On Tuesday night, retired Constitutional Court justice Zak Yacoob said, “university students must learn from how the struggle was won almost entirely through passive resistance to make society ungovernable.
He said he sympathised with where students were, but violence should never be on the cards.
“Our struggle, apart from Sharpeville and two other incidents, was non-violent,” he said, delivering the ninth annual Imam Haron memorial lecture in Lansdowne.
He said thousands protested peacefully. They were only driven to violence when government banned political organisations.
Even then, the violence was carefully controlled and it had been important to develop strength through peaceful means.
Yacoob was an anti-apartheid activist and retired as a Constitutional Court justice in 2013, after a 15-year stint.
“Uncontrolled anger has got nobody anywhere in any struggle in the world,” he said.
“Young people have got to control that anger, they have got to ensure there are more gains than loses in every move. Ultimately, the struggle has to be managed with absolute discipline and care.”
He felt they would achieve a great deal more if they got 30 000 students to stand silently in protest for five hours.
Protesting students needed to get non-protesting students and society at large on their side.
Should be honest
“I have not heard a statement from student leaders to say that nobody will be forced not to attend lectures or not write their tests… saying we will make sure that we will provide that protection.”
Student leaders should be honest.
He felt former Wits University SRC leader Mcebo Dlamini’s comment in court about needing bail to write a test insulted the intelligence of all citizens.
Government and university officials also needed to be honest. They could not expect students to respect and obey them when they were corrupt.
“Their demands would not have been as vehement as they are now if corruption in our society is not so endemic, obvious, and cancerous.”
At the same time, he said it was wrong to say universities were exactly as they were during apartheid.
“The position in our bush colleges was much, much worse than they are today. In a sense, we must learn to appreciate how far we have come before we can make demands.”
Yacoob reflected on the journey the education sector had taken since 1994.
“Nobody has seriously taken stock of what we need to do,” he mused.
“We are wonderfully great at producing white papers. White papers would say wonderful things,” he said to laughter from the half-filled hall.
The problems were very serious and everyone, not just government, had to have a say.
His suggestion was to come together to determine what the needs of the education system were in practical terms.
“It can’t take Einstein to develop a system to deliver textbooks on time or for each teacher at a school to teach properly.”
There was a level at which the State had an obligation to make even tertiary education available to everyone.
He said the State serviced more people today than 1994 and there was every justification to