Students from The University of Cape Town (UCT), particularly those from the #RhodesMustFall movement, have been protesting the dismal housing situation at the university. They erected a makeshift shack on the campus, dubbed #Shakeville as a symbol of the all the students who are struggling to get accommodation. On Tuesday night, things took a violent turn.
— EWN Reporter (@ewnreporter) February 17, 2016
According to EWN, police arrived on the campus last night to disassemble the shake and when students resisted, they used stun grenades and rubber bullets to pacify them. This only angered the students who took the streets, starting fires, burning two UCT vehicles in addition to the priceless artwork they burned earlier. Eight students have been arrested.
— Cape Argus (@TheCapeArgus) February 16, 2016
All the footage of the clash shows both police and students being violent. There is no doubt that two big opinions will rise from this latest protest action. The first is that the students are hooligans causing trouble and disrupting peace. I have already heard people call them criminals. The second is that the cops are bullies, stopping the just actions of students and hurting young adults who are just trying to make a difference.
Both opinions do have their justifications, but will taking sides really solve the bigger issues?
— Ashraf Hendricks (@AshrafRSA) February 16, 2016
For me, the actions of both police and students leave me feeling conflicted. As a former UCT student, I am well aware of the housing issues, as well as many other issues that have come to light during the #FeesMustFall protests. I fully support students fighting for their rights and trying to make things better for themselves and future generations. However, I can’t condone the use of violence and destruction to get that point across. Burning UCT property is counter-productive, as it paints the students in a bad light. On top of that, the physical things they are protesting for (better housing) requires money, that will now be spent on fixing the damage instead of going towards fixing some of the problems.
— UCT Student (@UCTStudent) February 16, 2016
As for the police. When things get chaotic, they are definitely needed to keep the peace. They are there to keep us and our communities safe and that includes our universities, but as a former news journalist, I know how the presence of riot police can add to the violence during protests. Protests can be completely harmless, but as soon as a group of men in riot gear holding big guns show up, people get scared and then angry and things get out of hand. I am not saying that the police are responsible for the violence, but the way they handle situations does have an impact.
So how do we move forward?
I have absolutely no idea. What I do know is that, if we paint this complex situation as black and white, nothing will be solved.
UPDATE: The eight students who were arrested on Tuesday have been released on bail.