We live in a constitutional democracy, the achievement of centuries of struggle and sacrifice by countless South Africans, especially Black South Africans. Our Constitution is based, above all, on the achievement of equality, dignity and freedom for all, and government under law. We are particularly privileged to enjoy the right of free expression, which does not include advocacy of hatred based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion (section 15), and the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions (section 17). We unreservedly endorse the values of the Constitution, and these rights.
We also recognise the profound and devastating effects of past practices of exploitation based primarily on race and class, and stress the urgency of our commitment to address them, within the university and beyond.
We further acknowledge that many of the concerns highlighted by the student movements over the last year are of national significance, particularly the issues relating to designated groups having access to opportunities to study and work at institutions of higher learning and to thrive successfully at those institutions. However, we do not condone unlawful, violent and morally reprehensible modes of protest that among others, manifest in racist speak and action, as well as acts of violence against persons and property. Members of this faculty have as recently as October condemned the use of excessive force by the SAPS, and this view still holds.
Consistent with that stance, we therefore condemn, without qualification, the following acts, performed on the university’s campuses during the past two weeks:
1. The petrol-bombing and destruction of the Vice-Chancellor’s office.
2. The destruction by stoning and burning of vehicles on the campus.
3. The removal of artworks and memorial plaques from various University buildings and their destruction by burning.
4. The invasion of Smuts and Fuller Halls and the instruction, issued during the invasion, that “white” students [some reports stated “coloured” and Indian students too] should leave the dining halls as they were not welcome there.
5. The wearing of a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Kill All Whites” in a university dining hall.
Our condemnation of these acts does not entail our condemnation of the aims that they were intended to achieve. However, those aims, even in so far as meritorious, do not – indeed cannot – justify these acts.
Nor does our condemnation of these acts entail that we reject robust, even temporarily disruptive, protest as a legitimate form of political expression. However, free expression has its limits. And those limits were exceeded by these acts.
In so far as the acts listed are criminal, we support the pressing of charges against, and the prosecution of, the perpetrators and the institution of disciplinary proceedings against any University student who performed or participated in these acts, or incited or otherwise helped others to perform them.
We are especially outraged by the petrol-bombing of the Vice Chancellor's office. To the extent that this was an attack on the Vice Chancellor in his official capacity, we take it to be an attack on every one of us. To the extent that the effects of the attack will be personally felt by the Vice Chancellor, both in the loss of his private possessions and documents, and in the sense of personal violation that such attack must engender, we would like to express to him our sympathy and concern.
We would like to express our continued confidence in and support of the Vice-Chancellor and his leadership team, and acknowledge the immense patience and considerable effort they have put into resolving the current crisis.
Pierre de Vos
Wouter de Vos
Rochelle le Roux
Lee Ann Tong
Elrena Van Der Spuy