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Sat Aug 27 17:21:15 SAST 2016

Student thugs have cost their cause the public's sympathy

The Times Editorial | 18 February, 2016 00:26

Sickening scenes of vandalism, arson and thuggery at the University of Cape Town this week reflect extremely poorly on the #RhodesMustFall movement, which organised the latest round of protests on the troubled campus.

There is considerable sympathy across the class and race divide for the plight of poor, mainly black, students whose families make tremendous sacrifices to pay for a university education for their children.

This was clearly demonstrated by the groundswell of public support for the largely peaceful campaign against increases in university fees at campuses around the country orchestrated under the #FeesMustFall banner.

Images of black and white students standing side by side while they faced off riot police during a peaceful demonstration outside parliament last year remain etched in the public consciousness.

The government and university authorities, caught asleep at the wheel during the fees crisis, were spurred into action and an overhaul of student funding is now under way.

Further protests are inevitable though, because acute funding shortfalls are likely to persist for years.

But student activists now have a duty to ensure that a single night of madness at UCT, authored by a small group of extremists protesting about the lack of student accommodation on the campus, is not replicated elsewhere.

No matter how legitimate one's grievances, it is never acceptable, in a democratic country, to terrorise other students through the use of slogans such as ''f**k white people'', to loot art works from residences and set them alight, to bring petrol bombs on to the campus, to torch university vehicles and to attempt to burn down the vice-chancellor's office.

The perpetrators of such deeds have forfeited the right to be called students and should face the full might of the law.

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