The interdict has “created a culture of fear”

Interdicts against students are a farce. They are not a solution, they are a threat. They are a gag in the mouth of change, and an insult to students who are taking a stand for something in this world.

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.

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Protesting Rhodes University students enter building on campus to disrupt lectures during the #RUReferenceList protests in May 2016. Photo: Sam van Heerden.

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.

Rhodes University also does not wear this legal shield alone. Similar interdicts have been served at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Wits University against protestors, and UCT has also placed an interdict against a number of students.

“It was put in place because it disrupted business as usual.”

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

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.

“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.”

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.

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Rhodes University students hold up a placard saying “Fight for Education” during Fees Must Fall 2015. Photo: Sam van Heerden.

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.

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.

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Fees Must Fall protesters hand over a complaint to the Grahamstown South African Police Services in October 2016. SAPS have been accused of using excessive force against protesting students on Rhodes University Campus. Photo: Sam van Heerden

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.

This article was originally published on The Journalist here. 

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