I don’t understand this university on the hill despite having completed my high school career in the leafy suburbs of Rondebosch, due to the intervention of my mother and aunt, but then I suppose I remember the stark differences between that school and the primary school I went to in Athlone. The divide between those two places, a mere 15 minute drive apart, grows wider with each passing year and yet our society is puzzled by why so many South Africans reject the status quo.
I made the choice to put myself through university and was able to do so by working full-time, however, many people don’t have those options. There are difficult choices students need to make in order to pursue opportunity and many people across South Africa are frustrated and often locked out of the system. A system that so many people believe in and so they pin all their hopes and dreams on the idea that education will unlock opportunities. The belief is that this system will allow a younger generation of South Africans to access more opportunities and so this is not just about attending classes but rather this is about their very survival.
In the passing conversations and experiences I have had on this particular campus I have come to realise that there is a great sense of not being heard, of being compelled to conform and a broader pressure to just push through and put your head down and ignore everything around you. I have heard words such as “anti-black” and “oppressive” multiple times during my short stint on this campus. The difficulty of transient populations of students is that they alone must struggle against this system.
It is a solitary battle and one that is often not informed by political or historical perspective. The amnesia or denial of the past is a dangerous one, as they for instance don’t then know the role that people like Mamphela Ramphele played in the 1990s around shaping many of the issues that are currently confronting this particular institution. The scrambled egg of this broken system did not simply appear when students under the banners of #RhodesMustFall or #FeesMustFall started forming but rather it has been rotting for some time.
The actions of students on Tuesday, 16 February with the torching of two vehicles on UCT’s Upper Campus has left many confused by how to articulate their exact views on the issue. Students across the country have a unique opportunity to consider how best to articulate an alternative system, one that embraces social justice, equality and fairness, and I would dare say that torching paintings and vehicles is not the articulation of that opportunity. After all, UCT is but a microcosm for a broader South African story and so it is fitting that this place reflects not only our best but also our worst.
The road ahead will be fractured, conflicted and very difficult but it will require leadership, dialogue and engagement by all parties. In this current climate, I don’t think that the parties involved will be able to seize the opportunity to truly shape something meaningful.
On the side-lines of this is a broader issue of having allowed a broken telephone to be the only mechanism to communicate. However, students across this country have a broader issue to address and it is for them to confront what role are they playing in changing and shaping the lives of the many who live in places like Diepsloot, Gugulethu, Langa, Galeshewe, Hanover Park, Imbali and Kgubetswane.
In all of this chaos it would be easy to pretend that the interests of the few matter more but there are millions who are forgotten every day and as a society we will need to start demanding more from each other. We can no longer sit by idly and pretend that we have the choice not to be involved. DM