‘Students in protest’. In news terms, you might be tempted to file that alongside ‘dog bites man.’
But in South Africa right now, the wave of violence crashing across so many of the nation’s campuses is not so laughingly dismissed.
What began three weeks ago as a revolt against planned tuition fee hikes has morphed into a wider yell of rage against the manifest inequalities that stubbornly persist two decades into the post apartheid era.
Amid the tear-gas, the whiff of revolution is in the air. That and the evaporating authority of the ANC government.
Its leaders have been largely silent, leaving universities unable to deliver what the students demand, to fend for themselves.
Those who are protesting are a small minority – but they are determined, increasingly violent, and they’ve manage to close many a campus.
If they succeed with their stated aim; a total shutdown, then the cost to South Africa’s already enfeebled economy will be counted in the billions of rands.
Add to that the personal financial disaster for heavily indebted students unable to graduate – and a missing year of doctors and other skilled workers who won’t complete their studies.
We spent today at the nation’s premier university, Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, scene this past week of the worst clashes.
We watched students smash paving stones to hurl at police and police return fire with rubber bullets and stun grenades.
Those desperate to go to classes told us of intimidation; sometimes with an ugly racial over-tone.
Those leading the protests say it’s their generational duty to achieve reform of an institution they insist, despite a majority of students being black, is a bastion of old privilege.
The campuses have become battle-fields and unless there’s a peace deal soon, the lesson many will draw from these universities is that South Africa is a nation bent on self-destruction.