As so many fellow South Africans I have been shocked by the violent protests erupting at our University campuses the last two weeks. The latest protests seems to be driven by political agendas in an election year and the accompanying destruction of property, vandalism and violence have cost the student movement the sympathy from many citizens that they enjoyed during the #FeesMustFall campaign.
I have however been greatly encouraged by many South Africans of all backgrounds pulling together during the protests and in its aftermath to say enough is enough we are one, from the students together praying for peace, to the #colourblind movement, students helping protestors injured during the University of the Free State rugby field fracas to students together cleaning up after protestors.
What has however been disappointing is the totally one-sided commentary on the protests by most media columnists. From Stephen Grootes and Sisonke Msimang in the Daily Maverick to Pieter Bosch Botha on News24 and Max du Preez on Network24 and Facebook. Most of them did no try to consider the wider context of what might have contributed to particularly the UFS rugby field fracas and mostly only blame on side for all that have gone wrong.
I abhor violence and hope that all those students who reacted violently by kicking and hitting out at the protestors on the rugby field are speedily brought to book to answer for their deeds. But no Sisonke Msimang, those that acted violently do not represent all White Afrikaans people as you make out in your column, they don’t even represent the majority of those that was present in the stadium that evening or the majority of those who took matters in their own hands and chased the protestors from the rugby field. Looking at videos of the event its clear that only a few of the spectators acted violently against the protestors. Many of those that you branded as being out to use violence as a tool to inflict harm at Black bodies did (surprise surprise) exactly the opposite – they assisted the few protestors that were injured on the rugby field.
You also chose to ignore in your analysis the violence that occurred early on the same day both at the University of Pretoria and the University of the Free State. If only White Afrikaners are guilty as charged by you what then about the Tuks incident when a security manager experienced a violent attack by a Black protestor who hit him over the head? And what about the other White students hurt on the day at the campus as evidenced by many photos?
Unlike Max du Preez and Pieter Bosch Botha who at least acknowledge the incident you also chose to totally ignore the callous attack by the UFS protestor who twice hit a White women over the head, once with the megaphone used again later during the rugby field invasion! He then runs away like a coward only to later emerge as one of the protest leaders on the rugby field.
And Max du Preez you say you are shocked by the incident in which the White women was attacked by the protest leader but then go on to scold her for trying to prevent the protestors from entering the stadium as if she deserved to be attacked (just like women who are raped are often accused that they somehow deserve it). Did you not read her words in the press that she was busy handing out pamphlets at the gate when she found herself under sudden attack?
It was after this attack that the protestors gained access to the rugby field. And Stephen Grootes they were not there to protest against Afrikaans or the Afrikaans language as you allege, they were there to support the workers demands for insourcing and to demand the reinstatement of Trevor Shaku. Why would you then even try and make this out to be an anti-Afrikaans protest when it was not and then go even further to state that the symbolism of this can’t be missed (Blacks protesting against Afrikaans being attacked by Afrikaans speaking spectators)?
And no Pieter Bosch Botha the protestors were not all peaceful as you argue as evidenced by the leader attacking the White women minutes before the field invasion. The same leader who you acknowledged made use of his weapon of attack, the megaphone to declare “Comrades, we are not here to fight”. According to you this was a clear declaration of their peaceful intentions, noble intentions that the Afrikaans players and spectators perceived as a provocation. Really now?
And why the reference to Afrikaans players? All the players involved in the rugby match left the field according to eyewitnesses and did not take part in the fracas. Also to my knowledge, the teams of both the UFS and NMMU Madibaz included many persons of colour and non-Afrikaans speaking rugby players. Why like Sisonke Msimang and Stephen Grootes do you want to make this out to be an Afrikaans incident? Seems to me like it suit your questionable agendas to argue thus.
The peaceful intentions of the protestors can further be questioned by the fact that at least one of them was armed. When news of the fracas surfaced one of the first witness accounts were from a reporter of SA Rugby Magazine who stated that some of the protestors who invaded the rugby field were armed.
Pictures extracted from videos of the incident support this report by clearly showing one protestors dressed in red pulling a knife. This seems to be the main tipping point as just after he did so, the spectators decided to invade the rugby field, as is evidenced by the video footage. I’m also sure that by this stage many of the spectators were aware of the earlier attack on the White women and when seeing the knife being pulled might have decided to invade the pitch to protect the few spectators that was then talking to the protest leaders. This is however speculation and does NOT excuse those few that then acted out violently by attacking some of the protestors.
When news of the fracas first broke I immediately went onto twitter to see what I could find out. I was immediately struck by a number of tweets earlier that Monday which alluded to the brewing trouble on the University of the Free State campus. One Black twitter user was very upset that she was taken to task by the protestors for playing netball with fellow White students and for being intimidated to join the protest. Another Black twitter user complained about being pulled out of the library and forced to join the protests.
But perhaps the most telling tweet of the day was from a Black twitter user who must have witnessed the rugby field invasion and fracas and who tweeted that the incident was not about racism and that a certain comrade must take all the blame for what happened as he provoked people. Perhaps the same leader with the megaphone who knows?
It is clear from the aforementioned that what occurred on the day at the University of the Free State on a rugby field did not happen in a vacuum and was preceded by many other incidents all that contributed to the fracas. Not so according to the above columnist who chose to remain ignorant and largely blame only one side for the events.