Holy cows to the SLAUGH­TER

Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity’s con­vo­ca­tion speech was ex­pected to be rec­on­cil­ia­tory. In­stead, his­tory was made

CityPress - - News - S’THEM­BILE CELE sthem­bile.cele@city­press.co.za by S’them­bile Cele

The first black woman to ad­dress the Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity con­vo­ca­tion was, by and large, ex­pected to pen a rec­on­cil­ia­tory ad­dress.

She spoke to a pre­dom­i­nantly white au­di­ence, who were en­cour­aged to come in droves by Afri-Fo­rum and other alumni to en­sure the con­ser­va­tive vote pre­vailed. Per­haps they would have pre­ferred it if she had spo­ken about hot sum­mer days in the Boland sip­ping chilled white wine. Per­haps they ex­pected jokes about learn­ing to sokkie and a re­flec­tion on the strides made at the in­sti­tu­tion in the quest for trans­for­ma­tion.

But as Lau­rel Thatcher Ulrich once said, well-be­haved women sel­dom make his­tory. In less than 25 min­utes, Nige­ri­an­born and East­ern Cape-raised Love­lyn Chid­inma Nnenne Nwadeyi barged her way into the univer­sity’s his­tory books.

She used her flaw­less Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa to slaugh­ter all of the in­sti­tu­tion’s holy cows, call­ing it out on its tributes to the ar­chi­tects of apartheid and the use of Afrikaans as a means to ex­clude and op­press.

“I know that a lot of peo­ple who know me were ex­pect­ing me to do the whole kum­baya thing. I am known as a per­son of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and unity build­ing, and that is a part of me. But this was a dif­fer­ent mo­ment,” said Nwadeyi of the speech, which, by yes­ter­day, had at­tracted more than 32 000 views on­line and count­less shares on so­cial me­dia.

The con­vo­ca­tion was sup­posed to sit on Novem­ber 5, but was post­poned un­til last week be­cause of stu­dent protests, which saw Nwadeyi on the front lines.

Dur­ing the #FeesMustFall protests, she was there in the early hours of the morn­ing, ne­go­ti­at­ing po­litely with po­lice of­fi­cers and fu­ri­ous mo­torists, urg­ing them not to as­sault or run over stu­dents bar­ri­cad­ing roads with their bod­ies.

Ever prag­matic, the in­ter­na­tional stud­ies mas­ter’s grad­u­ate was re­garded by univer­sity au­thor­i­ties and her fel­low stu­dents alike as a voice of rea­son. When she spoke, the stu­dents called her mbokodo, a sign of re­spect to their res­o­lute fe­male leader.

On the fourth day of the protests, she de­liv­ered an im­pas­sioned speech at mid­night to thou­sands of stu­dents who had come from the res­i­dences to hear what the pro­test­ers had to say. It was her birth­day, and the crowd started off by singing to her.

She told them: “I am go­ing to say some­thing and I need you to ac­cept it in the cor­rect spirit. My dear white friends, we can’t have you show­ing up at night and not show up dur­ing the day. This is the truth about what I am say­ing.

“To­mor­row is the last day of the week and it may be the last chance for us to force man­age­ment to ac­cept the terms we have given them, so we need this turnout to con­vince them.

“We can no longer be seen as a group of noisy and lazy black stu­dents; it is not ac­cept­able. This is all about unity.”

Un­til then, about 200 stu­dents had taken part in the protests. The next day, there were more than 1 000.

For Nwadeyi, be­ing an out­sider at the white-dom­i­nated Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity was not her first brush with alien­ation. Born in La­gos, she came to Queen­stown in the East­ern Cape as a small child speak­ing only English and Igbo.

In a blog post last year, in which she dealt with xeno­pho­bia and why South Africans shouldn’t blame for­eign­ers for “steal­ing” their jobs, she wrote: “For the first three years of my life in South Africa, my lit­tle brother and I barely saw my dad more than twice a month.

“What was he do­ing ab­sent from the home other than sell­ing pil­low­cases, du­vets and bed­sheets, go­ing door to door on foot through the streets, vil­lages and side roads of the old Transkei and Ciskei?

“My father would leave the house on Mon­day morn­ings af­ter he and my mum got us ready for school. And he would be gone for days and weeks, sell­ing the few pil­low­cases and bed­sheets. On foot. We were never sure when he would re­turn. But when he did, we were al­ways more grate­ful for his safety and alive­ness than any­thing else.”

She has her par­ents to thank for her work ethic – both of them grad­u­ated from Wal­ter Sisulu Univer­sity with diplo­mas of their own.

“I got my first job when I was 11 years old. I worked on the school bus in my town. I col­lected money for the bus driver, wrote out re­ceipts and kept or­der on the bus. I didn’t get paid much, but it helped me learn that noth­ing comes easy; I learnt to be re­spon­si­ble and ac­count­able to some­one else.”

Her chameleon-like abil­ity to fit in in any so­cial group pre­pared her for life at Stel­len­bosch. But she fi­nally found her­self up against a brick wall while in Cape Town’s Camps Bay dur­ing “blik skut” – col­lect­ing money from mo­torists for the first-year stu­dents’ char­ity fundraiser.

“For the first time in the his­tory of Love­lyn Chid­inma Nnenne Nwadeyi’s life, I was called a ‘k****r’ to my face. And that night at res at a skake­l­ing [so­cial], two Afrikaans boys who one of my friends in­tro­duced me to re­fused to shake my hand dur­ing the in­tro­duc­tion,” she wrote in an­other blog post.

“I died. I died 1 000 times.”

My dear white friends, we can’t have you show­ing up at night and not show up dur­ing the day. This is the truth about what I am say­ing

PHOTO: NASIEF MANIE

PROVOCA­TIVE Love­lyn Nwadeyi

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