A final-year PhD in the midst of student protest

By Yonela Z. Njisane


In the beginning of this blog series (April), my editor requested a list of blog titles for all the months (up to December) we will be blogging for. When I came up with “Survival of the fittest” for the month of November, I was only thinking of the hectic time where I will be wrapping up my PhD studies, dealing with peer, supervisor and/or reviewer critiques on my work.

Little did I know that there will be more to it than just that: personal struggles and the most effective student protest I have ever witnessed in my student years.

What’s the worst that could happen?


I support my fellow students and their fights for a better education — yes, #FeesMustFall! However, I remain confused of my role in such cases as a postgraduate student — particularly a PhD candidate. I was taught, if I want to become a great researcher, I have to develop a timeline of activities, develop some sense of discipline, and stick to it. Also, it was made clear that no one will keep tabs on whether I am doing my work or not; independence is key.


So I’m confused, as nobody can really tell me what choices to make here. Am I supposed to drop all the (time sensitive) experiments in progress and join in with my brothers and sisters in the struggle? Is it fair that I find myself having to put extra hours (on top of too many hours already in place) on writing up because I missed my deadlines during the protest? These missed deadlines and lost data could actually cost me my degree.

I guess it’s true that what works for one may not work for others…

You see, everyone will fight for the exam timetable to be adjusted but no one will consider the postgraduates deadlines for qualification for a certain graduation date. Remember, that also has funding implications. And think of all the samples in specialized machinery that will go bad when students switch off power to enforce the “no one should work or study” rule, and all the delayed submission plans, such as sudden inability to print and bind a thesis in preparation for examination.

This cannot be good…car

I guess the choice to join in the protest may have been easier for me considering that I agree with the central ideas, but the movement has also turned violent in nature, which goes against my own instincts and beliefs. I’ve watched how students end up ill-treating one another during their fight “for” the very same students.

  1. Bullying: Because you are not taking part in the singing, making fires etc., then you will be harassed and threatened verbally and/or physically by those that feel they have the power to run things at the time.
  2. Holding hostage: Switching the power off all day (till those involved get bored and want to end it for the day), no way of working (my laptop doesn’t even function without power, not for a second), can’t cook in our self-catering residences nor feel safe to drive/walk to town due to the violence and police involvement.
  3. Vandalism: Destroying the very same environment and resources that you find limiting already. How are things supposed to improve after the hype? Looting is just on another level and there is no form of excuse for it, it’s pure burglary.

safetyIt seems some students (and community members) take advantage of such occasions for totally unrelated matters, to exercise their natural hooliganism. I honestly do not think it should go this way. Maybe we should try and be more accommodating on this. Just maybe, more students would join in if things were done differently. And with the management learning to attend to issues sooner than later, success cannot be determined by disorder.

Remember that, “What you allow is what will continue” (Anonymous).

6 thoughts on “Survival of the fittest

  1. This is very interesting, you actually create a mental picture and I felt like I was there too, The student protests were for a good cause but the behaviour was unacceptable.

    Liked by 1 person

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