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Ulema support students, but caution against violence

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In recent weeks, the Fees Must Fall (FMF) movement has dominated headlines and called to the fore all stakeholders as violence continues to surge.  Universities across the country have witnessed an alarming outbreak of violence, from the destruction of property to confrontation between police and students, as frustrated students demand engagement by universities and government.

In response to the almost deadly violence, organisations from all disciplines have condemned the actions of both private security officials and students. In a bid to prevent any further destruction of property and end the violence, community organisations are urging government and university management teams to effectively engage students and find a viable solution to their demands.

In a statement released by the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), the ulama body affirms its support for non-violent FMF protests.  While condemning the surge in violence and destruction at universities across the country, the MJC congratulated students for their efforts in the fight for social justice.

“We congratulate the learners for being conscientious citizens who exercise their right for social justice with their call for free education and equal opportunities for all.”

It further urged government to fulfil its inherent duty and facilitate the employment of viable solutions to ensure equal access to quality education.  The Jamiatul Ulama South Africa has echoed the sentiments of the MJC and voiced concern at the level of violence employed by all parties involved in the protestors.

The body said that it is particularly concerned with the fact that lives are endangered by students and that infrastructure is being damaged in the protests, further stating that  the actions of certain individuals has undermined the movement as a whole.

“Reports of cases of attempted murder, presence of petrol bombs on one of the campuses and an arsonist modus operandi do not bode well for the support and goodwill the protesting students have so far enjoyed from the general public.”

In a show of support for the demands of the movement, Jamiatul Ulama asserts that financial loans, while providing access to education, impose upon individuals the burden of debt, which in turn prolongs access to socio-economic empowerment.

“In order for us not to continue to rue lost opportunities, we have to immediately, stop waste of public resources, unequivocally denounce corruption, demand accountability and prioritise the funding of education,”  said the ulema body

Fight against colonialism and oppression

Meanwhile, the Media Review Network (MRN) says that it supports the “fundamental objectives” that the movement has tabled, including the “provision of free, decolonised, and quality higher education.”
Drawing a parallel between the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and the struggle for the freedom of Palestine, the media house described the fight for free education in South Africa as being part of the greater struggle to break the shackles of racist colonial structures that have impeded the development of the masses.

“FMF is also a reflection of other crises in post-1994 South Africa and cannot be separated from the current struggles for quality basic education, healthcare, water and sanitation, housing, employment, public transport, electricity and the provision of basic services,” the MRN statement read.

MRN further rejected the “criminalisation” of the FMF movement by government police services, while deriding the decision by university management teams to employ the services of “ill-equipped” private police, which it asserts has “exacerbated the crisis.”

“Scenes of students being hunted and arrested, and reports of protesters being fired upon with rubber bullets, live ammunition, stun grenades, and Israeli-sourced water cannons are reminiscent of the Apartheid government’s response to student protests.”

Respect for the law

It further urged student leadership and FMF members to maintain respect for the law and remain disciplined in their protest action, while strongly criticising members using violence to derail the movement.

“Focusing only on criminal and political opportunists looting stores and burning buildings belittles this long-standing student movement and diverts public attention away from the original objectives of the FMF movement.”

Given the current political climate within South Africa, MRN urged government to take an assertive stance and effectively engage with all stakeholders to ensure access to free and quality education.

“Our attention must shift away from students and university management to the authorities who brought us to this point. The government’s Fees Commission set up in January 2016 lacks transparency, is unfocused and slow, and its completion date has now been shifted.” VOC

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