Forgive me at this moment, it is difficult to not be romantic in my description of what I feel is History in the making. This story is dedicated to my friends and comrades who are making waves at the University of Cape Town on behalf of many students, on behalf of me, on behalf of our children to change the institutional climate from the restrictions it has been gripped with through it’s inception. This latest wave of energy takes its rightful place as one, among many, of the acts of resistance against the systemic forces that resist change and substantive “transformation” as voices take on a new interpretation of the never ending struggle for liberation.
Forgive me in my limitedness, as I am physically unable to recount to you all that happened but I hope you appreciate my account of what I remember.. along with the moments that most touched me.
Context for “Rhodes Must Fall”:
In the latest wave of student driven protests at the University of Cape Town a groundswell of conversation, debate and anger has been brought to the surface and projected onto a proud, solitary statue of one Cecil John Rhodes who sits upon his throne gazing at this still divide landscape he help architect.
On the second week of March 2015, a protest was conducted on the campus of the University of Cape Town. The demonstration took place probing the removal of a statue of the imperialist megalomaniac “donor” of much of the land that the university is built on. The protest reached its climax when one, Chumani Maxwele, through a bucket of fecal matter over the statue that has spurred action and garnered attention varying from damning condemnation to overwhelming support and mass mobilisation.
The organising under the banner of the “Rhodes Must fall” chants, of course, has little to do with the physical statue. This outrage has been the culmination of ripples of discontempt among staff, workers and students from seas of promises of equal opportunity, liberty and freedom that remain dreams unfulfilled. The massive amounts of attention and energy surrounding this issue, while controversial, are undeniably present and should surely be used to affect tangible changes that speak to root causes of the collective anger and frustration that has birthed this situation.
The “UCT Rhodes Must Fall” broader collective, from Friday the 20th of March have occupied a historic room called the Archie Mafeje room, that has once again been the site of protest, and have continued to hold discussions meetings and now seminars centered around Post-Colonial Education & associated curricular. The room remains occupied at this very moment (Written 25 March 205) and for further context see the “UCT Rhodes Must Fall” formal statement issued on 23 March here: (Click for full statement)
UCT Black Academics: When they arrived!
Walking out of the now occupied University building last night, stepping into the fresh air, brought a feeling – electric – in my body. A feeling that “something” is happening here.
I thinking back to just under a year ago, when I had wrote a fairly popular letter UCT Black Academics: Where are you? – provoking the separation between black students and black academics who seemed to be sharing experience and struggles but rarely met together publicly to engage in solidarity.
Last night, the 24th of March, the UCT black academics arrived!
Stepping into the Archie Mafeje room, located in the heart of the Administration building at the University of Cape Town, my ears and chest were greeted by the strength of voices singing. Energetic. Refocusing songs.
The room was filling up, packed up to the door. An extremely diverse spread of Students, workers, visitors and Alumni decorated the room, with dancing and smiles that defied the anger underpinning the banners that brought us to share this space in the late hours of a Tuesday night.
“Amandla” shouted a strong solitary voice at the far corner of the busy room.
“Awethu” echoed the crowd. Echoed the halls. That brought vibrations from the very walls.
[translation: Power to the People]
As the chants continued in rounds the triumphant sounds the floor beneath our feet rumbled to the rhythm and beat of freedom hymns that left the lungs of tired bodies that urged to be heard. These sounds greeted a group of Black Academics that slowly began to filter into the room to deliver there address.
“Amandla Comrades” welcomed the chair as the crowd fell to silence.
Standing representing a group of black academics that had come to address the occupation group to issue a statement of solidarity and provide guidance on their visions of what a “transformed” institution would look like.
Guiding the energy in the room, our chair, Zethu Matebeni, positioned herself early on as a proud black, queer, African woman with a passion for substantive change as she took us through the flow of the moment. One by one she acknowledged the acadmics in the room with voices ranging from senior lecturers all the way up to Associate and full Professors.
As the room sat attentively, following their words carrefully and cheering and clapping with encouragement at the powerful words echoed from each of the staff members. From History, to Psychology to even the English Department. One after the other. It was phenomenal. Humble, frank and poignant.
The testimonies flowed seamlessly between one another as the academics painfully discussed the alienation, anger and misery that is part and parcel of teaching and researching in a University that continues to undervalue certain kinds of thought as it continues to mutate and move forward, unthinkingly reproducing the tenants of the colonial project that birthed these hallowed halls of learning.
They spoke of the demographics in their classrooms. Of feelings of remorse that many students who they felt might benefit most from their engagement remain notably absent, two decades on from our legal emancipation.
A theme that thread each and every speech that met my ears seemed to be wound up with a feeling of remorse that we are somehow not meeting each other. Struggling separately, divided against the same structural beasts.
After the third and the fourth academic had spoken our conversation had become firmly guided and grounded in “African Feminism”. Several speakers spoke wisely of the crushing effects of the “Patriarchy”, violent masculinities and the and the absolute necessity of intersectional views for discussing visions of curricula and learning spaces.
Yaliwe Clarke, an academic from the Gender Studies department took the conversation through her personal journey of arriving to the University, connected the struggle of South Africa to that of her home – Zambia. The emphasis on the sheer connectedness and ubiquity of these issues really struck home with me as she jolted the crowd with encouragement for us to interact with this discussion in different ways.
Yaliwe and her colleagues affirmed for us that there are strong, solid bodies of knowledge that dissect and discuss the post colonial language that was forming the substance of the protests and occupations at the University in this latest manifestation. They encouraged us to continue learning, working hard and to not be afraid to use these tools.
Offers were made to hold seminars from Psychology to Pre-colonial Africa as the conversation began to reach its climax it had also began to move beyond the domain of rhetoric and into a space of mutal commitment to engage and change.
“Amandla” shouted Zethu, refocusing the room suddenly.
Chanted the crowed in return as I sat frantically scribbling notes on what I had just heard and within moments the chants lead to righteous, excited singing..
[Please join in this moment for the next minute and listen to the songs and sounds that echoed through the calls for change]
As quite once again befell the room as the crowd was called to “order”. An Academic who hailed from India, working in the sociology department stood up and insisted that she would like to sing to us. She sang a protest song from India that had reminded her of action that had taken place in lands far away from where we now sat & stood. The song’s beautiful complexity and language on one level was understood by very few and yet – on infinite levels was understood by each and every one of us.
As the final few academics delivered their address and the conversation steered towards taking questions from the crowd it had become evident that we had been seated for close to two hours that had felt like the shortest of minutes.
As hands raised quickly from all corners of the room when asked. A fire in my heart grew just that much brighter, knowing that even when the statue falls and the energy from this moment dissipates into other spaces, the hunger and thirst for change remains deep in my generation. I am so grateful to alive at this moment. So excited to see what my peers & our parents can contribute to a new era of growth for the country, the continent and the world. Of course with it’s own challenges, its unique deficiencies and limitations..
While we may not all agree on our politics, this much is clear.
A change is going to come.
And let’s damn well make sure its a good one.
UCT Black Academics: When they arrived!