A week of university protests

Student movements around the country have taken to the streets to protest and express their grievances at the lack of accommodation and funding for needy students. Here is a roundup of most most of the activities for this week.

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA – FEBRUARY 17: Students clash with security guards during a protest at the University of Cape Town on February 17, 2016 in Cape Town, South Africa. Students continued with their protest against the shortage of student accommodation at the university. (Photo by Gallo Images / Die Burger / Lulama Zenzile)

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA – FEBRUARY 17: Students clash with security guards during a protest at the University of Cape Town on February 17, 2016 in Cape Town, South Africa. Students continued with their protest against the shortage of student accommodation at the university.                                                                   (Photo by Gallo Images / Die Burger / Lulama Zenzile)

This week student movements around the country all embarked on numerous protests highlighting issues of financial exclusion, lack of accommodation for black students, outsourcing and clearance of historical debt.

On Wednesday night a Wits University bus was set alight outside Knockando residence. No one has claimed responsibility for the fire and the university was investigating.

The protests kicked off at the University of Cape Town (UCT) when the Rhodes Must Fall movement erected a shack on Upper campus to protest against the lack of accommodation. The university sent private security and police to demolish the shack and RMF students responded by burning “colonial” paintings, a car, Jammie Shuttle bus and an administrative building on Wednesday.
A member of RMF who was present when the torching of the paintings, vehicles and administrative building happened explained the motivation for the burning: “The burning of the pictures is twofold, the one is that black people are very angry to be found in an anti-black institution and expected to just exist, or rather not really exist. And then to be confronted with these colonial artworks in the same way as being confronted with the Rhodes statue.”

“This speaks to the idea that black people are not taken seriously. So you can remove a statue but you think there is no relevance in thinking about the artwork or other aspects of the space which black people have to participate in,” said the RMF member.

The RMF member argued that burning down buildings was a resolution of the question of Frantz Fanon’s “revolutionary violence.”

A group of eight students were arrested and later released on bail after they were dispersed from Upper and Lower campuses using stun grenades and rubber bullets.

Also in Cape Town, #UWCFeesWillFall students at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) occupied their student centre and handed over a memorandum to UWC director of legal services Shervaan Rajie on Wednesday. The movement is calling for academic programmes to be suspended so that matters relating to financial exclusion, the clearing of historical debt and accommodation could dealt with first.

According to the #UWCFeesWillFall students nothing has changed at the university, “The university … made a promise that they will talk about the issue of free registration and historical debt being cleared, but instead we are seeing students … being asked to pay R4 800,” #UWCFeesMustFall member Monde Nonabe told GroundUp.

A member of the #UWCFeesWillFall movement who wishes to remain anonymous out of fear of victimisation by the university said that he felt historically black institutions such as UWC were not given the same level of attention as other historically white institutions.

At the University of KwaZulu Natal workers, with students in solidarity, fighting to be insourced by the university closed down the institution resulting in the university getting a court interdict against the workers.

On Thursday at the ‘University Currently Known as Rhodes’, students from the Black Student’s Movement joined the nationwide protest against financial exclusion under the hashtag #nisixoshelani.

Price says UCT ‘arson’ attack premeditated

The recent petrol bombing of the Vice Chancellors office at the University of Cape Town is under investigation however Dr Max Price believe the incident was premeditated.


Surrounded by yellow police ticker tape, the office of University of Cape Town (UCT) Vice Chancellor Max Price has become the scene of a crime after an arson attack on Tuesday night.

The second day of protesting at the university escalated with student’s petrol bombing the VC’s office after the removal of a shack erected for a demonstration.

“I wasn’t on campus when the petrol bombing happened,” said Price. “Fire alarms went off and a team was called in to put it out,” he added.

This comes after the Rhodes Must Fall #Shackville demonstrations which began on Monday in protest of the lack of accommodation for black students at the university. Rhodes Must Fall activists erected a shack on Upper Campus which was subsequently forcibly removed.

A student, who did not want to be named, said “a small group of us decided to burn Bremner, Max Price’s office.”

“The building itself works against the students … We made the decision that we have to target UCT, the space, the actual building because the building, the administration particularly, it works to push black people out,” the student activist added.

It was the frustration of violence and the symbolism of the act that lead to the burning of Price’s office “[Max Price] himself is the reason why police come on campus, why they fire rubber bullets, why they imprison our comrades, basically why black people are kicked out, he is the gatekeeper of the system,” said the UCT student.

