By Siphokuhle Mathe (@SiphokuhleMathe)
Siphokuhle relays how a student throwing faeces in disgust at the white arrogance personified in the remaining statue of a colonial murderer and thief, has catalysed a movement for the broader transformation at one of the continent’s most revered universities.
On the 9th of March, a student at the University of Cape Town by the name of Chumani Maxwele took to the task of challenging the university’s white arrogance. In doing so, he stood by the Rhodes Statue and educated students about white arrogance at the university. The white arrogance he spoke of is in line with the idea that the university is predominantly white and does not reflect the demographics of South Africa, except for the demographic which displays the gross socio-economic inequality among black and white people. The white arrogance he spoke of is also in line with the idea that the university has not undertaken its mandate to truly transform the university so as to move from the oppressive dynamics which have embedded themselves since the university’s colonialist inception.
Following Chumani’s lecture on white arrogance to students and people from the university community, he proceeded to throw excrement at the statue. He claimed that management had received a number of memorandums concerning the statue and its oppressive nature and these memorandums were met with management’s despondency. In this light, the throwing of excrement, however extreme, became the means necessary to attract attention and mobilise students towards the greater cause against institutional racism at the university. It was this event which inspired the mobilising of students, the professoriate and workers to voice their concerns and collectively assemble.
The Students’ Representative Council of the university then responded and called for there to be a public dialogue on the Rhodes statue on Friday, the 13th of March. At this dialogue, students from all backgrounds voiced their opinions and testified to their experiences of institutional racism. Some white students felt victimised at the mentions of ‘whiteness’ and took outcries of racism personally, ignoring the systematic nature in which racism manifests itself. What was surprising about the dialogue was the fact that the dialogue was contained and conducted in a healthy manner. It was surprising because the environment had emotions spiralling, there was great vulnerability in many students and many would have expected there to be chaos. The violence that was involved in some white students not acknowledging white privilege was kept at just that, and did not transcend to physical altercations of violence.
These events have invited much intellectual debate and have exposed the need for political and historical education. It is important to note that not all students could identify the significance of the cause against the Rhodes statue and, as more of these dialogues were held, the distribution of knowledge allowed students to find nuanced ways of articulating their discomfort at the university.
Another march was held last Friday at the Bremner administrative building of the University where the vice chancellor, his deputies and the administrative teams sit. This march followed a sitting which had been held on Monday the 16th of March where the students had gone to observe a sitting of the Institutional Forum of the university. At this sitting, students staged a walkout due to the condescending and autocratic manner in which they were engaged by management. At the march to Bremner, many students, representatives of varying students organisations, workers organisations such as NEHAWU and other staff were present in solidarity with the demand that #RhodesMustFall. It is there that student leaders committed that they were to determine the terms upon which these processes are to be undertaken and not management. This was a result of students being aggrieved by ‘white arrogance’ which seems to present itself as wanting to determine the terms upon which any freedoms and transformations are realised.
The collective agreed to put forward the following demands at the march:
- The dropping of charges against Chumani Maxwele for the throwing of excrement at the statue, among other charges.
- The date upon which management will remove Cecil John Rhodes.
- The revision of the academic curricula to suit the Afrocentric aspirations of the university.
- The transformation of the academic staff demographic.
- The reconsideration of the service model and the move from outsourcing to insourcing.
- That senior management take a stance about the statue.
- That management ensure that no members of the working staff are intimidated or victimised for having attended the march.
These demands show the incredible nature of the revolution being held at the university and how the Rhodes statue is not just about its offensive and oppressive nature, but about a myriad of challenges which speak to UCT’s untransformed state. These demands are expected to expand and increase over the duration of the revolution.
The march on Friday was met by the vice chancellor who responded to some of the demands put forward and diplomatically evaded taking a stance about the Rhodes statue. He was willing to drop some of the charges against Maxwele. These included the charge for throwing excrement because he conceded that the ends for such an exercise were fruitful and not futile. He could not concede to dropping other charges because third parties to which the university was not entirely associated had laid the charges.
Black intellectualism has now assembled and sat to discuss the discourse of its people in an operation #OccupyBremner which involved overnight stays at the building over the weekend. Healthy discussions have ensued, with sobering yet emotive singing of struggle songs. Students have taken their stationery and books to the building and they continued to study while undergoing a special kind of black therapy. This is the kind of revolution which black people have so wanted for a long time. The wait to be provided with space is no longer a wait because the space is now being rightfully assumed.
“Down Rhodes, Down!” is the simple re-articulation of Biko’s assertion that we must reject “… the intellect arrogance of white people that makes them believe that white leadership is the sine qua non in this country and that whites are the divinely appointed pace-setters in progress”. It is, however, the hope of many vulnerable and marginalised persons that the critical rigour with which this racial struggle is undertaken will be channelled in the same fashion when it comes to issues of gender inequality, sexuality, disability, class and their clear intersections.