Last week, Wits was a hot bed of student action during Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW). Scores of students took to the library lawns and media platforms to fight for their cause. This fight was, for many, a fight for human rights.
One cannot deny the legitimacy of this cause. No matter what side people are on, we understand the contestation and the need to bring issues of human rights to light.
The principle of human rights activism, as we interpret it, is to stand against the violation of human rights in any and all situations. But why is it that human rights violations on our doorstep fade in the shadow of international causes?
Last week, Wits Vuvuzela published a story about the torture of homeless people by police outside the Methodist church in Braamfontein. This without a doubt is a gross violation of human rights, but the reaction was muted. No questions were asked and no support was shown for the victims.
[pullquote]Activism should not be something that happens in shifts, there should be no “off” days for activists. [/pullquote]
Yet some Witsies were quick to take to the Twitter streets to complain about “misleading” IAW coverage in Wits Vuvuzela.
Activism should not be something that happens in shifts, there should be no “off” days for activists. While it is inevitable that people will feel closer to certain causes, it is problematic to ignore or hold in a lesser regard other issues of human rights violations, particularly those that are happening on our doorstep.
Where were our human rights activists when the Marikana miners were gunned down? Better yet, where were our human rights activists when our students were being sexually harassed?
Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Our lives begin to end the day we keep quiet about things that matter”. When the people who should say something say nothing, humanity slowly whittles away and before we know it, it’s “okay” to disregard certain rights and certain people as being less important.
[pullquote align=”right”]When we can, we must make some noise, raise our voices above oppression and ultimately be the change that we want to see in the world.[/pullquote]
If all human rights are fundamentally equal and important, then the homeless people brutalised by the police in Braamfontein should garner the same support and raise the same level of passion between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian activists on campus.
Wits has always been a site of activism. The likes of Nelson Mandela and Ruth First paved the road to democracy on this very ground. They fought for us all, none more important than the other. If it had not been for them, we would not be here today.
We owe it to them, ourselves and future generations to ensure that human rights are afforded to everyone. When we can, we must make some noise, raise our voices above oppression and ultimately be the change that we want to see in the world.