Social media and mainstream media have been quick to post images and videos of fires being set and violence being perpetrated during South African student protests… but where were these reporters on Wednesday night when the flames that burnt were from a candlelit vigil and the gathering was beautiful and peaceful? Photographer JUSTIN SULLIVAN offers his views…


A Vigil for History: CPUT, Bellville Campus

by Justin Sullivan

For the past month in South Africa, Universities have embarked on a movement that will be forever remembered in history.

It saddens me to think however, that this memory may be heading down the wrong path for most.

I have been documenting these protests very closely in the Cape, emerging myself deep into the complexities of both the #FeesMustFall movement and the corresponding reactions from Universities and Government.

I attended a vigil Wednesday night in the heart of CPUT (Cape Peninsula University of Technology) campus, where about 100 students stood in prayer and song for PEACE.


Through the many media reports of violence and damage to property, it seems the public views have been swayed in favour of putting an end to these protests… My first question is, where was the media Wednesday night when the most beautiful part of this movement was happening?

And are our opinions valid? Have each and everyone one of us taken the slightest step toward formulating a manner of thinking away from written sources? Every story is filtered through someone else’s interpretation.

There is a reason why I haven’t posted photo albums or written on the topic as I usually do with Current Affairs – the foundation of this movement goes deeper than our preconceived ideologies and prior experiences of South Africa.

It is so easy to sit behind your laptop and condemn violent behaviour, telling the world your opinion and how burning a bus is making the situation worse.

Well your misinformed condemnation of violence is so inappropriately skewed by the media reports you read.

Violence is not the answer, and it is certainly not the intention of this movement. It is an indication of the severity of the situation and how desperate the cry is for help.

The media struggles to convey this message, but most of the violence has been proven to be responsible by individuals distant to the movement.


You cannot formulate a complete understanding of student demands or anything about this movement until you have been on campus, listening to the protesting students, listening to the non-protesting students, listening to the academics, the politicians and finally experiencing the conditions in which most South Africans have and currently live in.

Our Universities have not been progressive since Apartheid, and the few that have made exceptional changes in structure, academic inclusion and policy, are still lacking a sense of compassion and understanding.

Apartheid may be over, but it seems we are still struggling to move toward an equal society.

We as South Africans need to change the way we think, about our neighbours, our work colleagues and the every day human we pass by.

We need to become uncomfortable with our situation in order to identify every challenge we face as a society today.


Arriving at CPUT last night, I was scared.

I had seen the destruction on campus and I was alone walking the streets at night.

“Come in brother, you are with us”

Coming across the vigil, I stood outside too nervous to walk in. The door opened and a student said, “Come in brother, you are with us”.

This peaceful gathering forms the core of the FeesMustFall Movement.

These students want peace, they want equality and they want a better future for South Africa…

And just because their demands may seem unattainable to some, since when have we as individuals ever demanded the ordinary?

I am writing this post with a heavy heart, because I know there is so much pain in our country, and so much more pain is to come.

I have seen thousands of tweets and posts about people condemning the violence, but where were your opinions before?

Why weren’t you condemning the structures that exclude poor students? Why weren’t you condemning the still existent colonialism in our country? Why weren’t you condemning the extreme poverty that is still not being addressed properly?

Most importantly, why are most of us not doing the best we can?

I know I’m not, and that needs to change. In my opinion, we need to stop ranting about the violence and contemplate the actions and thought processes that led us to this point.


The concept of violence can be identified in many ways, mostly through physical actions such as burning, fighting and vandalism…

But I think to myself sometimes – Violence exists more in our everyday thought patterns and conversations, than has ever existed in the physical world of protests.

We don’t need to feel guilty about our past, we need to embrace and act on the endless possibilities and opportunities we have to make this country better for all.

We need to start understanding each other, paving a route for constructive and proactive conversation that will give opportunity to all.

We are all so different, in Culture, Religion, Skin Colour and Physique. Saying we are all the same is a fallacy…

But saying we can all live together in the same place, with the same rights, with equality and in peace, is true.

Violence is not the answer…

Violence is not the answer.

Watch CPUT Vigil for Peace – Original South African National Anthem

Thank you to all the CPUT students that made me feel so welcome. My prayers are with all of you, as well as the academics and government officials who have challenging decisions to make moving forward.

MORE:  SullivanPhotography

All Photos © Justin Sullivan at CPUT Bellville Campus, 12 October 2016