If you live outside of South Africa, you are probably not aware of the crisis at our universities. A little more than a year ago, university students started to protest, demanding no increase (or a very slight increase at worse) for the 2017 academic school year. Their rallying cry was #feesmustfall. At first, the protests were peaceful and limited to a handful of universities, but then some troublemakers got involved. A few months down the line, the protests turned violent. Now there are protests at all of the major universities in the country and at many of our minor ones. The students are demanding free tertiary education. Their protests have turned incredibly violent over the past few months and have escalated during the past two-three weeks. University buildings, including resident halls (dormitories), have been burned down; classes have been canceled; faculty cars have been set alight. Last week, at one of our universities in Cape Town, three security guards nearly died when the building they were in was set on fire. At another one of our universities, some students took a faculty member hostage. At Wits University in Johannesburg, some of the scenes between students and police/ security guards look like a battle zone. Yesterday, students marched on Parliament in Cape Town. The protest turned violent.
There are no winners in this crisis. Many people who were sympathetic to the students’ cause are no longer, due to the violent turn of the protests. The situation is complex, and many of the students are demanding more things besides free tertiary education. Personally, I think a lot of their demands and the ethos of their movement have roots in the injustice and racism of the past and of the current times. There are two sides to every story, but I think most South Africans would agree that the protests have gotten out of control. The violence is not justified and is only hurting the students’ cause, education as a whole and the country at large. Everyone living in South Africa is affected. There are no winners.
Wayne and I have several young friends either at university or who are preparing to attend universities who are affected by the turmoil. Please pray for our young friends, and please join us in prayer for the following:
- All tertiary students and those preparing to begin university in 2017 (The South African academic year runs from January to December.) Please pray for their families as well.
- Protesting students: For them to protest peacefully and for them to hold accountable those who are not. Please pray for their safety as well.
- Police and security guards who have been called in. For them not to use excessive force. For their safety as well.
- Faculty and all staff at the universities: Pray for their safety and welfare and peace of mind. For wisdom about going forward.
- Prayers for all parties involved, including the government: For them to listen to one another, for wisdom on all sides and for a fair solution to be formed.
At our recent Anglicans Ablaze conference, one of the sessions was “Quo Vadis South Africa?”—meaning, where are you going, South Africa? In many ways, the country is at a crossroads. There are so many major things going on, things to either make or break this country in the future. The student protests are a major player at this crossroads. Prayer changes things. Thank you for joining us in prayer for our students and universities and for all of those who are involved.