Cool kid on campus

FIERCE: Mongezi Mkhonto is this week's cool kid on campus. Photo: Mokgethwa Masemola

FIERCE: Mongezi Mkhonto is this week’s cool kid on campus.
Photo: Mokgethwa Masemola

“I never get worried of being too much because I don’t think I’m too much. Whenever I think something is too much that’s when I know it’s not me.” Within those few words is the spirit of this week’s cool kid.

Mongezi

Mongezi Mkhonto Photo: Mokgethwa Masemola

Mongezi Mkhonto
Photo: Mokgethwa Masemola

Mkhonto is a 21-year old Bachelor of Accounting Science student in his second year. But it is what he does outside the classroom that makes him so cool. Hailing from the East Rand, Mkhonto had aspirations of working in a corporate environment, but after completing matric at the National School of the Arts (NSA) in Johannesburg, his dreams became very different.

 

Soon after starting his studies at Wits, he visited a local cosmetics store, where he saw celebrity make-up artist, Muzi Zuma, and he was instantly inspired. Since then, he has cultivated his passion for make-up to the extent that he intends on working in the beauty and media industry after completing his studies.

Mkhonto describes himself as someone who is fun, expressive, artistic and energetic. He spends his spare time on Instagram looking at beauty trends and playing the violin. “My general escape is the art of make-up,” he said.

Despite how difficult he thought campus life would be, Mkhonto finds that he enjoys it and he has been embraced by a lot of people. His time at NSA taught him how to deal with different kinds of personalities and so he can easily brush off negativity.

“A lot of people will be really negative but they are not gonna do it to my face, because (of) the way I carry myself. People only show me love because I only carry love and beautiful energies,” said Mkhonto.

Slice of Life: How much longer?

IMG_0765 (2)Thabo*, a student I knew at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, had once applied to the Dean of Humanities to allow him to take a certain combination of subjects. His choice of subjects was quite complicated and his request was rarely agreed to. Thabo though was a high-performing student who had achieved top marks throughout his university career and so it seemed obvious that he would be granted permission.

He had heard of this combination from a classmate of his, (Kate*), who was recently allowed to pick up these subjects. To our surprise, the Dean declined his request, citing marks that did not quite meet the requirements for such a combination. Both Thabo and his classmate were doing the same degree with the same subjects for the first two years at Rhodes, but Kate’s marks were much lower than that of Thabo’s. Naturally, questions of race surfaced and specifically why it was that a white student with lower marks was allowed to take this combination of subjects while a black student couldn’t. The incident revealed to me the issue of white mediocrity in this country.

How much longer will we continue to celebrate white mediocrity? How much longer should black people, women and other minority groups have to work twice as hard to receive half of the recognition and reward offered to whites and men that are clearly not worth it?

How much longer will our lecturers, mentors, tutors, and academic institutions repress the black child? The very same people who are meant to be moulding a new cohort of intellectually, socially, financially and personally “woke” young graduates, are the very same people using their power to ostracize them and belittle their work. I am tired of watching my peers treated as though they can never amount to anything simply because their lecturers do not like them. Academic spaces are supposed to be a hub of intellectual, mature individuals who concern themselves only with the expansion of knowledge and yet this is not the case.

How much longer will it take for the LGBTIQA+ community to be free in their own home? To have the social – not just legal – right to embrace their love, their personhood and their right to belong? It is inconceivable to me that in 2016, people are being killed, raped, heckled and kept out of certain spaces purely because of who or what they are.

How much longer?

How much longer will black knowledge and history be regarded as second grade to western thought? Ours is a rich history shaped by intellectuals and leaders who have transformed what it means to be black and to be African. These are the stories that have to be told in universities, schools, churches and social spaces. For it is in celebrating the fact that we can produce knowledge of a sound and intellectually superior standard, that we are able to move forward as black people.

How much longer until minority groups can rise up and create for themselves a system that embraces them, a system that not only nurtures them but allows them to flourish and realise their truest potentials? In the wake of collective student movements, we must become the leaders we so desperately need, leaders who can recognize their faults, admit that they have failed and yield power others when it is necessary.

How much longer?

“We believe you,” says Silent Protest

SOLIDARITY: Wits students protest against rape and sexual violence in the 2016 Silent Protest. Photo: Mokgethwa Masemola

SOLIDARITY: Wits students protest against rape and sexual violence in the 2016 Silent Protest.
Photo: Mokgethwa Masemola

“We believe you!” That is the over-arching message of the silent protest against rape and sexual violence that took place on Wednesday at Wits.

“If you have never been believed. If someone has tried to undermine you saying ‘I have been violated’ and try to question whether it constitutes violation or not, you need to know that the number one aim behind the silent protest is to say ‘we believe you’,” said the Silent Protest project coordinator Limpho Kou.

The Silent Protest has served as a campaign where women, and now men, can speak out about rape and sexual assault.

“This protest creates the conditions where people feel safe and held in order to tell their most closely-guarded secret,” said founding member of the Silent Protest and the Aids Healthcare Foundation’s advocacy manager Larissa Klazinga.

According to Klazinga, the protest was born at Rhodes University in 2006 to support “Khwezi”, the woman who publically accused Jacob Zuma, then deputy president of the ANC, of rape. About 80 young women gathered at Rhodes with Khwezi to speak out against gender-based violence. Zuma was later acquitted of rape in the High Court.

Since then, the protest has spread to other campuses in the country and is now an international movement. The protest also expanded to include men who have been sexually-violated.

In light of recent protests such as #RememberKhwezi, #IAm1in3, #NakedProtest, #RUReferenceList, the silent protest in 2016 “can’t be business as usual, we can’t ignore everything that is happening,” said Kou.

In response to these movements, the silent protest was a week-long campaign this year with documentary screenings, talks and public exhibitions of the female body on campus. The advancement of student protests over the past year has made the organisers of the silent protest question their portrayal of the victim and the significance of silence.

As such, the organisers have also introduced the blowing of whistles on the day of the protest to “introduce a certain level of disruption”, said Kou. Following the #RUReferenceList and #NakedProtest, the 2016 silent protest at Rhodes will focus on disrupting the institution and the powers that be.

“We can’t get away from the fact that there was another silent protest two weeks ago which made the whole nation take stock of who our leader is and where we are as a country,” said Klazinga referring to anti-rape protesters disrupting Zuma’s speech at the Independent Electoral Commission in Pretoria.

The value of the silent protest remains its ability to serve not only as a platform for men and women to break their silence on rape and sexual violence, but also its status as an incubator for activists who have shaped the feminist discourse in the country.

“The women’s movement that we’ve been able to build has begun to build a new kind of a completely different feminism in South Africa and the silent protest is a part of that,” said Klazinga.

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