The South African Student/Worker Uprisings in Light of Just War Theory

In Susan Booysen (ed.), FeesMustFall: Student Revolt, Decolonisation and Governance in South Africa. Wits University Press. pp. 292-308 (2016)
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I critically examine the South African university student and worker protests of 2015/2016 in light of moral principles governing the use of force that are largely uncontested in both the contemporary Western and African philosophies of just war, violence and threats. Amongst these principles are: “discrimination”, according to which force should be directed not towards innocent bystanders but instead should target those particularly responsible for injustice; “likely success”, meaning that, instead of being counter-productive, the use of force must be reasonably expected to advance a just cause; and “last resort”, which entails that only the least force necessary to rebut injustice should be employed. I invoke these and related principles to appraise a wide array of types of student/worker protests, noting which of them accorded with the principles and which did not. I also reply to defences that some South Africans have recently made of protesting with coercion and destruction.

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Thaddeus Metz
University of Pretoria


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