A garden party brought back to reality
South Africa has a powerful history of students injecting new life into the struggle against injustice. There is a sense of deacutejagrave vu for many as we watch a staid transformation debate being tossed out of the window, making way for something that has more life… and more hope. Photographs by Kate Janse van Rensburg.
A snowballing movement is gaining traction at our tertiary institutions nationwide.
At the University of the Free State this week, students, staff and academics placed their thumbprints on a canvas to indicate their support for the No to RacismYes to Equality campaign. This is part of an ongoing initiative to mobilise the campus community against racism and to prepare for a large gathering on 28th April where debate and discussion will be encouraged around the issues of transformation on campus.
Students at Rhodes University held a protest following their graduation last Saturday calling for academic transformation. Many of the students had graduated just hours before. Then, making those symbols of Western academia truly their own, they tackled the matter at hand. In caps and gowns they interrupted a garden party celebration held on the campus. Certificates tucked away they drew attention to inequality at the university.
Black Student Movement
The Black Student Movement was in the forefront of the protest.
“The garden party is a perfect example of the cultural assumptions made with regards to students and their parents. It’s high tea, a very foreign means of celebrating for Africans let alone working class citizens in South Africa,” said Julie Nxadi, a member of the Black Student Movement. “The interruption of something as (supposedly) ‘proper’ as a high tea celebration… was a means of inserting ourselves into the space that is meant to celebrate our achievements, but often times makes not only us but our parents uncomfortable,” she said.
The student movement for change is gathering a momentum that will become a turning point in our history much like Soweto 1976 was for a previous era.
Following their graduation protest, and the fall of the Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town, members of the Black Student Movement will take part in a curriculum development conference this weekend at Rhodes titled ‘(Re)Making the South African University, Curriculum Development and the Problem of Place’.
The programme includes presentations from students around the country as well as from academic institutions that include Fort Hare, Walter Sisulu University and Wits. The programme also includes:
a dialogue on discrimination in scholarship
a critical look at the Art History curriculum
and the inclusion of multilingual courses.
Speakers include recently inaugurated Rhodes Vice Chancellor Sizwe Mabizela, Medical Anthropology researcher Gcobani Qambela from North West University, Historian and education activist Dr Nomalanga Mkhize from Rhodes University, Social Anthropologist Dr Shannon Morreira from UCT and associate professor and author, Leonard Praeg from the Department of Political and International Studies at Rhodes.
Noloxolo Nhlapo, director of Equity and Institutional Culture, said that now that Rhodes had fallen at UCT, it was imperative that students around the country engaged in discussions around transformation of their institutions.
The conference will speak to the South African university as a ‘custodian of borrowed traditions’ and insists that while we “cannot unwind the clock of history or attempt to start from scratch… we cannot also romantically and defensively continue to position the African past as our future.”
The two day curriculum conference will be held at Rhodes University on 17 and 18 April.
Ndapwa Alweendo, a member of the Black Student Movement, said: “The BSM is participating in this conference because we think that it is imperative that conversations about us happen with us. Conferences tend to focus on bringing in ‘academic experts’ whose politics are often problematic, and student participation in these dialogues can be a way of holding people accountable for their politics.”
“Part of transformation is entering these spaces and conversations and making sure that the marginalised student voices are heard, and that what they say has a lasting impact. Conferences and colloquiums often reinforce the completely false division between ‘academics’ and ‘passive students’, and active student involvement is a disruption of this problematic power dynamic, and an assertion of our relevance in any conversation about transformation that aims to be relevant.”
“The BSM is not directly involved in the organisation of the conference, but we plan to attend the conference to engage with students from Rhodes and other universities, and to challenge the presenters to take seriously what meaningful transformation means. One of our members, Mikaela Erskog, has written a piece in the Daily Dispatch which speaks directly to the kind of bureaucracy-driven transformation that we are critical of.”
Students Must Be Consulted
Noluxolo Nhlapo, the curriculum conference organiser and director of Equity and Institutional Culture, said: “Students should be consulted in curriculum development processes. Consultation serves to address to an extent the issue of positioning students as the consumers of a predetermined curriculum. That students are not ordinarily consulted is because of the gap between policy and practice (policy slippage). In planning the conference, the planning group agreed that students should participate both in the planning of the conference and in the conference programme itself”.
Noluxolo’s response on student’s protesting after their graduation: “I am not sure that I know what a valuable and less valuable way of raising issues about transformation is. If I am lying down on the floor and squirming with pain, are you going to tell me what the proper way of crying is? Should you not perhaps acknowledge my pain before telling me what the proper way of articulating it is? What I do know is that students are speaking of their experiences, and they want to be heard. They have concerns that we cannot pretend are not genuine. The Vice Chancellor met with students at least twice to listen to them and each time he opened himself up to hearing them. Perhaps what we need to do further is to find out why they are still crying.”
As the Sixties Sam Cooke song says:
There’ve been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will
A Change Is Gonna Come…
Source : The Journalist