Debate, don't burn - anti-apartheid activist tells students

2016-10-14 18:02
Crowds protest rising University tuition fees. Source: Twitter ~

Crowds protest rising University tuition fees. Source: Twitter ~

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Cape Town – Students in the #FeesMustFall movement should be spearheading the call for a national consultative conference, not burning universities down, a former activist said on Friday.

Peter Williams, an attorney and former founding member of the Athlone Students Action Committee (Asac), acknowledged that the education sector was in crisis.

The cost of tertiary education was unaffordable to most, he told a crowd gathered for the 31st commemoration of the Trojan Horse Massacre in Athlone. 

"But we disagree sharply with the methods you are using and we do not think that burning down your own institutions of learning is the way to go," he said to applause in the Belgravia High School hall.

Some shouted "yeah!"

He recalled how they were able to distinguish between short, medium and long-term demands in the 1980s. They adjusted their strategies accordingly.

"We knew what our ultimate demands or goals were. Today we don’t see that distinction we made."

He said a national consultative conference called in 1985/86 had brought people together and forged a way forward. Students today should call for a similar conference.

"Show us your theoretical standing. Show us your position papers of where you are and where you want to go."

'At least we can hold govt to account'

During apartheid, government would not come to the table.

"But today, at least we can hold the government to account. Today, at least you can call them to such a meeting."

He said it was vital that each party went there willing to comprise.

"As opposed to burning down your institution, let’s engage in intellectual discourse and chart a way forward."

On October 15, 1985, a truck loaded with crates drove down Thornton Road, Athlone. Police officers hiding inside emerged and opened fire, killing Jonathan Claasen, 21, Shaun Magmoed, 15, and 11-year-old Michael Miranda. Several people were injured.

A CBS crew filmed the incident.

Pupils in the area worked together under the Asac banner at the time to demand an end to the state of emergency and to protest against apartheid education.

A crowd gathered on Friday to march down the same road and lay wreaths at the memorial site.


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