Concerning the politics and approaches to shutdowns

    Siblings gamEdze and Gamedze explore the influence of police brutality on the approach to, and politics of, university shutdowns.

    gamEdze: We can talk about being socially dead. We can be soldiers, we can be bodies. Many pockets of the national student movement have taken on this Afropessimistic approach to protest, with dire consequences. What we do not consider often enough is that we are in a constant process of being been made and remade into these things, and this is what I am interested in.

    Gamedze: There is an urgent need to think, imagine and practise a politics beyond shutting down the university. As dispossessed, indebted and righteously enraged black students, the shutdown is a key tactic. But I think we should be wary of it becoming a strategy in the long term. We need to move toward forms of political practices oriented towards opening rather than closing imaginative space and possibilities and I think shutdown as a mode of practice – both practically and metaphorically – often misses out on that.

    gamEdze: The South African protest process has been manipulated and steered in such a way that the inherent imagination and creativity of protest becomes erased, and our enraged voices begin to form and remake the margins of what we already understand to be the South African status quo.

    Gamedze: Implicit in the tactic of shutdown is a centering of the university as the key site of struggle. I am concerned about how that might limit our conceptualisation of the struggle because we seem to be getting locked into an oppositional struggle [with the state] that is dangerous – but is more dangerous for certain people than others.

    gamEdze: We are pushed into a corner where, to attempt to claim or assert our humanity, [to say] we would rather not die fighting for free education at this historical moment, in this particular way, is seen as a sign of weakness or disloyalty. This dangerous space, which breeds a national mental health crisis, is the space where we are taught through violence that our bodies are not worth anything or worthy of anything good, and so our initial pursuit of humanity is lost, and replaced by the repetition of a violent history.

    Gamedze: As we continue to get shot, stun-grenaded and arrested, we might see a lurking, unsettling complicity of Afropessimist protest with the status quo. We put ourselves into these spaces where this can happen to us and we help to make and remake the conditions of black hopelessness and non-existence that white supremacy forces on us.

    gamEdze: If one thing has been made clear in the last couple of years, it is that there has never been a moment that the state has not been prepared to meet true disruption and protest with physicalised brutality. No matter the style of protest, whether music, art intervention, blockading, shit-pouring, or political education, the violence that meets black protestors is always the same – a hyper-masculine, physical brutality whose focus meets the viscerality of bodies with undue force.

    Gamedze: Hence we have the re-emergence of a hyper-masculine campus politics as a response to the violence. As a result, we are losing cadres to jails, denied bail. We are losing cadres to bullets, to anxiety, to alcohol. We are losing cadres and we will lose many more the longer we persist on this path.

    gamEdze: We are not safe. Having seen a number of different protests across universities, the only kind of equality that exists in this nation seems to be that whether you are sitting, standing, singing, or just trying to get into a lecture: if you are black you are in grave danger of being physically assaulted by those who ‘protect the law’ in our country.

    Within #FeesMustFall, as well as #RhodesMustFall, there seems to be a very particular trajectory that unfolds repeatedly in an eerily similar way. One thing that we might agree on is that the objective of any protest action that opposes the status quo (#OpenUCT or #KeepWitsOpen might be seen as the opposite of protest action) is to change structural issues so that oppressed people are treated as humans in reality, as well as having this humanity protected under the law. We can all agree that free education alone will not solve the many issues of South African universities.

    Gamedze: Of course. At the same time, black people have a legitimate claim to the university and all its resources and we know that we will not get to access that claim without a fight. Fighting for the things that white people have means injuries. The fight for the university is of central importance, and so maybe this particular phase of struggle needs to run its historical course?

    gamEdze: The fight for free education fits into the larger struggle for structural change that includes basic human rights like land, healthcare, food, electricity, safety, and sanitation, and feeds directly into structural issues of ownership and epistemology that have been formed through hundreds of years of hyper-patriarchal, hyper-ableist, hyper-racist, hyper-binary and uncreative colonialist strategy. This strategy has historically met all kinds of opposition with force – the antithesis of imagination – and I would suggest that this use of force is a way to narrow the available modes in which oppressed people might respond.

    Gamedze: David Harvey, who has written extensively on social justice and capitalism, proposed the following question: “What if every dominant mode of production, with its particular political configuration, creates a mode of opposition as a mirror image to itself?”

