We can’t pretend
It has been an eventful week for Stellenbosch University. Its management was in Parliament on Tuesday, accused of failing to bring about transformation. At the same time, scores of students held a protest on campus calling for change.
There is no doubt that renewed attention to student activism can be traced back to the release of Luister, the documentary highlighting the plight of black students at the university.
City Press spoke to Sikhulekile Duma, a member of Open Stellenbosch, about the demands of the group and the commitment to bringing about radical change at the institution.
“I call this the year of student activism. Students and South Africa are looking at where we should be – the South Africa we should have got post-1994 – the promises we have been given and we are realising it is not happening,” he said.
“It comes with age, and the people who were supposed to benefit from the rainbow nation project are waking up and finding it is not the case.”
Duma made news this year when he was involved in a brawl with white students at a McDonald’s outlet in Stellenbosch after defending the staff who, he says, were being verbally abused.
Later in the year, he received a racist SMS from a physics lecturer.
He is disillusioned by the dwindling numbers of black students each year on campus because of academic, financial, language and other exclusions.
“I am conditioned to the fact that when I come back next year, there will be people I won’t see. We can’t pretend that seeing people fail is normal. We can’t pretend that people go home and their chances of success are diminished because of the language they must engage with. We are running out of time. I don’t want to see fewer black students in January because of the policy.”
Duma said there was a concerted effort to dismiss Open Stellenbosch as troublemakers.
The group is locked in a stalemate with university management, which insists that they establish a leadership structure to engage formally with the university, but the group refuses. Duma said they did not have a leadership hierarchy because they were avoiding being targeted as individuals. They act as a collective so everyone can remain equal.
“A black student movement gives black people a space to use their voice and speak up so it is important that everyone has their space, which you can’t do when there are leaders.”
Duma said despite attending schools with mainly white pupils his entire life, Stellenbosch was immediately different for him.
“My first experience in residence was problematic. I was limited in who I could be because of Afrikaans domination. I was othered and seen as different, so suddenly I was not considered normal for the first time in my country ... All of these things happening in the first two to three weeks, and my rainbow nation mind was trying to figure out what was comfortable and uncomfortable.”
VOCAL Sikhulekile Duma