We can’t pre­tend

CityPress - - News -

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

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