Despite Rhodes University’s constant claim that it is an open university without gates barring the public from the campus, members of the Black Student Movement found themselves locked out of the Gavin Reilly Postgraduate Village on August 28 2015. As students pleaded with members of the senate to suspend their meeting and address the fact that those at the gate felt threatened and unsafe in the presence of police, the dog unit, Rhodes University management, academic staff, campus security and private security guards, the members of senate chose to ignore their calls for help. The event is a clear indication of the increasing securitisation of the university management’s strategies for interacting with politically engaged students on campus. While this was the first time in 2015 that police units had been called in to deal with student politics, such tactics of criminalisation, specifically when they concern black bodies, are commonly experienced by poor black activists around the country on a daily basis.
1. Rhodes University executive director of infrastructure, finance and operations Dr Iain L’Ange and Campus Protection Unit manager Towers Naidu, along with an unnamed Hi-Tec security guard, attempt to forcibly restrict the entrance of Black Student Movement (BSM) members to the Gavin Reilly Postgraduate Village. L’ange can be seen typing on his cellphone before helping Naidu physically force the gate closed on Thenjiwe Mswane, a BSM member. Student Representative Council (SRC) secretary-general Lindokuhle Zungu-Lushaba chose to stand outside and assist the students being denied entry while the senate tried to conduct business as usual. This is the first time that the Rhodes SRC has come out to support the BSM and denounce the constant criminalisation of the movement.
2. and 3. Thenjiwe Mswane is forced between the bars of the gate, unable to get through or withdraw due to the force being applied by L’Ange and Naidu. Thenjiwe’s expression captures the physical, emotional and psychological trauma inflicted on black bodies in the space currently known as Rhodes.
4. After overseeing the confrontation with BSM members at the gate, deputy dean of law Gordon Barker turns his attention towards the senate meeting soon to be disrupted by BSM members. The senate is traditionally held in the council chambers of the main administration block but in an attempt to avoid addressing the grievances of the BSM, the meeting was moved to one of the furthest venues from central campus minutes before it was scheduled to start. However, the students’ determination to get the staff to acknowledge the urgency and seriousness of their grievances regarding vacation accommodation was unwavering.
5. and 6. Thenjiwe expresses her feelings of marginalisation as a queer black woman while many members of the senate attempt to leave the room.
7. Vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela addresses students. None of his colleagues sitting at the front of the senate attempted to assist him or create a conducive environment for a meaningful discussion of the issues at hand. Many members of the senate smirked at the issues raised by students. One member of the senate, Professor Peter Wentworth from the computer science department, threw water in the face of a young female member. When she asked him why he had disrespected her in this way, he arrogantly blew her a kiss.
8. 9. and 10. Mabizela is given a loudhailer by the BSM members so he can address them. However, his attention is drawn to Dr Stephen Fourie shortly before the decision was made to suspend the meeting entirely. BSM members pleaded with senate members to stay and listen to their grievances but many refused and left the room. After having been through the trauma of having to interact with police, the dog unit, and witnessing the violation of one BSM member and the intimidation of many others, the students attempted to block the doors and prevent members of the senate from leaving the venue. This led to rising panic amongst the staff members. After just a few minutes, the students unlocked the doors but pleaded with members of staff to stay and listen.
11. Mabizela encouraged members of the senate to stay and listen to the students. However, because the senate had officially been suspended, no decisions could be made and the BSM found themselves trying to express their pain to an audience not willing to acknowledge it. More members of the senate attempted to leave. Fourie can be seen distancing himself from the vice-chancellor and moving towards the exit. Students pleaded with him and others to stay. However, he was seen leaving the venue in his car shortly after.
12. BSM members show their frustration and disbelief at the reactionary response of the members of the senate who left the building, as well as those who laughed in their faces as they attempted to raise the serious issues of marginalised students on campus.
All photos by KATE JANSE VAN RENSBURG.
Kate Janse van Rensburg is currently a Politics Honours student at the university currently known as Rhodes. She has a Bachelor or Journalism degree, specialising in Photojournalism. Sarah Bruchhausen is a Masters student in the History Department and UHURU (Unit for the Humanities at Rhodes University) at the university currently known as Rhodes.