Deep division over alleged racial attack at Wits

Wits Vuvuzela has been inundated with reactions to a recent article detailing an alleged racial attack on a Law student. The reactions though, have been divided over the significance of the altercation.

by Anelisa Tuswa

There have been mixed reactions to Wits Vuvuzela’s reporting of an incident in which a fourth-year law student claims she was verbally and physically assaulted by a fellow student. Since the article first appeared last week, Wits Vuvuzela has received over 100 comments via its website and Facebook page.

Sinethemba Memela claimed she was racially assaulted by a fellow student outside a lecture hall following a verbal altercation between the two during the lecture. Memela claimed her alleged aggressor had mocked their lecturer, Dr Malebakeng Forere’s accent. While a number of comments expressed sympathety for Memela and her account of the incident, many were critical of her.

One comment suggested that “we have to question the maturity of her (Memela’s) actions.” Another referred to the incident as a “sob story” and accused Memela of seeking pity.

Another comment read, “Why did you think it was necessary to join someone else’s conversation if you were not part of it in the first place?”

The individual, who did not provide their real name, closed the comment by saying, “I would think Memela was being a bitch by imposing and she is black, not white. If I a black person had called her a black bitch would you all say it was racist? Who are the real racists here?”

Others did not believe the incident was racially motivated. “Molepu” asked why Memela did not complain about being called a “bitch” instead of focusing on race.

Those who supported Memela expressed concern about the incident and its significance for the university. Collen Jaha Raka Kubayi wrote that she cannot find the difference between what happened to Memela and “what happened at the Free State University, when our black mothers were made to eat and drink urine and faeces.”

Nomakwezi Mkunyana-Manqaba said this was “bad and embarrassing” for the Wits community.

Wits university has confirmed that an investigation into the incident is underway but has not released any further information.

VIDEO: Racism at Wits University

We asked Witsies if they have ever experienced racism here at Wits, after an incident on campus this past week, where one student was allegedly racially abused by others and told “I will fuckin’ kill you, you black bitch”.

According to the student, the incident started after she “confronted” two female students during the lecture as they mocked the accent of senior lecturer, Dr Malebakeng Forere.

We also asked students if it surprised them that, twenty years into a democratic South Africa, “born frees” are racist.

If the video does not load automatically, please click here.

SLICE OF LIFE: ‘Black is the colour of my true love’

“I HAVE black friends”: a phrase that some white people wear as armour before entering into a racial battlefield, hoping  it will save them from their history.  It doesn’t. Instead it reminds us that black people are tokens in the claim for racial neutrality.

Apartheid’s residue left a culture of people struggling to reconcile what it means to be black with the people they really are. Some even reject this compromise, not wanting to identify with blackness because our history is so loaded with injustices. They do not want to wear the trauma of our past.

We can all agree that apartheid should never have happened, but it did and now we are dealing with its ramifications the best way we know how. And that means owning our blackness. Class_2014_001

Consciously black  

Being black is one of the most magical things you can be.  Being aware of your skin colour means having a deep understanding of the injustices that our forebears suffered under apartheid, despite how foreign that time seems to us now. This gives me a greater awareness of the inequalities we face on a day-to-day basis, even in a supposedly non-racial South Africa.

Black Twitter has afforded us a culturally loaded space where black people converge to launch a coup d’ètat against white supremacy and to find humour in the worst situations. This free space to discuss issues is perhaps one of the best things about being black.

When we deny being black we are in essence rejecting the part of ourselves that affords us the sanctity of knowing.

Using social media as a platform to express our hurts, fears and anger against racism, we make the decision to claim our struggle, label it and place it accordingly, without the misdirection of white supremacy.

Our melanin gives us the ability to soak in the natural goodness of the sun and colour ourselves with the light of the world, showing off the beauty of our skin tone. Our blackness affords us a space in two different worlds. We are able to go from suburb to township and understand our positions in these two worlds without being restricted by our own blackness.

Denying colour 

Admittedly, ours is a society with people from different backgrounds and with different experiences of race and racism. It is part of our diversity that we are able to claim our own identities and celebrate them without judgment or fear.

