The demand for transformation and decolonisation has taken centre stage across many universities in South Africa. MASEGO LEGODI*, a second-year student at the North West University, Potchefstroom campus (NWU-Pukke), says transformation is far from arriving at her university. She told Pontsho Pilane about the subtle racism she experiences daily at the university.
I have been at Pukke for almost two years now and I feel more out of place as the days pass. There are so many things that contribute to my alienation. Black students are the minority here, which is shocking because I come from a high school where black people are the norm. But here, I feel my blackness and I cannot escape it.
In first year, I had only one module that was lectured in English – the rest were in Afrikaans and I had to use the translation devices. I was taken aback by how Afrikaans the university is. The prospectus said it was a bilingual university, so I did expect Afrikaans to be used often, but there is an imbalance. To call Pukke a bilingual university is a lie – it is an Afrikaans university that occasionally uses English to accommodate the non-Afrikaans speaking students.
In lectures that are in English, some Afrikaans students refuse to use the translation devices because they say that they are useless, yet we are expected to use them all the time. But this goes beyond the language use, there is this belief that Afrikaans students belong here more than us black students, and it is evident in the way we are treated.
Just last week I was walking in the duikweg (tunnel) back to my res and a group of guys behind me were speaking in Afrikaans. They walked in my direction and one of them screamed in my ear “Fuck out of the way!” The other guys patted him on his back and as they walked up the stairs, one of them looked back and said “Sy staan stil” (“She is standing still”) and they laughed. I stood there paralysed by shock and fear. The Afrikaans students think they own this campus and they can do as they please.
This is not the first time something like this has happened to me, but I have never reported it because here at Pukke we don’t talk about such things. It is seen as taboo to bring up the subtle ways in which black students are discriminated against. We have accepted this so much that we think this is life. We are made to feel as if we are being done a favour by being allowed to come study here.
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When I have spoken out about the overuse of Afrikaans, I have been told I should have gone to a different university. You would swear that I am here for free and that I don’t pay tuition.
Honestly, being a student at Pukke is insulting to my blackness and my humanity.
When I see movements like Open Stellenbosch and Rhodes Must Fall, I am so envious. I wish the black students here had the same spirit. Everyone here seems to have accepted this kind of behaviour as normal and most don’t want to jeopardise their education fighting a system that seems so unshakable.
As a black child, you want to return home with a degree – you don’t want to be excluded for protesting. My friends have warned me not to become too vocal because people are watching and life could become difficult for me.
Unless something drastically changes here at Pukke, I don’t see any transformation happening. Transformation at this point will not come from students because we first need to put fire on the institution and its management for something to happen. But that will come at the possible cost of our education; something very few are willing to put on the line.
One thing is crystal clear though: the lives of black students do not matter here.