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SAAPS Statement on Violence at Universities

The South African Association of Political Studies (SAAPS) notes with much concern the violent and destructive protest action that has exacerbated racial tensions through violent confrontations and the destruction of university buildings.

The call for transformation is a noble pursuit and we support this call for recreating universities as transformed and inclusive spaces. After all, knowledge is generated through debate and the sharing of diverse views on key societal issues. We cannot, however, condone the divisive racialised narrative that has seen students violently confront one another, and we condemn any physical violence against any person, whether clashes between students, against students by security, or against security by students.

Tolerance is a key democratic principle and cannot be ignored in the pursuit of transformation. We urge students to value tolerance and each other as they advance their call for transformation. Students are the future generation that need to safeguard South Africa’s fragile sense of nationhood. This cannot be done if we create exclusive spaces, allowing only some to speak, and responding violently when there is disagreement. Transformation entails building knowledge from diverse voices and perspectives.

We cannot condone the destruction of university buildings and art, as this constitutes destruction of knowledge. The destruction of university buildings undermines the rights of all students to their education. The destruction of art, in general, is the destruction of one form of expression. In the goal of advancing knowledge for the future, we cannot ignore the knowledge of the past. We strongly encourage all stakeholders to respect and value the constitutional right to academic freedom. This right extends beyond the freedom to choose what is taught and what research to pursue. It implies an academic environment that values the pursuit of truth over power, privilege, or prejudice. As knowledgemakers (whether as students or academics), we have a responsibility to respect the related rights of freedom of thought and expression from a position of mutual respect.

We urge students to engage each other, university management, and academics from a space of mutual respect. Transformation entails inclusivity. This can only be achieved if we start this conversation from a point of tolerance and mutual respect for each other.