Being black should therefore not be a default condition where we fear claiming our blackness because it’s loaded by stereotypes. We should rather marvel at this melanin cloak and wear it with pride.

When we deny being black we are in essence rejecting the part of ourselves that affords us the sanctity of knowing.This knowing allows us to see past the hidden agenda of white entitlement which caused disillusioned black people to believe whiteness was something people should aspire to.

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once said: “Racism should have never happened and you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.” But race denialism … well, that is an even worse atrocity.

SLICE OF LIFE: ‘I’m not going to spend my life being a colour’

Rofhiwa SliceI remember growing up unaware that my pigmentation was my most defining feature. But as the years went on, an identity was imposed on me due to the fact that my melanin levels exceeded what was “acceptable”. This colour made it a precondition that I live the kind of life required of a “black” woman.

I remember one incident that made me change the way I viewed myself. My Natural Sciences teacher, Mrs Shaw, was on aftercare duty. Aftercare was a service provided to those of us not lucky enough to have nannies or mommies waiting to pick us up at the end of a school day.

During aftercare lunch, Mrs Shaw approached a school mate and I, and said: “You know, I’ll never understand why black people chew their bones like dogs.”
That remark shocked me and stuck with me. It became a constant reminder that the colour of my skin, the least significant part of me, would be the thing that always made me less of a person than someone who was white. And in some instances even likened to animals.

It was like the floodgates of racism had opened and washed me into an ocean where there was no island in sight. In that same year, I was called Rafiki the monkey by a classmate, who insisted I reminded him of the monkey in the Lion King. Of course, by now I knew monkeys were the natural comparison point for blacks, as doves are to angels.

It was as if life needed to punish me for the time when the colour of my skin was insignificant. I was broken.

High school and varsity perpetuated the blackness I was abruptly exposed to. And for a while, I went along with the idea that colour really did matter – until I made the decision that I was not going to allow non-blacks to decide, for me, that I was less than they were.

Interestingly, when I eventually moved past these confines, it was no longer the whites who caused me to be conscious of my colour. I just no longer afforded them that kind of power. Now it was my black counterparts.

Black young women were now using this colour as a scapegoat for all their shortcomings, exploiting the inferiority complex experienced by generations before us. They were buying into a complex which should have been broken down because of the opportunities we are able to create for ourselves today.

“An identity was imposed on me.”

The actions and speech of blacks has intensified this complex. They now impose their blackness on the rest of us who, with great effort, have tried to rise above it. Sometimes, even if you do try to fall in with this notion, it’s just not enough. If you don’t have what I like to call the comrade accent, for example, you’re just not black enough.

It’s boggling that even in this day, the 21st century, 20 years into democracy, the most important thing about a person should be the colour of their skin. I’m certainly not going to pass judgment on the choices people make, particularly when it comes to the way they see themselves. To pass judgment on the thoughts of an individual is practically criminal. It infringes on the freedom of expression and forces you to become a sheep. You then begin to act only as you are expected to, as a “black person”.

Make no mistake: I have never, for one moment, disregarded the history which has allowed me to see myself as no less than the white inhabitants of this country. I acknowledge and appreciate the strides made by my forefathers to afford me the liberated life I lead today. I am not ignorant of the issues faced by black people. However, it is also my argument that they also afforded me the opportunity to look at the country in which I live in a post-apartheid South Africa.

SLICE OF LIFE: Just keep calm and live on- Crime happens, its life. Life in this beautiful country is more than just a mugging.

I have often heard members of our white minority complaining about crime, expressing the desire to leave a country that is “going backwards”. I have never felt that way.

I grew up in a diverse home where racism was non-existent. I grew up playing in soccer academies in areas where I often saw no other white people.

Never have I experienced a crime in my household nor have I been personally victimised. I lived my life in a free South Africa, unlike those who claimed that, if they lived abroad, their “children could ride their bikes outside and walk to school”. Growing up, I played in my neighbourhood park, in Orange Grove. I walked to school with my helper every day.

“I grew up in a diverse home where racism was non-existent.”

