‘Fal­lists’ false sense of unity works against us’

CityPress - - Voices -

Stu­dent ac­tivist Lukhanyo Vangqa re­flects on his time in the no-fee stu­dent cam­paign and warns of pos­si­ble pit­falls, writes Shandu Ra­mu­gadi

When Lukhanyo Vangqa (27) ar­rived at the Univer­sity of the Western Cape (UWC) from East Lon­don in 2010, his plan was to study for a BCom de­gree and ful­fil the life­long am­bi­tion he had cher­ished to en­ter the busi­ness world.

Lit­tle did he know that his jour­ney would be long and ar­du­ous. In 2013, his trou­bles started when he was ex­cluded from the UWC stu­dents’ res­i­dence and ended up “squat­ting” at the res­i­dence at Cape Penin­sula Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy (CPUT).

For­tu­nately, as one door was clos­ing, an­other was open­ing. That year, Vangqa was elected sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the Pan African­ist Stu­dent Move­ment of Aza­nia’s UWC branch.

By 2013, Vangqa had al­ready found his two call­ings: ac­tivism and help­ing fel­low stu­dents. This was ne­ces­si­tated by the fee strug­gles at UWC and Cape Penin­sula univer­sity.

When the #FeesMustFall cam­paign started in 2015, Vangqa had al­ready joined a group of stu­dents in­volved in protest­ing against fee in­creases at his­tor­i­cally black in­sti­tu­tions.

“As ac­tivists on the ground, we had been hold­ing our own ‘fees must fall’ protests in his­tor­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged and his­tor­i­cally black in­sti­tu­tions,” he said.

“It was only when his­tor­i­cally white in­sti­tu­tions got in­volved that the move­ment at­tracted na­tional at­ten­tion.” His stay at UWC was about to come to an abrupt end. “UWC ran into prob­lems in terms of my in­volve­ment with #FeesMustFall in 2015. The fol­low­ing year, I was un­able to reg­is­ter be­cause of fi­nan­cial is­sues.

“So, I just moved across the road to CPUT, which I knew very well,” said Vangqa.

Cape Penin­sula had be­come his new home, a place where he could com­plete his qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

“It was a univer­sity that, at the time, I thought was well man­aged and had great po­ten­tial. I thought it matched the stature of UWC.”

But, said Vangqa, he soon re­alised that Prins Nevhutalu, the vice-chan­cel­lor of CPUT, was “a po­lit­i­cal de­ployee who was in way above his head in terms of [not hav­ing the] in­tel­lec­tual depth to lead an in­sti­tu­tion of this mag­ni­tude”.

Vangqa ex­plained that at one point “he wrote an email say­ing that he was here for the ANC, and if any­one had a prob­lem with that, they needed to take it up with the ANC”.

Ac­cord­ing to Vangqa, the re­la­tion­ship and trust be­tween stu­dents and the univer­sity broke down dur­ing Nevhutalu’s term.

“He sum­mar­ily sus­pended stu­dents for two years with­out ever bring­ing any charges to bear against them.

“We had this vice-chan­cel­lor, who was not the best per­son for the job. He had this man­date to man­age this in­sti­tu­tion as a strong­hold for the ANC in the Western Cape, wherein it could con­test power,” he said.

“That had a cor­ro­sive ef­fect on the func­tion­ing and proper gov­er­nance of the univer­sity.”

In Oc­to­ber, Nevhutalu was placed on in­def­i­nite spe­cial leave. The in­terim vice-chan­cel­lor, John Volmink, is try­ing to mend re­la­tions and re­gain stu­dents’ trust with the help of ex­ter­nal me­di­a­tors.

These me­di­a­tors chair a Rapid Re­sponse Task Team, which brings to­gether univer­sity man­age­ment, stu­dents, unions and work­ers to find so­lu­tions to prob­lems within the univer­sity.

The team was formed as a re­sult of the 2016 fees protest. Vangqa be­lieves the #FeesMustFall move­ment at CPUT was the most suc­cess­ful of all the cam­pus cam­paigns coun­try­wide in terms of get­ting the univer­sity to meet stu­dents’ de­mands. “We have abol­ished fi­nan­cial ex­clu­sions and in­sourced all work­ers. The univer­sity has com­mit­ted to giv­ing san­i­tary pads to stu­dents and will pro­vide 10 gi­ga­bytes of data a month for stu­dents who live off cam­pus. “The univer­sity is also ex­tend­ing the num­ber of beds it has and this year, we are build­ing two new res­i­dences. And, stu­dents are not re­quired to pay a regis­tra­tion fee to study at CPUT,” said Vangqa. An­other gain that CPUT ac­tivists achieved was get­ting the univer­sity to agree to giv­ing stu­dents their qual­i­fi­ca­tions even when they had out­stand­ing fees. But Vangqa be­lieves that the #FeesMustFall move­ment still has a long way to go. The so­lu­tion, he said, would be to change the move­ment’s ap­proach. “Mo­bil­is­ing for a cam­paign will not help us in the long run. It will only serve to slow down the re­al­i­sa­tion of free ed­u­ca­tion. #FeesMustFall should con­test lo­cal – if not pro­vin­cial or na­tional – elec­tions and con­test that po­lit­i­cal power to lobby in those plat­forms.” But if con­test­ing elec­tions is to be­come a re­al­ity, #FeesMustFall will have to ques­tion the unity that the move­ment has cre­ated among stu­dents, who rep­re­sent a di­verse range of po­lit­i­cal par­ties and in­ter­ests. “Stu­dents have cre­ated a false sense of unity and are will­ing to de­fend this – to the detri­ment of the aims of #FeesMustFall,” said Vangqa.

LUKHANYO VANGQA

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