By HeJin Kim (@ennime)
Rhodes Must Fall since its inception sought to be intersectional, and has explicitly stated the need to base its work on Black feminism – Black cis & trans women and non-binary people worked hard to ensure that the decolonial agenda was truly intersectional. In theory it was a success, in practice patriarchy and cis-heteronormativity prevailed.
“The revolution will be black-led and intersectional, or it will be bullshit” and “This revolution is led by Black queer women”… These are the two slogans that were printed on the back of t-shirts last year during the height of #FeesMustFall and #EndOutsourcing at UCT. The slogans were specifically chosen to emphasise the leadership and courage of Black cis & trans women, as well as to highlight to intersectionality of the movement.
While the focus is on free education and an end to exploitive labour practices at educational institutions, it is within a broader context. It also came in a year where Rhodes Must Fall lit the proverbial fire in pushing a decolonial agenda; an agenda based on three pillars: Black Consciousness, Pan-Africanism, and Black Feminism. Rhodes Must Fall since its inception sought to be intersectional, and has explicitly stated the need to base its work on Black feminism. Within Rhodes Must Fall, Black cis & trans women and non-binary people worked hard to ensure that the decolonial agenda was truly intersectional.
In theory it was a success, in practice patriarchy and cis-heteronormativity prevailed.
On Friday, 15 January, a meeting was called that included comrades from CPUT and UWC. The meeting happened after cis men in the movement have been making plans, speaking to media, and “representing” Rhodes Must Fall without accountability; it also came after months of derailing of conversations on violent masculinities and patriarchy in both Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall. These conversations have been happening since before the rape at Azania house last year in November, but have been continually derailed by cis men who are in denial of how they are perpetuating oppression within a – supposedly – revolutionary space.
This came to a head when at the meeting on Friday, Black cis & trans women and non-binary people called out the “bullshit”… After one of the cis men framed the violent patriarchy that has even perpetuated rape culture within the space of Azania hall as “alleged patriarchy” all of us were ready to walk out. But we didn’t, we stood up and demanded that every cisgender man leave the hall immediately. In that moment, enough was enough.
The process was painful, and trying to have a group of entitled patriarchal cisgender men leave a space where they had free rain in their male privilege was not easy; in fact it was an extremely violent experience. When I stood there, making it clear that they had to leave, that they were perpetuating violence, and have been since these movements started, it was infuriating to see the cis male entitlement they held over the space. It begs the question: “whose space is it?” and the answer was painfully clear, it was a space for Black cis men. And with the question of space, the question automatically must extend to the movement itself.
Black cis & trans women and non-binary people have been on the forefront; from Rhodes Must Fall, through Patriarchy must fall, to Fees Must Fall… Black cis & trans women and non-binary people have put their bodies on the line in the decolonial project at every point. Yet even now the narrative is focussed too often on cis men who are seen as the ones who started the movement, as the ones who lead the movement. Hashtags such as #MbokodoLead aside, within Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall at UCT I have experienced some of the most violent patriarchy, trans-antagonism, queer-antagonism.
What does it mean when to the outside leadership “women” is celebrated, but we are not safe in the spaces that we create? What does it mean when the revolutions is gift-wrapped in language of intersectionality, but the issue of rape culture at universities are ignored in conversations about free – and thus by implication “accessible” – decolonial education?
Yet even more so, how do we change the status quo? How do we push forward a truly intersectional decolonial agenda? To reclaim Azania house, and by extension to reclaim Rhodes Must Fall, for the Black cis & trans women and non-binary people who exist on the intersections of oppression – even within Black spaces – is a necessity.
We cannot move forward when we cannot interrogate what it means to live, march and protest next to cis men who in turn oppress us. We cannot move forward when cannot even have conversations about dismantling patriarchy and oppression amongst ourselves. Throughout my involvement in the “Must Fall” movements, any conversation about male privilege and patriarchy, about trans- & queer-antagonism was pushed aside to address “more pressing issues” or sometimes even labelled “counter revolutionary”.
Our reclaiming of Azania house and Rhodes Must Fall is not just about the physical space, it is about ensuring that truly Black cis & trans women and non-binary people lead, that we are not erased from the history and narrative, that we are truly intersectional. Our reclaiming is a statement that we our leadership will be acknowledged, that our issues are not going to be derailed any longer.
In moving forward, there is both uncertainty and hope. The uncertainty from the fact that it was clear that many cis men who have been perpetuating patriarchy and violence refused to leave Azania house at first. The hope lies in the power that comes from not walking out, but rather reclaiming the space.
What is important that we seek to ensure that we move forward in a way that does not allow cis men to simply move ahead and dismiss what happened, that we provide meaning to our actions that night. Since that Friday, we have stated that – until further notice – cis men are not welcome at plenary as we forge a way forward that will not just hold white supremacy and capitalism to account, but the decolonial movements as well.