Luca sliceIn my mother’s opinion, it was always about your attitude to crime.

If you wanted to be negative then bad things would happen to you.

However last week Wednesday, while covering a soccer game, I was mugged. I was approached by two men who took my phone and threatened me physically. I was distraught.

When they walked up to me, I had no foresight of what would happen next. I was not scared, I was just ready to get home and finish my work. I did not expect to be mugged.

Friends have since suggested that I take precautionary measures for the future: perhaps buy pepper spray or a knife to protect myself. I thought deeply about this and remembered my mother’s words. I decided not to buy either of these items because, if I do, I fear that I will constantly find reasons to use them.

I made the decision that those two men will not change my attitude towards the country I hold so dear to my heart.

I will not become a racist because of two people who committed a crime.

I will not live in fear in the streets I call my own because of two individuals. I still love my beautiful country, but I will learn to be more cautious, because not everyone is a good person.

I am lucky that I was not physically harmed, and I understand the situation could have been vastly different. But crime happens all over the world.

I still live with hope that one day, my children will have the same childhood that I had and will experience the freedom I experienced and the simple pleasure of being able to walk in their neighbourhood without fear in their hearts.

Racism plagues UFS

Despite the appointment of its first black vice chancellor, the University of the Free State (UFS) still gets slammed with allegations of racism.

In 2009 when Professor Jonathan Jansen was appointed as the first black vice chancellor of UFS, hopes were high that this could be the change the university needed to fight back against racist claims. All facts point to Jansen having made in-roads, despite the slamming he is now receiving from the student movement.

Luzuko Buku, representative of the South African Students Congress (SASCO) said: “What Jansen has done since his arrival in the University of Free State is not to transform the university from its notorious racist conditions on black students but he has been working very hard to protect and cover up racism by sweeping such cases under the carpet.”

Covering up 

Last week it was alleged that two white UFS students, Kobus Muller and Charl Blom, tried to drive over a group of black pedestrians, side-swiping Dumane “Muzi” Gwedu, a fifth year BCom student. Gwedu then followed the car until it came to a stop where he approached the two drivers. This resulted in a violent attack on Gwedu.[pullquote] “The accused called the victims “kaffirs” and then drove off”[/pullquote]

A News24 article reported that Jansen had doubts about whether the incident was indeed racist, even though the accused called the victims “kaffirs” and then drove off.

During his inaugural speech in 2009, Jansen chose to forgive four white UFS students who, in 2008, filmed a video humiliating and degrading black campus workers. In his speech, Jansen dropped the case against these students and said, “They are my students. I cannot deny them any more than I can deny my own children.”

The move was controversial with some terming it a brave gesture of reconciliation and others warning it sent the wrong message to racists. Since the incident, Jansen has been blamed for adopting too reconciliatory an approach.

Racist reports 

Other incidents of alleged racism at UFS were reported in 2010 when a female student, Pinky Mokemane, was dragged next to a car driven by two white UFS students.[pullquote align=”right”]”Student accommodation for a ‘non-affirmative action’ female.”[/pullquote]

In January 2014, an advertisement appeared in a Bloemfontein newspaper, advertising student accommodation for a “non-affirmative action” female. The VC reacted by distancing himself and the university from the advert, which shows embedded racial profiling within the UFS community. He said:  “The varsity does not oversee private accommodation and it makes it difficult to regulate the ridiculous requirements they have of some students.”

Another ongoing example of racial profiling at UFS is their residence segregation. It appears that there are still many residences which give white students preference. With only 20% of UFS students being accommodated at the institution’s residences it is hard enough finding a spot if you’re white, let alone black.

UFS has its form of a transformation office too, the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice, an institute made for research and discussion among specialists, international students and politicians.

The general student body apparently can go to the Human Rights desk. This desk was not available for three days. The co-ordinator, Breggie Hofman Wits Vuvuzela was informed, was out of town and the second in charge “had a crisis”. Students will just have to save those reports of racism for later.

