Lectures were suspended at the Westville Campus of the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) this week, highlighting a conflict between students and university management.
Police were called in after demonstrations turned violent, allegedly over a failure between the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) and management to agree terms of financial aid.
Wits is no stranger to conflict between these two groups.
This week, a formal hearing was held regarding three students who emptied rubbish bins in Senate House last year.
These students say they were protesting the poor treatment of the cleaning staff, while management claim they broke the university’s code of conduct.
This raises the question of whether protests need to take a forceful approach in order to get a message across.
Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. are amongst historical figures that were able to communicate their messages through non-violent resistance. Locally, the African National Congress (ANC) initially used non-violent resistance to oppose apartheid.
However, in the aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, the party turned towards more aggressive means of protest.
More recently, images of protests from Bahrain and Syria have shown the devastating effects of violent protests.
Despite a plea for peaceful protests from Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of Bahrain’s largest Shi’ite Muslim opposition party, demonstrators clashed with police this week.
The country’s youth allegedly rejected this call as Ali Salman does not understand the situation they find themselves in.
This is arguably the root of the problem. A lack of understanding, or a perceived lack or disinterest in understanding, between two opposing groups.
It is easy to look at a protest from the outside and condemn physical or aggressive actions, saying that those involved should remain peaceful.
Those involved may argue that their frustrations lead them to have no choice but to use more aggressive measures to have their voices heard.
However, conflict should not be allowed to reach this point, at a university or any other level.
Thorough discussions and consultations between groups should be independently mediated in order to maintain civility in reaching an agreement.
Furthermore, a little empathy would go a long way in resolving issues more peacefully.