But despite these sentiments the VC seems unfazed by the demonstration, “The office represents the head of the university. Therefore, I do not take it personally,” said Price.

Price also said the attacks were “acts of vandalism which were planned and prepared.” He said evidence in the form of bottles and petrol were found in the same shack used in the protest.

At this stage there is no evidence of who is responsible for the arson attack but an investigation is underway. “It is a crime scene and will be treated as such,” said Price.

OPINION: Why Rhodes must fall: Decolonizing space

“The #RhodesMustFall movement at the University of Cape Town has spread to other universities in South Africa, sparking debates about institutionalised racism and sexism. The campaign seeks to decolonize our universities.

As a former University of Cape Town student, I came face to face with the statue of Cecil John Rhodes many times, sadly, unaware of what the bold figure standing before me meant. My ignorance was unsurprising, institutional power makes a deliberate choice to cleanse figures like Rhodes so that Black people unknowingly accept them without questioning or fighting their presence.

As a science student at the university, I was confronted with a curriculum that was so white and Western you would swear Africans had never contributed to the sciences.  Africans only appeared as victims of malaria and HIV or as assistants to ‘great’ White, male, heterosexual, able-bodied scientists.

Our lecturers were mostly white and male. The few Black lecturers we had were always mocked for their accents or their lectures hardly ever attended because their lecturing style was not “appealing” enough, both by white and black students. All this in a university geographically located in Africa and in a country with majority black people. No wonder sometime early this year, when my Journalism Studies lecturer asked what I thought of UCT, the first thing that came to mind and mouth was, “I didn’t like it. I never felt any connection to the place.”

“a starting point to finally decolonizing our universities, minds and society”

The #RhodesMustFall movement at UCT began when student Chumani Maxwele threw human excrement at the statue of Cecil John Rhodes located at the centre of the university. The movement spread to other universities including Rhodes University, where students began calling for the name of the university to be changed. Students at the University of KwaZulu Natal covered a statue of King George V with white paint and students at Wits held a transformation talk.

“Black people bending over backwards to accommodate whiteness”

Defenses of why the statue of Rhodes shouldn’t be removed (and why Black students should stop being so angry) have come in far and wide. But, no amount of belittling, and calling the cause invalid, has deterred the students. Instead, they are building a stronger and wider movement.

Some may ask why now. But why not now? Students have been watching, for 21 years, Black people bending over backwards to accommodate whiteness in the country of their birth. Students are using the Rhodes statue, as a unifying figure to speak back (and black) to power! Finally!

It is important to note that an overwhelming majority of UCT’s senate recently voted for the removal of the statue. But what does this mean? What does waiting on an overwhelmingly white and male senate to decide on the fate of the statue mean? Should Black students wait for this decision – a decision that I feel will function to pacify the voices of the students or should they take matters into their own hands.

“We can’t breathe”

The #RhodesMustFall movement – along with the Black Students Movement at Rhodes University and the TransformWits movement at Wits, and other growing black consciousness movements on campuses in South Africa – is important and valid. Not only because it highlights the violence that these colonial figures and names carry with them, but as a starting point to finally decolonizing our universities, minds and society. To finally strip white privilege bare. To finally begin dismantling institutionalized racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. To finally start speaking our pain, without shame or fear of backlash and finally labelling correctly what imperialists like Rhodes, and others like him, were – white supremacist patriarchs that unashamedly massacred black people and looted our natural resources without any regard for the people Rhodes referred to as “niggers”. And those who reduce these movements to just the statue, are failing to see the wider picture these students are trying to paint.

Assata Olugbala Shakur, a former member of the Black Panther Party, now living in exile in Cuba, recently wrote a moving letter of solidarity to the UCT SRC:

“[Freedom never comes], until the Afrikan slave uses his force to break the shackles and obtain emancipation for himself,” she wrote. “You and your comrades have hands. Use them. Pull down the statue. If it doesn’t come down, think of something else.”

Black students across the country are crying, “We can’t breathe”. And these movements are an effort to break free from colonial shackles that still bind black bodies to this stay. What will happen if we do not listen to these cries?

STORIFY: #RhodesMustFall reveals entrenched racism

White students at the University of Cape Town (UCT) have taken to Facebook and Twitter with “racist” commentary, leading to further debate and clashes across social media, during the #RhodesMustFall campaign. Their comments have been shared under the hashtag #RacismMustFall.