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Op pad na Oppi (On the road to Oppi)

 

OPPI PAD: The long and windy road. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi

OPPI PAD: The long and windy road. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi

By Pheladi Sethusa and Shandukani Mulaudzi

Three camera bags, two spare batteries for each camera, sleeping bags, tent, camp chairs, bags and booze all squeezed into the back of a Polo hatchback.

Even though the day had been coming for a month, two Oppikoppi virgins were scrambling to get their things together at the last minute.

Rosebank Mall was full of people getting last minute supplies, mostly of the liquid variety.

The journey begins

Within the first 30 minutes of the drive, a wrong turn made it clear that it would be a long journey to Northam Farm, Thabazimbi.

The scenic route made up for the potholes and narrow roads which made for a bumpy ride and also provided plenty of photo opportunities.

After two hours of driving a toilet break was needed but no Engen, Shell or Totall garages were in sight – only kilometre after kilometre of dusty road and the odd bush. The only solution to this problem was found inbetween the two car doors of the little Polo.

We’re here!

A wrong turn gone right led directly to the Oppikoppi gates.

ENTER HERE: Oppikoppi 2013. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi

ENTER HERE: Oppikoppi 2013. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi

Thorn bushes and dust in the air welcomed the first-timers to what would be their home for the next three days. Setting up a tent and easing into the campsite took no longer than 30 minutes.

After settling in, it was time to explore the festival they didn’t know but had heard so much about. Having heard rumours about poor to non-existent sanitation, drunken mosh pits and rampant racism – only first-hand experiences could tell.

Rumours turned true-mours

A performance by band, CrashCarBurn proved the mosh pits true, leaving a rocky taste in our mouths.

A bird’s eye view of the ShortStraw performance from the shoulders of a strong man proved the racism claims.

While many sat on shoulders and waved their hands to the music, it was not a fun experience for one.

As soon as she was lifted to the gracious man’s shoulders, pushing and shoving came from the girls in the front. It could have been a matter of jealousy however, we learned differently.

The guy let our reporter down, and apologised for the failed experience.

His friend, known only to us as Francois, told Wits Vuvuzela journo Caro Malherbe: “I’m sorry. I really would like to talk to them (the black colleagues) but the girls won’t like it. They are of a different race classification.”

With shock and disappointment, the short straw was indeed pulled: by us. We went back to our tents feeling disheartened, but still hopeful.

That hope was quickly snuffed out by comments that came from a neighbouring tent. To our left was a tent with two black men who were very chatty, to our right were two white, Afrikaans men who were also very vocal.

We overheard the white campers saying “Ag, ek gaan nou iemand klap as hulle nie stil bly. Ons sal sommer die nuwe Waterkloof 2 wees”, this was followed by the two men laughing.

That was within a few hours of being on the farm, two more days to go.

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Race talk needs to be aired

Race relations have taken over the South African media platform for two straight weeks: The UCT poll on “the most attractive race”; the senior advocate who quit the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) amid disagreement about transformation; the Stellenbosch University’s residence-placement policy and (closer to home) a Wits Vuvuzela reporter who was called a “house negro” by a senior member of a political party on campus.

Although race is a sensitive issue in this country, the public trial on social and mainstream media regarding the UCT race poll was harsh. The paper is run by students and the article didn’t incite hate speech. One can argue that those students haven’t learnt the value of “political correctness” or lack the desperation to uphold the delusion of “the rainbow nation”. You can argue that the poll should not have been promoted as a “study” and that statistical inference should not have been made – that was the main flaw in the article. Students should not be taken to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) based on their preferences or writing about their preferences.

Transformation is also a highly contested subject. Advocate Izak Smuts resigned from the JSC reportedly accusing it of being “against the appointment of qualified white male candidates”. Affirmative Action (AA) rears its ugly head again and the proverbial question regarding transformation policies versus the hiring of qualified candidates was debated in many newspapers nationally.

Amongst others, City Press editor Ferial Haffajee, wrote about the distinction between transformation and qualified candidacy, saying the two are not necessarily exclusive.

If affirmative action and qualified candidacy are seen as exclusive, an “either or” choice, does this mean Wits graduates, across the race spectrum will be subjected to this limited scope in pursuing our careers?

