‘Sit up and lis­ten’

Pro­fes­sor says the protests by stu­dents at univer­si­ties high­light the fail­ure of the older gen­er­a­tion to com­plete the revo­lu­tion in a post-apartheid SA

CityPress - - News - S’THEM­BILE CELE sthem­bile.cele@city­press.co.za

The new wave of stu­dent ac­tivism has been char­ac­terised by a strong black con­scious­ness theme, a fierce rejection of the rain­bow na­tion rhetoric, protest ac­tion and the un­apolo­getic dis­rup­tion of univer­si­ties.

Simphiwe Se­santi, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of jour­nal­ism, media and phi­los­o­phy at the Nel­son Man­dela Metropoli­tan Univer­sity in Port El­iz­a­beth, said the stu­dents’ ac­tions pointed to the fail­ure of the older gen­er­a­tion to “com­plete the revo­lu­tion”.

“Any­thing that is left in­com­plete is al­ways bound to resur­face. In 1994, there was a haste to speak about what we are not, in­stead of speak­ing about what we are. I’m re­fer­ring to the con­cept of non­ra­cial­ism,” he said.

“Africans found them­selves in a sys­tem that had al­ready been there, which had been con­structed and per­fected by white peo­ple. In this sys­tem, black peo­ple were wel­comed in. They lived by the stan­dards and on the ba­sis of white peo­ple.”

Se­santi said con­tribut­ing to this state of af­fairs was the re­al­i­sa­tion by many black stu­dents that as they came closer to their pro­fes­sional lives, their prospects were bleak – even though they were ar­tic­u­late and well ed­u­cated.

Se­santi was not sur­prised by the emo­tions that had been sim­mer­ing for a long time and were ig­nited by ac­tivist Chumani Maxwele, who threw fae­ces at the statue of Ce­cil John Rhodes at the Univer­sity of Cape Town.

Although the older gen­er­a­tion had wit­nessed South Africa’s history of stu­dent ac­tivism in the 1970s and 1980s, it was now silent. Many dis­missed

COBUS PRINSLOO, Graphics24 the new move­ment as a pass­ing phase that could not com­pare to the fight against apartheid.

Se­santi ad­mit­ted that older black voices had been silent. “The re­al­ity with the older gen­er­a­tion is that we re­alise we have not taken the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment to its con­clu­sion. So when these young black peo­ple raise the short­falls of our revo­lu­tion, some of these [older gen­er­a­tion] are hav­ing their con­sciences pricked. We are feel­ing guilty be­cause we know we did not com­plete the process. In­stead, we were as­sim­i­lated,” he said.

“It has got to do with a sense of em­bar­rass­ment and a sense of shame that these young peo­ple are ex­pos­ing us to the truth that what has been tak­ing place has been a façade.

“It is not gen­uine; we have not ar­rived. We don’t want to con­front the kinds of truths these young peo­ple are ad­vanc­ing. The best way for us to es­cape this is to con­demn them be­cause, if they are right, what are we do­ing to sup­port them?”

All the stu­dent move­ments in­ter­viewed told City Press they had no lead­er­ship struc­tures and acted as a col­lec­tive. They said col­lec­tive lead­er­ship pro­tected in­di­vid­u­als from be­ing tar­geted by univer­sity man­age­ment.

Se­santi said: “What it re­veals is that there is an el­e­ment of mis­trust. The stu­dents feel a sense of pow­er­less­ness, which is a re­al­ity for them.

“In this state of pow­er­less­ness, they want to cre­ate a sense of sol­i­dar­ity that is go­ing to pro­tect them.

“Lead­ers of in­sti­tu­tions need to take proac­tive mea­sures to sug­gest what can and needs to be done, and in­vite these stu­dents to par­tic­i­pate in ac­tiv­i­ties that will ad­dress the is­sues. They need to pro­vide a guar­an­tee that stu­dents will not be vic­timised if they came for­ward and ex­pressed them­selves.”

Se­santi said con­demn­ing the stu­dents’ ac­tions alien­ated them even fur­ther.

“We don’t know the kinds of lives they are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, the psy­cho­log­i­cal pain, the emo­tional dif­fi­cul­ties they are go­ing through.

“So, in­stead of con­demn­ing them, we should lis­ten and un­der­stand them first. From there, we can be­gin to raise a moral voice.”

He said as long as the stu­dents’ con­cerns were ig­nored, the ac­tivism move­ment would con­tinue.

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