If this Storify does not load automatically, please click here.


STORIFY: #RhodesMustFall outcry reaches Rhodes University

Demonstrations that began at the University of Cape Town (UCT) last week, calling for the removal of the Cecil John Rhodes statue have spilled over to Rhodes University yesterday, with students on Twitter calling for a change in the university’s name.

If this Storify does not load automatically, please click here.


UCT SRC not involved in organising ‘poo protest’

President of the The University of Cape Town (UCT) SRC (Student Representative Council), Ramabina Mahapa, has said that he and other SRC members were not involved in the organising of yesterday’s “poo protest”.

Instead, the organiser was a fourth-year politics student, Chumani Maxwele, who told Independent Online that he protested on behalf of “the collective pain and suffering” of all black people. He also said that he was calling for the removal of the statue.

UCT, he said, has no collective history, alleging that students are “offended” by the architecture and names of buildings on the campus. He then emptied a container of faeces over the statue of Cecil John Rhodes, on the university’s upper campus.

“This poo that we are throwing on the statue represents the shame of black people,” he told Independent Online. “By throwing it on the statue we are throwing our shame to whites’ affluence.”

However, according to Mahapa, the substance used in the protest was manure and not human faeces.

He told Wits Vuvuzela that he “does not condone the act” in terms of procedure and university regulation, but can “sympathise and understand” with Maxwele and his reasons.

“This is mainly because the university hasn’t ever listened to students,” he said.

The university yesterday released a statement that condoned “vandalism of UCT property” and the violation of “health laws”. The vice-chancellor’s office is instigating the incident and has demanded a comprehensive and immediate report.


Wits Vuvuzela, STORIFY: Poo protests at the University of Cape Town, March 10, 2015

STORIFY: Poo protests at the University of Cape Town

A group of UCT (University of Cape Town) students, including members of the SRC (Student Representatives Council), threw human excrement at a statue of Cecil John Rhodes earlier today, in protest against “white arrogance”.

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No race criteria at med school- Wits

Medical school applicants are now accepted partly on the basis of how underprivileged they are, and not on the basis of race, according to Dean of the Health Sciences Faculty Professor Ahmed Wadee.

Wadee was responding to claims from rejected students who said they were not accepted because they were “not the right colour”.

One applicant, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was rejected because the faculty was not allowing any more Indian people having reached their “quota”.

However, Wadee denies race plays a role in the selection on students.

Selection is based on a combination of academic and non-academic scores which determines who is offered a place at the health faculty. However, as some students point out, having “straight A’s” is not a guarantee of getting into medicine.

“The ‘straight A student’ story isn’t always true. There are other things that they consider, like compassion and charity,” said fourth year medical student Creaghan Eddey.

Wadee said the academic criteria only accounts for 80% of the total percentage of the entrance criteria.

He said the downfall of most applicants is the National Benchmark Test (NBT) which counts for 40% of the score.

The other 20% comes from non-academic criteria and uses a questionnaire that determines whether a person comes from a rich or poor background.

“Now, you could be yellow, you could be white, you could be coloured, you could be Indian,  [but] if you have no water and no lights you have an under-resourced environment,” Wadee said.

According to Wadee, the Wits Medical School had previously used a racial quota system that was abandoned so that socio-economic conditions could be given priority.

“We acknowledged that system of accepting [race quotas] was incorrect then we changed it,” said Wadee.

Some schools, such as the University of Cape Town, still makes use of the racial quota system.

Wadee said his faculty receives complaints from applicants who feel they were unfairly rejected.  “If someone says ‘so-and-so got in and I didn’t’ I say ‘give me the person’s name’, we look it up and show the complainant why they didn’t get in while the other one did.”

“Personal appeals to the Dean or anybody in the faculty do not work,” said Wadee.  “In reality, we have 6 000 applicants and in medicine only 250 get in,” said Wadee.

Another fourth year Medical student said: “The faculty has to redress the past. We have to acknowledge our past.” But she added that promoting underprivileged applicants should not trump academic knowledge.

“I think our school gets flack because the process isn’t transparent, no one ever explains this selection criteria to us. That’s why people target [medical school] about acceptance more than others,” Eddey said.

“But If I didn’t get in I would have bitched too,” he added.