An apartheid hang­over

CityPress - - News -

The Black Stu­dent Move­ment at Rhodes Univer­sity started out in sol­i­dar­ity with the Rhodes Must Fall cam­paign, the rad­i­cal stu­dent protest at the Univer­sity of Cape Town that ag­i­tated for the re­moval of the statue of Ce­cil John Rhodes.

At Rhodes, the group gave City Press ac­cess to one of its mem­bers un­der con­di­tion of anonymity, say­ing they feared vic­tim­i­sa­tion of their mem­bers from man­age­ment af­ter a tense stand­off be­tween the two groups.

The mem­ber is a post­grad­u­ate stu­dent from an East Lon­don town­ship. He en­rolled at the in­sti­tu­tion so he could save on travel ex­penses, but was also at­tracted by its rep­u­ta­tion of aca­demic ex­cel­lence. Although he has no re­grets about en­rolling at the univer­sity, he says he has found the in­sti­tu­tion to be prob­lem­atic from his first day.

“Things got off to a bad start dur­ing ori­en­ta­tion week, where the lived ex­pe­ri­ence of black stu­dents was that of be­ing to­tally iso­lated.

“You find your­self in an en­vi­ron­ment of white­ness, where white stu­dents who went to pri­vate or for­mer Model C schools feel to­tally com­fort­able with the ac­tiv­i­ties. You im­me­di­ately be­come aware of how dif­fer­ent your back­ground is.

“So, com­ing from a lowly fam­ily and a public school, I felt alien­ated from the be­gin­ning. In res­i­dence, I can­not ex­press my­self in my home lan­guage at house meet­ings. If I try to ex­press my­self in isiXhosa, I get the sense that it sym­bol­ises some sort of a lack of in­tel­lec­tual ca­pa­bil­ity to the house com­mit­tee and other stu­dents.”

The Black Stu­dent Move­ment has had a dra­matic few days, start­ing with its oc­cu­pa­tion of an ad­min­is­tra­tive build­ing on Wed­nes­day last week.

It called for another plan for stu­dents who can’t af­ford to go home for the short hol­i­day pe­riod. On Fri­day, they tried to in­ter­rupt a se­nate meet­ing, but the venue was changed five min­utes be­fore it was sched­uled to be­gin.

The group then marched to a new lo­ca­tion, where mem­bers of the po­lice dog unit were called in, al­legedly by the univer­sity.

Over the week­end and the days that fol­lowed, the group also dis­rupted the High­way Africa con­fer­ence hosted an­nu­ally by the univer­sity.

“When we speak about in­sti­tu­tional cul­ture, we are not only re­fer­ring to the name of the in­sti­tu­tion, although it is im­por­tant be­cause of the sym­bolic vi­o­lence of that per­son [Rhodes].”

The group refers to the in­sti­tu­tion in all its com­mu­ni­ca­tions and meet­ings as “this univer­sity cur­rently known as Rhodes”. The group says it wants to be heard. “We are speak­ing, but we are not heard. Our strug­gles are triv­i­alised. The in­sti­tu­tion is still strug­gling from an apartheid hang­over.

“In 1976, they tried to dele­git­imise the strug­gle of stu­dents and that is what we are see­ing again,” said the stu­dent.

The resur­gence of stu­dent ac­tivism has brought with it – or per­haps be­cause of it – a new wave of black con­scious­ness that has been present in sim­i­lar move­ments at some of the top aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions through­out South Africa.



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