managed and its crescendo and tempo well guided.

Honestly, in any course of action such as mass actions, always, there will be spoilers and agent provocateurs who will resort to all manner of sordid and criminal acts. These diversions are as old as protest actions themselves. This is the similar case in trade union strikes at times. But the task of the leadership is in ensuring that before even the strike action begins, the strong message is genuinely sent to students and marshals are appointed from student organisations to control crowds every day. Daily briefings by leaders and house committees to students is maintained all the time.

Bona fide leaders are those that command authority to their constituency; genuine leaders lead by principle and are always willing to be unpopular to those that they lead. A leader that speaks in forked tongue to the led and always recoils when difficult times come, are not leaders but are merely anything adjacent to that description.

 I don't remember being part of a strike that resulted in the damage to property. We always knew that our quarrel with the management must not translate into any thing other than fighting them on issues at hand using this democratic right to strike. Winning public high moral ground was always primary. We knew that University belongs to us and future generations of students to come and therefore must be protected at all cost.

The recent strikes in Medunsa that resulted in cars burnt, the University of KwaZulu Natal strike with damage to property and the recent Tshwane University of Technology that resulted in 18 cars burnt are a startling exposure of the diminished leadership in these institutions of higher learning where control is lost from all directions like in a wild cat strike. But careful observation from these students strikes criminal diversions could be informed by three things at play that:

1. These SRCs fail to lead students during the strike that they initiate and get overpowered by the most populist front runners during strikes.

2. They tacitly not averse to these criminal acts as committed as it validates the strength thereby capturing the country's attention.

3. It could be because of the second semester term which is closer to SRC elections and various student organisations use the moment to project themselves as more militant than others to prop up their electoral chances and SRC leaders are by no means excluded as vying once more for these offices electorally.

My worry is the moral acceptability from students of these criminal conducts with impunity. For someone at that level of intellectual clarity, less is expected from them that approximate such acts. No amount of anger, of desperation and of stress can justify such dastard resorts to barbarity.

Universities and Colleges are a property of this country and of generations to come. Young leaders in tertiary institutions must be responsible. As we speak, some students in Medunsa are now facing criminal charges and very soon in TUT for which their future will be tainted with criminal records which are frown upon by employers.

Khaye Nkwanyana is the Spokesperson of the Minister for Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande but write in his personal capacity.


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