Rascals. Work-nots avoiding exams. Malicious vigilantes. Insurgents. Counter-insurgents. Revolutionary. But a few of the labels attached to the #FeesMustFall protesters. So, which one is it – innocent students with legitimate claims or insurgents attempting to take down a country by ‘undemocratic means,’ as suggested in the article below. The fact is we don’t know yet which one it is or whether it’s some mix of all. And that is the important thing. The ball is still in play. And which part of that mix wins the day is up to us – yes, us. Both as ordinary citizens and more so, for those influences within civil society. This could be one of the most important occurrences in the history of our young, restless democracy since 1994.
And not only do we underestimate the enormity of the event but the seeds of opportunity that it presents. Whether this period in our history emerges as victory or tragedy turns on the wisdom with which we engage with it. The State is indeed rudderless. This is dangerous and yes, we could well find ourselves with a revolution sneaking up on us – and we will look back at newsreels and say the Fees Must Fall protests sparked it. Yet, if the surface of our society had remained smooth and unruffled, smeared with a veener of platitudes for much longer, this would have been an inevitable outcome anyway. And there lies the opportunity.
In the cauldron of these protests, in the murky messiness of burnt books, death and near-death; in the testing of our civil rights in direct confrontation with police and authority; in the confrontation of the validity of our social structures, lies the possible re-birth of our democracy. In our anger at the actions of protests, we fail to even consider the notion that the protests may bear potent fruits that deepen and widen the breadth of our democracy – if we so choose.