Our lives don’t mat­ter

CityPress - - News -

‘So when Chumani threw the s**t at the statue, black stu­dents were fi­nally, like: ‘Yes, we share that pain and it’s time we unite as black stu­dents and say we have had enough.’”

Alex Hotz of the Rhodes Must Fall move­ment at the Univer­sity of Cape Town de­scribes the mo­ment that set alight an un­prece­dented resur­gence of rad­i­cal stu­dent ac­tivism in South Africa.

Stu­dent Chumani Maxwele’s “poo protest” be­came the cat­a­lyst for a move­ment that spread to cam­puses coun­try­wide.

City Press spoke to Hotz about the early days of the move­ment, the de­mands of her “com­rades”, be­ing black at the Univer­sity of Cape Town (UCT) and what work still had to be done there.

“Things have been sim­mer­ing at UCT for a long time. Racism has been ex­pe­ri­enced con­stantly through aca­demic and fi­nan­cial ex­clu­sion. This idea of hav­ing to as­sim­i­late to be­long has also been a long-stand­ing is­sue,” said the Capeto­nian.

UCT was an un­likely ground zero for stu­dent ac­tivism, given its rep­u­ta­tion of ex­cel­lence and the en­trench­ment of a lib­eral cul­ture. But it is the very no­tion of lib­er­al­ism that Hotz said was the prob­lem.

“Un­der this guise of white lib­er­al­ism – where we preach ideals, aca­demic free­dom, free­dom of speech, non­ra­cial­ism, an­tiracism and an­ti­sex­ism – UCT ap­pears to be a bet­ter place than some­where like Stel­len­bosch, where in­ci­dents of racism are seem­ingly more ob­vi­ous.

“But there is an in­di­ca­tion in ev­ery re­sponse from man­age­ment that they re­ally don’t care about black stu­dents. Our lives don’t mat­ter here,” said Hotz.

She be­lieves the in­sti­tu­tion re­fuses to ac­knowl­edge its in­sti­tu­tional racism and the colo­nial her­itage it was built upon.

“It is that colo­nial her­itage which per­me­ates here. The univer­sity wants to pre­serve white su­prem­a­cist cul­ture. This in­sti­tu­tion sees trans­for­ma­tion as me­nial changes in the sta­tus quo, but we want to smash the sys­tem, start afresh and build a so­ci­ety, a cur­ricu­lum and an in­sti­tu­tion that we en­vi­sioned, which re­flects our ex­is­tence.”

Hotz pointed to a dis­par­ity in which black stu­dents and white stu­dents are held ac­count­able by the univer­sity.

“White stu­dents go to clubs and beat up a work­ing, black woman, or wee on a black taxi driver, but then come back to univer­sity and noth­ing hap­pens to them. But when we fight to ex­ist here, we get sus­pended and re­ceive court in­ter­dicts.”

Un­de­terred by the mixed public re­sponses, the group has kept up the fight for its cause.

There were a num­ber of mass meet­ings af­ter the poo protest. The de­ci­sion to oc­cupy UCT’s ad­min­is­tra­tive head­quar­ters – which the group re­named Aza­nia House – on cam­pus then fol­lowed.

Hotz said dur­ing the time of the oc­cu­pa­tion, stu­dents were in­tent on ed­u­cat­ing each other about them­selves.

“We were learn­ing and en­gag­ing in ro­bust de­bates around pol­i­tics and it was im­por­tant for us to fuse black con­scious­ness pol­i­tics with Pan-African­ism and black fem­i­nism. Be­cause we don’t just ex­ist as black peo­ple, we have in­ter­sec­tion­al­ity on sev­eral lev­els.”



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