Last Friday the SRC launched its Right to Protest (R2P) campaign, aimed at gathering support from students and organisations to get the university to drop the disciplinary charges against some of its members.

Eleven students, nine of whom are SRC members, have been charged by Wits for possible contravention of the university’s code of conduct. They were charged after disrupting a musical recital by Israeli-born pianist Yossi Reshef on March 12.

The SRC and its allies have interpreted these charges as an attack on the right to protest. Of course the SRC is free to gather support for their cause, but the way they are doing it is underhanded.

Firstly, the campaign misinforms students about what is going on and why. It simply re-interprets the charges in a way that paints the group as victims. It claims that the right to protest is being taken away. This is not true.

Wits is charging the group for how they protested, not for protesting. And these are allegations.
The point of the hearing is to establish whether they are guilty or innocent.[pullquote align=”right”]”they have failed to show that kind of passion and vigour for matters closer to home.”[/pullquote]

What is this really about?

Secondly, the SRC is essentially manipulating students to get the charges against them dropped.
At the launch of R2P, the placards read: “the right to protest against dining hall food” and “the right to protest against lack of parking space”. Not a single placard mentioned Israel apartheid.
I spoke to a student who was watching the SRC and their crew chant and dance.  She was passing by when she saw the placard with “right to protest against dining hall food”.  She has had terrible experiences with dining hall food and wanted to support a cause protesting against it. Is that not exactly what the SRC wants?
Many students would simply walk past if they saw someone carrying a placard that read: “right to protest against Israel apartheid”. They do not know or care about the Israel-Palestine issue. Whether or not they should care is another matter entirely.My problem is that the SRC has so far been silent about these campus issues.

Now that they need students, they have become vocal about them.

Students have been complaining about dining hall food and struggling to find parking spaces they have paid a lot of money for, for a long time.  Barnato residence didn’t have electricity for four days; they lost their groceries and still haven’t been reimbursed. What has the SRC done? Sent a few emails that have gone unnoticed.

Witsies accused their lecturers of sexual harassment. The SRC promised to hold a march to show solidarity against sexual harassment when allegations were first made. This never happened.But when an Israeli pianist came to Wits, the SRC clearly vocalised their disapproval to Wits management.

When management ignored them, they protested. The entire SRC executive felt so passionate about the issue that they didn’t just protest; they protested in such a way that they were charged, they have failed to show that kind of passion and vigour for matters closer to home.

My point is not whether or not the SRC should protest. My point is this: it is clear that, when the SRC feels passionate about an issue, they cannot be stifled or oppressed. But they have failed to show that kind of passion and vigour for matters closer to home. Now that they need students in their corner, they start being vocal about student matters.

They are vocalising these issues to gain student support so they can get their charges dropped – charges that simply call for them to account for their behaviour.

emelia@witsvuvuzela.com