How Shackville started a war

As stu­dent protests reignited coun­try­wide, UCT was at the epi­cen­tre. A shack erected in protest was de­mol­ished, and flames and run­ning bat­tles en­sued. Here, UCT’s Pro­fes­sor Fran­cis Petersen and Rhodes Must Fall ac­tivist Wanelisa Al­bert of­fer two per­specti

CityPress - - Voices - Pro­fes­sor Fran­cis Petersen Wanelisa Al­bert

The new aca­demic year be­gan at the Univer­sity of Cape Town (UCT) on Mon­day. On the same day, Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) pro­test­ers erected a shack in Res­i­dence Road, be­tween two res­i­dence halls. They were high­light­ing a very real, press­ing need for more on-cam­pus hous­ing at UCT. Though the univer­sity sup­ports le­git­i­mate protest, and we had no prob­lem with RMF’s mes­sage, the shack it­self dis­rupted traf­fic, cre­ated safety and health chal­lenges, and af­fected the func­tion­ing of the univer­sity. RMF re­jected nu­mer­ous of­fers to en­gage with mem­bers of the UCT ex­ec­u­tive. So, we de­liv­ered a let­ter to in­form them that we needed the shack to be moved about 20 me­tres away, where it would still be prom­i­nent. The pro­test­ers re­fused, mak­ing it nec­es­sary for se­cu­rity per­son­nel to dis­man­tle the shack.

The pro­test­ers’ re­sponse re­ceived wide cov­er­age. They petrol-bombed the vice-chan­cel­lor’s of­fice; in­tim­i­dated stu­dents and staff, in­clud­ing in­ci­dents of as­sault; they en­gaged in van­dal­ism and burnt four ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing a Jam­mie Shut­tle that pro­vided free trans­port for stu­dents. The irony is that UCT was will­ing to see the Shackville protest con­tinue be­cause we agree that hous­ing is a fun­da­men­tal need for stu­dents.

In any univer­sity any­where in the world, only some stu­dents are ac­com­mo­dated on cam­pus; the rest live else­where. UCT has a stu­dent pop­u­la­tion of more than 27 000, but only 6 800 beds, for which we gen­er­ally re­ceive more than 6 800 ap­pli­ca­tions each year. We have found it nec­es­sary to over­al­lo­cate beds, be­cause a cer­tain num­ber of stu­dents tend to turn down res­i­dence of­fers each year. At the same time, be­cause of the high num­ber of ap­pli­cants, ev­ery year there are anx­ious stu­dents on the res­i­dence wait­ing list.

UCT’s res­i­dence ad­mis­sions pol­icy gives strong pref­er­ence to stu­dents on fi­nan­cial aid, be­cause liv­ing in res is usu­ally cheaper than liv­ing off cam­pus. We also give pref­er­ence to young stu­dents – those who are not yet 18 – and those from out­side of Cape Town. Only about 150 places are al­lo­cated to stu­dents who live in Cape Town, to en­sure that we have a di­ver­sity of peo­ple in res­i­dence – ge­o­graph­i­cally, aca­dem­i­cally and so­cioe­co­nom­i­cally.

This year, UCT’s stu­dent hous­ing of­fice faced a “per­fect storm”. To be­gin with, an un­usu­ally high pro­por­tion of stu­dents ac­cepted their hous­ing of­fers for 2016. Se­condly, a large num­ber stayed in res through Jan­uary to take their de­ferred ex­ams, which were of­fered when the fees protest in­ter­fered with UCT op­er­a­tions dur­ing the exam pe­riod in Novem­ber 2015. Thirdly, we re­ceived re­quests for as­sis­tance from a num­ber of stu­dents who ei­ther had not been suc­cess­ful in ap­ply­ing for ac­com­mo­da­tion, or who had not ap­plied for it at all, but who had no other liv­ing ar­range­ments. And fi­nally, RMF pro­test­ers oc­cu­pied the stu­dent hous­ing of­fice for three days, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for staff to do their jobs.

De­spite th­ese ob­sta­cles, we found ac­com­mo­da­tion for ev­ery­one who had re­ceived an of­fer in res­i­dence through the for­mal ap­pli­ca­tion process. We also man­aged to find off-cam­pus ac­com­mo­da­tion for more than 2 000 ad­di­tional stu­dents. As of last Wed­nes­day, there re­mained about 50 stu­dents in tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion that was be­ing paid for by UCT while we helped them look for some­thing more per­ma­nent.

RMF has claimed that black stu­dents are be­ing ex­cluded from res hous­ing, but more than 75% of our rooms are al­lo­cated to black stu­dents. This pro­por­tion has risen year on year.

UCT agrees on the chal­lenges of trans­for­ma­tion that RMF has raised. We’ve tried many times to en­gage with RMF and ex­plain the is­sues in­volved in their de­mand for more stu­dent hous­ing – a de­mand we sup­port, be­cause it has been found that stu­dents who stay in res tend to per­form bet­ter aca­dem­i­cally. But we can­not en­gage with vi­o­lence.

