2016-07-12 11:44

There are some who say that the students participating in protests are violating the rights of others by burning stuff, closing roads and classes. Remember that the key word here is violence i.e the act of the protesting students is “violent”.

The question that we must ask ourselves and try to answer quickly is – what exactly is violence? I am sure the first image that pops into one’s head when thinking about violence is a building burning or tires burning or whatever object that is burning or broken. I challenge such people to agree with me that they have that image in their heads because that is what the media has successfully fed them. The violence that they are aware of and what violence actually is, are two different things that are worlds apart.

Violence is a behavior that involves force intended to hurt, damage, dehumanize and kill someone or something. This groundbreaking definition allows us to look at the whole picture. Force that is intended to hurt, damage and dehumanize someone can be rape and emotional abuse. In other words, because rape intends to hurt, damage and dehumanize someone – it therefore means rape is violence. The same applies with emotional abuse – that is, subjecting someone else to psychological trauma, anxiety and chronic depression is also in itself violence.

The point I’m driving home here is that the popular narrative of violence which is “the damaging of something only” is an incomplete description of violence if not a fallacy. Simply because there is no infrastructure burning when someone is being raped doesn’t make rape less violent. Simply because there are no tires burning when someone is being psychologically belittled with insults doesn’t make emotional abuse less violent.

In fact, I can stretch it further and say because living in poverty is dehumanizing and damaging, poverty is also a form of violence. A person going through poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, sexism, homelessness, racism etc – that person is experiencing violence on a daily basis . Any antagonistic relationship between two forces with an imbalance of power that creates an oppressed by the oppressor, that relationship will always give birth to the violence of the oppressed.

A university is a superstructure built in an upper class suburb that entrenches violence to anyone below the class bracket it was created to serve and NMMU is no different. A system that places a price tag on a human right called education and operates daily on a Eurocentric and white standardized infrastructure and curriculum will always be dehumanizing to the African working class student AND African working class worker because they cannot relate to it. It does not speak to their norms, values and standards because it was initially not created for them. It dehumanizes them. The act of denying access to education, evicting students from residence, withholding exam results of poor students, delaying the minimum wage and insourcing of workers etc – all these acts are intended to hurt, damage and dehumanize the African poor and working class student and worker in the main. It is in itself a crushing, brutal and evil act of violence by a superstructure to innocent human beings.

What then must the hurt, damaged, dehumanized, angry and frustrated students do when they are treated violently by the system? A system that is supposed to level the playground by giving fair opportunity to the poorest instead of recycling privilege. The dehumanized student is giving the superstructure solutions to ensure its humanization such as free education for the poor, a community biased curriculum, the end of outsourcing of workers but instead the superstructure responds to this request with more violence and the false generosity of “registration exemption” and “debt relief”. What then must the hurt, damaged, dehumanized, angry and frustrated students and workers do when they are treated violently by the system?

To conclude this point I want to emphasize that any situation in which John exploits Jabu or hinders his and her pursuit of self-determination as a person is a form of oppression. Such a situation in itself constitutes violence, even when sweetened by false generosity, because it interferes with the individual's mission and pursuit to be more fully human.

Paulo Farreira in his book, the pedagogy of the oppressed, puts it and says with the establishment of a relationship of oppression, violence has already begun. Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed students as many in the media would make us believe. How can oppressed students be the initiators, if they themselves are the result of violence? How could they be the sponsors of something whose objective creation called forth their existence as oppressed? There would be no oppressed students had there been no prior situation of violence to establish their subjugation.

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