    In thinking about the relationship between forms of protest we have alluded to and the violence of colonial capitalism (the momentary symptomatic, like Marikana, and the structural, like low-wage alienating work), we might see a dead end in our current tactics. The system seems to be dictating the form of our resistance: We organise in a particular way because we will be met with force in a particular way. And we know how that ends. Apartheid policing doesn’t play.

    gamEdze: What might begin as a space whose protest action aims to form humanising culture where Black disabled, trans, queer, and womxn’s bodies are safe and heard, is very quickly appropriated by the anti-blackness of up high – a force that polarises the complexity of oppression and attempts to direct and contain action into the physically violent (inherently colonialist) form that it understands best. In this sense, the state functions to direct the protest politik into the Afropessimistic voice, one that we know disinherits those who do not immediately come to mind when we say the word “black” (ie: black disabled, trans, queer, and womxn’s bodies) and one that abandons the pursuit of humanity, in favour of unhealthy martyrdom and recklessness.

    So apart from the predictability of state-sanctioned physical violence in the form of stun grenades, teargas, rubber bullets, arrest and jail time, it is important to understand this state provocation as incredibly strategic in the way it seeks to awaken retaliation in the same form. It begs us for physical retaliation – the kind that re-confirms black people as bodies, the kind that forces the “you can’t kill us all” mantra – basically the kind of protest that black able-bodied cis-heterosexual men happen to be good at leading and controlling, the kind that does not challenge structural power, but fulfils the fantasy of Fanon’s black man in replacing his white master.

    In no way does this text either oppose or propose violent protest or damage to property. Instead, it tries to understand and unpack these occurrences as themes inherently interwoven into the repeated narrative of contemporary colonialism that is not controlled by students. In fact, we need to be very suspicious of this naturalised voice from on high that apparently “values” university property, for it is directly through state brutality that this damage ends up occurring.

    And it also happens to be through this damage that the media narrative directs all its attention to black masculinity, to the leaders, who are framed as fundamentally enraged and violent. It might as well be the police burning the buildings that reproduce violent epistemology, for it is only the historically colonialist voice that is strengthened by these happenings.

    Perhaps what this text is trying to do is examine how it is that protest action is always steered in the same direction, why it is that the imagery of 1976 and 2016 look eerily similar, and perhaps suggest that if our protest is consistently this vulnerable to re-direction into battles with private security, police, and university management systems, then they will always win.

    The truth is that they have been preparing for this since 1652, and likely with more vigour since 1994 because of course, it has always only been a matter of time that the violence of the rainbows would stay silent.

    Gamedze: It is in the dead end of the dialectic of resistance and repression that our imagination finds itself shutdown. In the struggle for the university and the focus on shutting it down, there is a danger in forgetting that we are not fighting for a claim to the university in its current form.

    gamEdze: What the forces of repression never accounted for is the radical nature of black feminism, a voice that speaks for more inclusive, creative, humanising, protective and healing forms of protest.

    Gamedze: This is the voice that says: “We are fighting for a different type of relationship between education, knowledge and society; between the university and the people.” In this movement toward a different university, we need to start asking: in the future and in the present, where might this different university be located both geographically and intellectually? What might the role of the bourgeois universities be in the revolutionary movement toward a people’s education – if indeed they even have a role?

    So as we continue to shut down the university, let us continue to question and imagine beyond it and also remember that our fight is not merely for it [the university] but for a radically different society and a fundamentally different type of education.

    gamEdze: For when we look at the current modes of protest, it is necessary to recognise that colonialists have long been playing with Black masculinity, with leadership, and they know very well how to beat these men, especially when they have had no sleep, when they are prepared to die each day, and devastatingly they do, but while continuing to abuse “their womxn”. The state has created these “soldiers” because they know how to put them in a corner, and they know how to traumatise them – they know how to lead them [along].

    They have more guns, they own the prisons, they do not have to adhere to the law – they do not have to be creative in order to win.

    Gamedze: In the current moment, where the status quo is armed and on the offensive, where, our task is seemingly insurmountable and equally urgent, are there ways we can protest where we both take care of ourselves and deny the status quo, [deny] the conditions where we can be remade as black, the negative?

    PS – The future of the university is not (at) the university…

    Gamedze and gamEdze are great friends and siblings, interested in imagination as a central struggle for liberation.

    Featured image by Yeshiel Panchia