Stellenbosch University’s residence-placement policy also came under media scrutiny. The university has finally been given the green light to accommodate more black students in its residences. The policy under review explicitly states that residence allocations should be: 66% white, 23% coloured, 10% black and 1% Indian. Stellenbosch alumni have spoken out against the policy and called for it to change.

To bring the matter closer to home, the chairman of a campus political party called one of our reporters a “house negro” last week.

While we discussed the best way to deal with the incident, one of our staff members said it was funny how “house negros” always get a bad rep when they started some of the slave rebellions in the US. He was referring to Nat Turner.

How and why some terms become derogatory is part of the debate. But the main point is South Africa is marred with racial tensions. These issues should not be denied, rejected or suppressed but should be debated.

South Africans tight-lipped about taboo subjects

Just a month after the South African government started releasing inmates due to the presidential pardon two months ago, at least 43 are back in jail.

A report distributed yesterday, June 12, by SAPA quoted the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) saying it was already in custody of a fraction of the former inmates it began releasing in “controllable groups” on May 14.

A policeman searches suspects in Hillbrow. PICTURE: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters/Sidney Morning Herald

The government plans to release up to 35,000 inmates this year as part of a special remission announced by President Zuma during Freedom Day celebrations on April 27.

The government said part of the reason for releasing the inmates was to decongest the country’s prisons, while other reports said it was to mark Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela winning South Africa’s first all-race elections in 1994.

Spotlight on crime

While the DCS did not reveal the number of prisoners released within the first month, the fact that at least 43 of the former inmates have already been re-arrested once casts the spotlight on the crime situation in the country.

Studies on the crime rate in South Africa show it has dropped marginally from a time when the country had the highest per capita rates of murder and rape, the second highest rate of robbery and violent theft and the fourth highest rates of serious assault and sexual offences among the 110 whose crime levels are tracked by Interpol. However, the crime rates remain high.

South Africa's crime statistics ahead of the 2010 World Cup. IMAGE by Japan Probe

So numerous are crime incidences even today that criminality seems to have become a part of the daily routine. Today, only the most outrageous of crimes reach the table of national discourse.

Outrage over rape

In April, when a video surfaced of the gang rape of a Soweto teenager, it was widely condemned due to the despicable nature of not just the multiple rapes of the mentally-illvictim, but of the fact that the rapists had the audacity to record and circulate a video of their actions.

The chief executive of Proudly South Africa, Leslie Sedibe, asked a poignant question, “What have we become when children rape children and we as fellow South Africans stand by and watch something so evil, cruel, callous and inhumane? Even watching such a video after the fact is atrocious and abominable.”

Yet crime is not the only social issue that the country seems not to have opted to face head-on and eliminate. Several others continue to blight the national conscience but seem to have been swept under the carpet.

Racism clouds debate

Early this year, the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (DASO) published several posters of semi-naked couples in embrace, with the words beside them reading, “In our future, you wouldn’t look twice”. The pictures caused a storm merely because they depicted a white and black couple.

One of the controversial DASO images

With many people not eager to discuss racism, debate on many significant issues in the country is often derailed by claims of racism, as happened when the ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe described “The Spear” art-piece by Brett Murray as racist.
That label forced Murray to defend himself in an affidavit against accusations of racism, galvanised followers of the ANC into demonstrations that were interpreted as a form of bullying, and diverted the national conversation from the issues to a subject few people are really comfortable talking about.

Silence on HIV/AIDS

Similarly, South Africa has failed to curb the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus because of a deep-seated fear to confront the issue and peel off the layers of secrecy enveloping it.

More than five years after the first president of independent South Africa Nelson Mandela first revealed that his son Makgatho died of AIDS, and more than a decade after Judge Edwin Cameron announced his status, the stigma surrounding those who suffer from AIDS remains so high that the family of a famous footballer, Thabang Lebese, initially tried to hide the cause of his death even though he’d wanted it to be known.

By sweeping many of these taboo subjects under the carpet, South Africa is likely to be prolonging public discussion on problems that can only be overcome when the nation confronts them and seeks solutions in the open.