Serving white interests
The movement to transform Wits University has mostly been overshadowed by the public spats between students and vice-chancellor Adam Habib.
Speaking to student Vuyani Pambo, the narrative of black students feeling unwelcome at the institution is much the same as at other universities.
The Soweto-born honours student went to high school in Sandton, and was raised by a single mother and a grandmother.
He is a member of Transform Wits, which also seeks to change what it sees as a culture that alienates black students at the university.
“Black students have to grapple with this sense of displacement that is violent and belittling, to a point where they internalise it, and think and believe it themselves.
“As a result, they fail to fully participate in ways that could enhance and develop their talents,” said Pambo.
Pambo has also clashed with Habib in his capacity as chairperson of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) branch at Wits.
A few weeks ago, Habib suspended the EFF branch and some of its members who were involved in an altercation during a debate on the election of members of the students’ representative council.
The political party took the university to court and the suspensions were lifted.
But Pambo’s issue with Habib is not solely a political matter.
“Management has been pretending to be listening to our calls and has been dragging its feet. We have a vice-chancellor who has been at the heart of a cosmopolitan residence policy, yet reserves beds for white students at the expense of black students.
“The same vice-chancellor talks about increasing the number of white students on campus to 30%, when the reality is that this number does not reflect the demographics of the country.”
Of all the movements, Transform Wits is the most politicised in terms of the role of political parties being active and present in student politics.
Despite this, the concerns of black students remain much the same.
“The curriculum that we get from these institutions is alienating. Black students cannot find themselves in the literature they read. Africa is provincialised. This is to mean that Africa as a subject matter is dealt with from a Western gaze and very little reading is done on Africa from an African perspective.
“The university has ceased to be a place for thinking and rethinking, but has become a place in which we blacks get trained to serve white interests.
“We need more black lecturers, especially female lecturers, an Afrocentric curriculum and more student activism,” said Pambo.
The movement has also placed an emphasis on the workers and cleaners at the campus.
“Workers [cleaners and ground staff] continue to be invisible in this space.
“Campus-control security staff members have not been paid their night-shift allowances dating back to 2005 – and there are no consequences for the university,” said Pambo.
Black POLITICS Vuyani Pambo