Sam van Heerden

[intro]Since the #RUReferenceList on Rhodes University campus earlier this year, Rhodes students have been served by an interim interdict. The interim interdict allows for protests within the realm of the law, but prohibits illegal “disruption”. Students can protest so long as they do not infringe on anyone else’s rights. But interdicts against students are a farce. They are not a solution, they are a threat, writes Sam van Heerden.[/intro]

The interdict has been justified by accusations that students were aggressive as they disrupted classes during the protests earlier this year and lecturers allegedly feared for their lives. Arguably this justification is not entirely unwarranted, but neither is students’ frustration. People were angry. People were passionate. And in times of conflict, some people grandstand and take advantage of the chaos.

Interdicts are a gag in the mouth of change, and an insult to students who are taking a stand against sexual violence on their campuses. Rhodes University does not wear this legal shield alone. Similar interdicts have been served at the University of KwazuluNatal and Wits University against protestors, and UCT has also placed an interdict against a number of students.

But the #FeesMustFallReload is imminent, and the interdicts still stand.

Business as usual

Arguably, the interdict was not put in place because people feared for their lives. It was put in place because the protests threatened the bureaucratic humdrum. It was put in place because it disrupted business as usual. It was put in place because it is easy for the middle class to opt out of politics. For them, politics is something that happens out there. And there is nothing the complicit like less than someone disrupting the status quo.

But the status quo needs to be broken. These causes are bigger than us. They are bigger than our campuses. They are bigger than our country. Issues such as university fee increases speak to global issues such as the rise of neoliberal capitalism and the way it defunds social capital. It also reminds us how corporate interests, the cog in our world, are taking over university interests. Sexual violence, the subject of the #RUReferenceList, speaks to global patriarchy and its stubborn, insidious shadow.

Students are taking a stand. Listen. I did, and I marched side by side with my fellow students. I did not feel threatened. I did not feel scared. My heart swelled with pride. I felt warm. There we were, taking the lessons from our classrooms out into the streets.

You would expect leaders of knowledge to be proud. You would expect them to be inspired. You would expect them to engage with students. Instead, they talk at students. They silence them, if not tangibly, then metaphorically.

There will be a flood

The interdict has created a culture of fear. Students are afraid. They don’t know how to interpret the interdict, so they do nothing. They say nothing. Or if they do, they do so in fear. A paralysis of unease, fatigue, and distrust lingers – for now.

The interdict is a tight lid on a growing sense of alienation and distrust felt by students towards institutions. This disaffection towards established institutions is not confined to the university, but may reflect a growing sense of disillusionment throughout the country.

It will not go away. The students will not be silenced. They will not be ignored. The interdict is a tight lid on an expanded consciousness that sees injustice where it hides, and universities should know: there will be a flood when it breaks.

Image courtesy of Kate Janse Van Rensburg.