Most of South Africa’s main universities are currently closed.
What started as a movement against higher education fee increases, has turned into a violent protest. University students have been seen hurling stones – in some cases, rocks – at private security, public order police, and their counterparts who may not share their view. And suddenly the movement is not only demanding free education – it now calls for ‘decolonised education’, without necessarily providing a definition of what that really means. But that is a topic for another time.
This time last year – when the movement first surfaced – the protests enjoyed widespread support, but it soon became clear that the motivation wasn’t just about fees. The goalposts kept shifting, and now people have had enough. At Wits University in Johannesburg, a poll was held. And 77% of students voted to continue studying and to finish the year. Sadly, the poll result did not necessarily bring an end to the violence. The current news cycle consists of students and police clashing, rocks flying and reporters dodging the rubber bullets.
In the midst of the chaos, what role should Christians play?
While we subscribe to the law of the land, we always first consult the Bible. When we do, the Bible is very clear that whatever our actions, they must always comply with the law of the land. (Romans 13 is a great chapter to read for this)
When one considers the law of the land, the South African Constitution states that everyone has the right to peaceful protest. However, section 36 of the South African Constitution is also very clear that while the people have rights, their rights cannot infringe on those of others. This means you lose your right to protest when your protest turns violent, because it infringes on the next person’s right to move about freely.
So what are the believers to do?
We are to be the bringers of peace.
The Message version of the Bible puts it quite plainly:
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
Whatever your views on the cause, you have a responsibility to represent heaven in the best possible way. And this means to bring peace. I understand it is a conundrum for some of my friends who feel the what is at stake is much higher. But that conundrum cannot outweigh our role in being the example we are called to be.
So how do we become bringers of peace?
1 Timothy is another great chapter to start:
The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Saviour God wants us to live.
[1 Timothy 2:1-3 MSG]
We must pray.
We must live it.
Don’t just pray it, stop hurling the rock. And if it isn’t the rock in your hand, don’t fuel the flames of violence through your tongue. The books of James reminds us that there is power of life and death in the tongue. What we say, reflects what is in our heart. People don’t just watch what you do, they listen to what you say.
Let us be the examples God is calling us to be, as we search for peaceful solutions to many of our challenges.