No matter how just the cause behind student protest sweeping the country there is no justification for the loss of life, destruction of property and injury to students and others currently taking place, say Port Elizabeth church leaders.
“It is now enough” and “unintentional as it [violence and destruction] may be — [it] is at a point at which we must draw the line,” say the leaders in a press statement released on their behalf by the SA Council of Churches (SACC).
The leaders pray for God’s comfort for the family of Celumusa Ntuli, a contract cleaner at Wits University, who died last Friday after inhaling chemicals from an extinguisher that had been released by protesting students at the Jubilee Hall residence. .
Regarding the Freedom Charter whose promise of free education is emphasised by #FeesMustFall protesters, the church leaders point out that while South Africans are familiar with the charter’s declaration that “The doors of learning and culture shall be opened” many do not know how it continues — “The aim of education shall be to teach the youth to love their people and their culture, to honour human brotherhood, liberty and peace.”
“Shutting down universities closes the doors of learning. There is no honour, no brotherhood (sic) to be found in the running street battles between students and police; in burning buildings; in throwing rocks and in intimidating others to join the protests. It is not an act of loving our people and our culture when we embark on tactics that destroy peace and take away others’ liberty,” say the church leader.
“If the current academic program is halted and universities close due to the ongoing protests it will result in thousands of students not completing their studies. It will also prevent thousands of students from taking up the opportunity to study further. This is a double burden that the country cannot afford. If change is to come; if the poor are our mission; if social justice is our cause, then we need those graduates in our societies using the skills that we, as a society, have invested in.
“So we call upon those engaged in violence and intimidation to stop. You do not have our blessing,” they say.
The statement continues: “There can be no doubt that the issues of access to, and affordability of, university education has been a matter raised by student body after student body. There is no doubt that the acts of destruction are the actions of the few who have hijacked a legitimate protest. There can also be no doubt that the ongoing presence of police and private security on campuses will potentially exacerbate an already tense situation.
“Thus we call upon our students, our parents, our lecturers and our administrators to engage constructively on the issues faced. We call upon those within government responsible to deal with these matters to reconsider your approach. Our students (and administrations) have raised legitimate concerns – find creative and constructive ways to respond.
“No country can prosper if the doors of learning and culture are closed.
“We pray that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all.
Leaders represented by the statement are: Bishop Lunga ka Siboto, Bishop Vincent Zungu, Bishop Bethlehem Nopece, Bishop Andile Mbete, Apostle Neville Goldman, Pastor Patrick Douglas-Henry, Ds Danie Mouton, Rev. Rory Spence, Pastor Daan Botha, Archdeacon Zwelidumile Tom.