EE denounces the racist physical attack by white spectators against peacefully protesting students & workers at the University of Free State Rugby Ground
A peaceful protest in support of workers’ issues at the University of Free State (UFS) last night was met with shocking violence. A group of black students and workers disrupted a rugby match, standing in the centre of the field; singing struggle songs. White spectators charged and attacked the protesters to cheers from the crowd. Subsequent reports describe armed groups of white students attacking black students on campus late into the night.
This is a brutal manifestation of the lingering, defensive and militarised racism among groups of white South Africans, pervading society and thriving within institutions of higher learning.
The protest, on the other hand, is part of a national renewal of the student activism that has fought fee increases and attempted to end worker outsourcing last year.
The protest was prompted by UFS’ failure to implement the terms of its agreement with workers late last year, in which it promised to increase salaries to R5000/month, and for a Task Team to investigate insourcing and report back by the end of January.
This has not happened.
More broadly, this has once again shone an unforgiving light on racism at UFS. The university has a shameful history of racism, including the 2008 Reitz incident where white residence students forced black workers to eat food laced with urine.
EE is disappointed with UFS Vice-Chancellor Jonathan Jansen’s alleged assertion that what happened last night was not a racist attack, and at UFS’ failure to stop either the initial attack or later reprisals by armed white groups towards black students on its campus.
It is clear that UFS has not addressed the malignant white racism harboured in their institution. Colour-blindness at a time of outright racist violence is disingenuous and harmful. It only serves to confirm the feeling amongst black students that the University does not ackowledge their existence, and therefore cannot serve as a legitimate channel for their voices to be heard. Reconciliation is important, but cannot be a substitute for justice.
The student movement as a whole has faced incredible police brutality almost as a matter of course. The fallout from last night’s protest seems to be no different. Eyewitness accounts allege police doing little to stop armed white groups carrying out reprisals at UFS, while black protesters have been shot with rubber bullets and stun grenades.
Meanwhile, National Government continues to undermine student and worker concerns, with accusations of a ‘third force’ or foreign intervention behind the student movements in an attempt to delegitimise the cause rather than engage with the just demands.
In line with Equal Education’s resolutions adopted at National Congress in June 2015, we support the struggle of students at institutions of higher learning in the fight for transformation and decolonization of their institutions. We support the initiatives that are pushing against the structural conditions that inhibit equal access to equal tertiary education, such as fees, student housing and historic debt, as well as the exploitative labour arrangements: low wages, insecure employment and minimal protections or pensions, that outsourcing presents. We stand by movements whose members are fighting against the oppressive legacy of colonialism and Apartheid at their institutions of learning.
EE strongly condemns the use of violence by individuals and the state security forces against progressive students and workers who are exercising their democratic right to protest for Constitutional rights to Education and fair labour practices.
We denounce the criminalization of students and the reject the discourse by University management that justifies the use of violence against protesting students with claims that they are ‘restoring order’.
EE supports the notion that any peaceful protester who is physically attacked has every right to defend him/herself from such attack.
EE therefore calls on
- to hold those responsible for the racist attacks to account, and to work with police to identify and apprehend attackers.
- to address the violent racist masculinity which has been allowed to fester within UFS within the university community generally and the rugby community specifically.
- to take steps to de-escalate the situation and avoid further harm being done.
- to implement the terms of the agreement made with workers last year by increasing their salaries to R5000/month, and for the task team on insourcing to report back publicly.
- The South African Police Service (SAPS):
- to immediately halt their brutalisation of black protesters and to stop treating protest as a criminal activity.
- to apprehend and prosecute those responsible for violent acts of racism.
- FNB to withdraw their sponsorship from the UFS Rugby Club.
For more Information Contact:
Tshepo Motsepe (EE General Secretary)
071 886 5637
Ntuthuzo Ndzomo (EE Deputy General Secretary)
072 931 4343
Nishal Robb (EE Western Cape)
079 511 6790
Leanne Jansen-Thomas (Head of Policy & Training)
079 494 9411