Petersen is a deputy vice-chan­cel­lor at UCT

Peo­ple seem to think de­coloni­sa­tion is about ral­ly­ing peace­fully around stat­ues while we wait for colo­nial ad­min­is­tra­tors to take them down. De­coloni­sa­tion is the self­dis­cov­ery of the na­tives’ hu­man­ity and the strug­gle to de­stroy the sys­tem that con­tin­u­ously de­hu­man­ises them through ex­ces­sive vi­o­lence. The Univer­sity of Cape Town (UCT) forms part of this anti-Black sys­tem. How­ever, even though it ab­solves it­self from coloni­sa­tion and apartheid, the fact that it is built on stolen land, re­ceived state fund­ing and con­sulted colo­nial gov­ern­ments on how to fur­ther sub­ju­gate Black peo­ple proves its very foun­da­tion is held firm by the bones of en­slaved and dis­pos­sessed Black peo­ple.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, to­day UCT opens its doors to Black stu­dents with two con­di­tions: as­sim­i­late into white­ness and ac­tively par­tic­i­pate in anti-Black­ness, or die. Many Black stu­dents leave the univer­sity in body bags due to high rates of sui­cide be­cause of a racist in­sti­tu­tional cul­ture, un­rea­son­able aca­demic de­mands and the alien­at­ing en­vi­ron­ment. There are a grow­ing num­ber of Black stu­dents liv­ing with de­pres­sion and other men­tal ill­nesses. How does an in­sti­tu­tion that has paid R2 mil­lion on pri­vate se­cu­rity in four months only have four psy­chol­o­gists to at­tend to 27 000 stu­dents?

It is this cri­sis, ac­com­pa­nied by the hous­ing, fi­nan­cial and aca­demic ex­clu­sions, that forced Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) to take rad­i­cal ac­tion. Af­ter the de­ferred ex­ams, the univer­sity started kick­ing Black stu­dents out of res­i­dences while, si­mul­ta­ne­ously, poor Black first-years were ar­riv­ing to dis­cover they were home­less. This hap­pened af­ter a se­rial rapist had at­tacked five women on cam­pus in one month. In re­sponse, RMF oc­cu­pied an ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing and forced man­age­ment to find al­ter­na­tive, hu­mane ac­com­mo­da­tion for stu­dents. More stu­dents kept reach­ing out to RMF for help, but the univer­sity had evicted RMF and it no longer had the re­sources to help. Man­age­ment con­tin­ued to an­tag­o­nise RMF with pri­vate se­cu­rity, vice-chan­cel­lor Max Price re­fused to en­gage with RMF, and the in­sti­tu­tion re­fused to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for its on­go­ing cri­sis.

On Mon­day, RMF erected a shack on cam­pus in protest. It was called Shackville: Home­less at UCT. As more stu­dents be­came home­less, and fi­nan­cially and aca­dem­i­cally ex­cluded, Shackville gained in­creas­ing rel­e­vance. The next day, two se­nior man­agers ap­proached RMF with a warn­ing to re­move the shack in an hour or se­cu­rity would re­move it by force.

UCT, while re­fus­ing to reg­is­ter stu­dents due to fi­nan­cial and aca­demic ex­clu­sion, in­creas­ing homelessness, the deaths of three stu­dents in one month and a se­rial rapist on cam­pus, de­cided the most plau­si­ble so­lu­tion was to threaten pained stu­dents? Nat­u­rally, stu­dents felt un­der­mined and an­tag­o­nised, re­sult­ing in the sym­bolic burn­ing of colo­nial paint­ings in de­fi­ance. The po­lice fired stun grenades and rubber bul­lets at un­armed stu­dents for three hours. Pri­vate se­cu­rity kid­napped and vi­o­lently as­saulted one stu­dent, who is part of RMF but was not at the protest. Through­out the night, po­lice es­ca­lated the vi­o­lence (even shoot­ing at stu­dents who were not protest­ing). As a re­sult, stu­dents burnt a UCT ve­hi­cle and the of­fice of the vice-chan­cel­lor.

Many have crit­i­cised the RMF move­ment due to the van­dal­ism and vi­o­lence. It is cu­ri­ous to me that peo­ple are more con­cerned about the paint­ings of white racist se­rial killers than the lives of poor Black stu­dents. What is even more sur­pris­ing to me, how­ever, is the shock so­ci­ety ex­presses when a move­ment like RMF, which has been very up­front about its in­ten­tion to de­colonise, is en­gaged in de­colonis­ing. Frantz Fanon de­scribes de­coloni­sa­tion as “the meet­ing of two forces, op­posed to each other by their very na­ture”. It seems that when an in­sti­tu­tion like UCT, bent on main­tain­ing colo­nial le­ga­cies and white supremacy through the de­hu­man­i­sa­tion of Black bod­ies, meets a rad­i­cal force like RMF, vi­o­lence is in­evitable. De­coloni­sa­tion asks no per­mis­sion. De­coloni­sa­tion is vi­o­lent. It messes with the colo­nial or­der that main­tains Black bod­ies as sub­servient be­ings over a vi­o­lent, white su­prem­a­cist su­per­struc­ture. De­coloni­sa­tion is only vi­o­lent be­cause the in­tro­duc­tion of colo­nial­ism was vi­o­lent and the main­te­nance of colo­nial­ism through in­sti­tu­tions like UCT is through vi­o­lence.

Al­bert is a stu­dent ac­tivist and a mem­ber of Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall

Po­lice and pri­vate se­cu­rity were called in to de­mol­ish the shack the next day. Some stu­dents were ar­rested dur­ing vi­o­lent clashes. They had ear­lier re­moved por­traits lin­ing the cor­ri­dors of the Fuller and Jan Smuts res­i­dences to burn them

PHO­TOS: LERATO MADUNA

PROTEST HQ The shack that stu­dent ac­tivists erected on Mon­day on the steps lead­ing to the Jame­son Hall at UCT’s Up­per Cam­pus was in protest against the lack of ac­com­mo­da­tion fac­ing new and re­turn­ing stu­dents

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