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UCT’s transformation assembly: “the future is a lot faster than your consciousness”

On Wednesday night students, staff and UCT management met in Jameson Hall for a university assembly to address the issue of the Rhodes statue and the lack of transformation on campus. In a night filled with protest songs, interventions, and confrontations, RA’EESA PATHER captures five powerful moments from inside the assembly. 

UCTAssembly_2Earlier this week, protestors from the Rhodes Must Fall movement had been unsure whether they would attend the assembly, saying that it must be students and not management who shape the debate around transformation. Just after 5pm on Wednesday, the sound of students singing and toyi-toying from Jameson Steps was heard across campus.

At 6pm, the doors to Jameson Hall opened, and people soon filled the room to capacity. The protestors sat at the front of the hall, dominating the room and the events for the night.

1. The co-chair gets booted

The speaker of UCT’s student parliament, Keenan Hendrickse, and professor Barney Pityana were set to chair the proceedings. But the night didn’t go as planned for Pityana. Before the professor could finish introducing himself to the crowd, protestors raised their hands to demand his removal, clicking their fingers and calling out, “Chair! Chair!” Students said that Pityana was against the removal of the statue and, therefore, his objectivity was impaired. They called on Kgotsi Chikane – a student who supports the Rhodes Must Fall movement and who led an open dialogue on transformation at Jameson Steps two weeks ago – to chair the proceedings. Pityana resigned his position to Chikane, saying that the allegations against him calling for the statue to stay are untrue. 2. Price gets saved by the new chair

Over the past two weeks, Rhodes Must Fall protestors have heckled and groaned whenever vice chancellor Max Price has stepped up to the mic. Price addressed students, saying that there would be an “extensive review” of symbols and statues on campus and that transformation has now been put on the university’s “front-burner”. He warned students that the process of transformation should not be divisive and that the legacy of colonialism should be explained to everyone so that the university is careful “not to leave anyone behind”.

Price’s speech failed to impress students, who toyi-toyed and sang while he attempted to continue. Eventually the vice chancellor turned to Chikane.

“Chair, do you want to protect me or shall I speak over them?” Price asked. Chikane told students that the sooner Price be allowed to finish his speech, the sooner they could come forward to take the mic. It was then that Price was allowed to continue.

3. The racist Facebook posts

RhodesMustFall_FBRacism

Throughout the night, many speakers read various Facebook responses to the Rhodes Must Fall campaign out to the crowd. The Facebook posts were bluntly racist.

“These are the people that I have to share a classroom with, sit in a tutorial with, but they feel this way about us as black students,” one student said.

Many students had masking tape stuck to their clothing with the words “monkey”, “moron”, “kaffir”, “savage” written on it as a demonstration of the hate speech on social media.

They called on the university to take disciplinary action against racist commentators on campus, and confronted the university on the way it had condemned student Chumani Maxwele’s poo protest at the Rhodes statue, while remaining silent on the racist social media posts that have emerged.

4. Denouncing the myth of difficulty in finding black staff

Price once infamously said that the university “would not tolerate a drop in standards, that’s why there are not that many black academics”. The university has also said that it “struggles to find black professors” and has been put to task for the fact that there are no black female professors employed on campus.

But sociology lecturer Darlene Miller dispelled any illusions that the university has been trying hard enough to diversify its staff.

Miller graduated top of her class at Wits University, has a PhD, received a scholarship to study at John Hopkins University, and has worked at three international institutions, yet UCT has employed her only as a temporary lecturer in the sociology department.

“I have been trying for six years to get a job at a university, at a sociology department, in South Africa,” Miller said. “In order to teach you, I’ve taken a salary of R9,600 per month”.

Miller requested that “a data bank be put together of all the academics they [the university] say they cannot find”.

“The environment has been so hostile to us. Welcome us back; we will come,” Miller said.

5. The revolution will not be waited for

Despite the university’s proposal that teach-ins and programmes be held to educate students unaware of Rhodes’ harmful legacy, many student protestors have denounced the idea.

One student confronted Price on the university’s plans to facilitate those who should not be left behind in their lack of agreement on the removal of the statue.

“You say be careful moving forward that you do not divide us, but we are already divided,” the student said. “You say in moving forward, be careful not to be leaving people behind, but we have been left behind.”

Another student from Zimbabwe told the room that the time for waiting had passed.

“If you are a white South African, and you think you can isolate yourself from being African and that statue outside doesn’t bother you, you need to think twice, because the future is a lot faster than your consciousness,” the student said, as the room burst into applause.

The protestors erupted in song and dance at the end of the proceedings, and the protest continued into the night at Bremner Building, which students have now renamed Azania House.

– All images: By Ra’eesa Pather.

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