“I was never ready for what happened at Wits yesterday”

    Wits students are well versed in being stopped in their daily lives, but yesterday they took it upon themselves to stop the functioning of the university entirely. Wits academic, DANAI MUPOTSA, describes how students’ experiences of living-in-being stopped are coming to the fore through the fee protests.

    In my classes, I often make mention of the idea of being stopped. I work politically and intellectually with the idea because it is useful to describe the workings of institutionalised hetero-patriarchal whiteness.

    Student leaders have often referenced it in public statements when they talk about the multiple journeys, from their homes to this place, where in travel they are made as people always out of place. You are always already out of place and you learn this from the lived experience of being stopped.

    As is the case on most days, I drove to work with the plan of parking by 7:30am. I prefer an easy ride in, good parking, and a long productive day. I prepared for such a day, set goals and I told myself, quite literally, that I wanted to be great.

    Denied access to the Yale Road entrance of Wits University, I lamented, “Why won’t campus control just let me be great?” I had been stopped, and like many hundreds of others, fell into a gentle rage because we do not like to be stopped.

    I was never ready for what happened at Wits yesterday, and it is not for a lack of want or longing for this event. In fact, as I lay myself to sleep on the previous night I looked forward to the fees protest being spoken gently on social networks. But I was never ready for this.

    No one was ready for what was the biggest protest many of us have ever seen at Wits. What the workers and students succeeded in doing was to stop the institution from its daily functioning. What the students were able to demonstrate was the violence of living-in-being-stopped.

    The protests are mobilised in an environment of dramatic stoppages. There have been various protests at this university. #Oct6 last week – where students and workers mobilised on the violence of the outsourcing of labour at universities and the general trend toward privatising labour in the public services more generally in this country.

    The protests are mobilised around the senate agreement to increase student fees. More specifically, the upfront payment that students are required to pay in order to register has been increased by 6% to R9900, the overall fees were increased by 10.5%, the residence fees were increased by 9,4% and international student fees have been increased by 10.7%.

    Incidentally, the majority of international students are black.

    The reality is that for most students this agreement affirms their exclusion.

    These very students are well versed in being stopped. Their very pedestrian relations with institutionalised power and the academy are premised on the relation of inclusion as practice in being stopped.

    For the majority of students, access to student records is another stop sign. It is at the end of the year when one possibly reckons with the outstanding amounts and plays fantasy with the idea that they can pull together an upfront payment for another year of study.

    And yet it is the assumption of the very institution that the normal student can and should access their inclusion through such mechanisms because payment is the means for access.

    The statement released by the management of this university on |Wednesday afternoon described the students’ protesting as a minority that interrupted the daily functioning of the majority. This is a yet another interruption.

    The charge also made mention of protest actions on Tuesday night, although not on those terms. While the vice chancellor actually met with students protesting at Parktown Village, in this statement there is no mention of the concerns of the students. Instead there is a caution or concern about safety and a claim that property was vandalised.

    Parktown Village is the most affordable residence hall at Wits university. Many students fail to attend classes because there is simply not enough accommodation offered by the institution. The state of residence halls at the university is an issue of broad concern for students who have continuously protested the conditions that they are forced to live in. But these places are also variously their homes. Parktown Village will be demolished in order for the university to build a parking lot for the Wits Business School.

    The statement missed the point because it failed to recognise the number of people present and the majority view that they represent.

    The statement missed the point because it appears that in the university’s definition, “the majority” refers to the particular idea of a student bundled together in the optimistic wishes of a demonstrably conservative project.

    The protests emphasise an intersectional approach. By this, I refer to the ways that workers, women, queers and students with disabilities are visible, present, articulate and demanding.

    The reactions of staff and students who are unoccasioned to being stopped have been illustrative. For a day, just a day, things were not business as usual. There was the prospect of walking, or, dare I say, using public transport. There was the prospect of being made to feel unsafe, quite ordinary to many others. There was the prospect of being out of place in a place where you may have variously felt in place.

    One of my classes ended uncomfortably on Tuesday. A student had asked me – although he directed the question to the class –  what the purpose of our lessons were when living was so very hard.

    I came to work on Wednesday morning with the intention to respond to this student in an email about the pain of living when you are occasioned to being stopped. I planned to speak of the various modes of living, no less breathing. I still intend to send this email.

    But I was stopped.

    And what a glorious way to be stopped.

    For those occasioned in being stopped, there is valid and valuable learning in waiting. Living-in-being stopped offers modes of reading and seeing.

    The students demonstrated in sites of waiting, political awareness made in living-in-being stopped. This is one way of breathing.


    Danai Moputsa Danai Mupotsa is a lecturer in African Literature at Wits.