My Facebook feed has been alive with the accusations that the #FeesMustFall students burnt down an auditorium at the University of Johannesburg. Most of these accusations stem from the statement made from the university. When I attended that fine institution I learnt about something very important, and it is this: In this country, we have a presumption of innocence. I also learned about the burden of proof and that the burden rests on the accuser, not on the accused.
The University of Johannesburg has made some pretty intense allegations without providing proof and it is our job as society to question the absence of proof. A number of friends, and former alumni have said that they believe the university would never do anything untoward and surely would not make unfounded accusations. I would like to believe that too, but belief is not proof. And the more serious the allegations are the more convincing proof required.
I am friends with Tracey Lomax, who posted the following on Facebook:
The allegations that #FeesMustFall activists caused the fire at UJ are ones which I find personally disturbing, because many of the people who are being tainted with the “arson” brush are students that I have worked with, and who have long denounced the destruction of property as a way to make their point.
It is, however, an awfully good way to make students lose credibility in the eyes of the public. Something which the Universities would find extremely helpful.
I have not been able to find an official statement regarding the following about the fact that there is no CCTV footage in the areas around the fire:
Bouncers where about 2 lose their jobs b4 the Fire and now they still keep the jobs bcoz of #UjFire mmm Protection Services has no CCTV Yoh
— #UjFire (@UjEntertainment) May 16, 2016
I hope that the fire at UJ was actually accidental. If it is proved not to be, then those responsible need to be held accountable by a court of law, not the court of public opinion or social media.
I hope that the students and faculty and administrators find a way to engage on the main issues surrounding #FeesMustFall. For the purpose of clarification, the main issues about #FeesMustFall are:
- Affordable and accessible quality education for all
- The end of outsourcing
- The decolonization of institutions
In a number of ways, the #FeesMustFall movement is a call to realize the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights. And that is something worth remembering and advocating for.