Ramabina Mahapa, President of UCT's Student Representative Council, has written the following letter (dated 5 May 2015) to SRC Presidents and the South African Union of Students:
I offer you my fraternal salutations and trust that this letter finds you well. Herein, I wish to address matters of blackness. So as to not be misunderstood, I speak of blackness as a reflection of our shared experiences of dehumanisation, discrimination and racism in a place that is hegemonically white, patriarchal and heteronormative. My foregoing assertion is by no means constrained by one's phenotype, it speaks to all forms of oppression and alienation. It is of utmost importance that we delineate our identity and assess our current state of affairs which will then inform our course of action.
Let me start by firstly saying that political quietism serves the black mind no purpose. It perpetuates the very oppression that seeks to rid us of our humanity and self-determination. By virtue of being black, one is already placed in a position where they ought to rebel against the white power structures. Blacks cannot in good conscience continue to withstand being pierced by the thorns of hatred and injustice. For too long we have subdued our thirst for justice and our rightful place under the sun. Our attempts at the restoration of our dignity have been met with deceit from our oppressor. This is self-evident as we reflect upon the outcomes of our negotiated settlement.
I write this letter in sobriety of Africa's positionality; I think the Bible verse in Matthew captures it holistically by saying: "by their fruit, you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?" The fruits that contemporary African leaders have produced are bitter. Most African leaders along with their families are looting the resources of their countries and spearheading genocides and massacres on the very people they are suppose to serve.
Our leaders' further lack a united vision, the stagnant African Union can attest to that. It has done nothing of real substance to emancipate Africa from exploitation and imperialism. African leaders fail to realise that their cooperation does not arise out of choice but necessity. We were not oppressed and exploited as mere countries, colonialism was a system applied on a people as a whole.
I therefore plead with you, lovers of Africa, as future leaders of this beloved continent, take a leaf from what is written on the inscription of Robert Sobukwe's gravestone: "True leadership demands complete subjugation of self, absolute honesty, integrity and uprightness of character, courage and fearlessness, and above all, a consuming love for one's people."
Blacks remains caged and tamed by endless laws and processes, for simply demanding a dignified and just existence. For proclaiming that our lives matter, we are persecuted and denigrated. At every corner of the globe, blacks have and continue to be oppressed, denigrated, and denied their humanity. The fact of former movements, like negritude which was started by the francophone black intellectuals, Black Panther Party in the United States, the Pan-Africanist movement in African and Black Consciousness in South Africa, has been testament of black folk's desire to resist these oppressive structures.
It must be said that in combating the status quo and the dominant paradigm that exists in our society, partisan politics will only serve to derail our progress. It is not my aim or wish to eradicate party politics from student governance. I respect the right of freedom of association prescribed by our constitution and further acknowledge the influence of party politics in student leadership as a positive phenomenon that is inevitable given that the higher education terrain is a microcosm of our society in general.
However, ours is a struggle against a system that is hegemonically white, patriarchal and heteronormative, and that must be our guiding principle and point of departure. Our petty political squabbles must be put aside, as evidenced by the RhodesMustFall campaign this can in fact be realised.
The so-called integration in South Africa has given blacks a false sense of hope and belonging which led us to misdiagnose the cause of their plight. Black folk's problem is still chiefly the potency of whiteness.
Whites are still content and comfortable with their ill-gotten gains, and use the argument of gradualism, as opposed to radical change, as an excuse for their unwillingness to share ownership of the means of production and drastically changing former white-only spaces. This ignorant and callous behaviour of the white folk is the most tragic expression of man's inhumanity to man. The white community has lost its moral prestige.
On the other hand the black masses are awakening; they realise that their dream of a reawakened and rejuvenated Africa remains still a dream while they continue to live in despair without any sign of positive change. The black masses are beginning, rightfully so, to reject participation in these colonial institutions which oppose their emancipation. They show this rejection through vandalising infrastructure as a form of protest, participation in strikes and in demanding accountability from those who call themselves their leaders. Their energy needs to be captured and organized to gain momentum that will lead to real, progressive change.
It remains scandalous that whites still haven't accepted responsibility for all the acts done by them; at each opportunity bestowed upon them to confess their sins they shift the blame to past generations. The current white generation has absolved itself of any wrongdoing. They willingly accept their material inheritance from their forefathers yet fail to account for the evil deeds done to acquire those riches – such hypocrites! They further continue to show the same disregard for black life just as their ancestors. What they call sins of the past they perpetuate today and this is what keeps things the way they are. Their institutions and culture still remains the same, as a result they are inevitably of the same caliber as those that have passed on.
I refuse to believe that calamity and destitution are the essence of black existence. Our lived experience is in and of itself a vicious and cruel attempt to condition us to violence and lawlessness.
I hope you have not forgotten that the very ground you stand on has absorbed generations of bloodshed of innocent and defenceless people. Whites labelled blacks inhumane, barbaric and treated their dogs better than our forefathers. We can no longer sleep knowing that there are black folk without food or clothes sleeping under bridges in their own native land while there being whites, who live in the midst of plenty, who are unwilling to share. There is more than enough to go around, but the whites must empty their pockets.
Issues such as access and success in higher education, student funding, curriculum change from a Eurocentric to more Afrocentric one, the appointment and promotion of more black academics, a reversal of the outsourcing of workers, addressing institutional symbolism, and a reconceptualisation of epistemology – so that the minority no longer defines what constitutes legitimate knowledge production thereby excluding black forms of knowledge and methodologies – are merely symptoms of the deeper underlying challenges in our broken society.
Our primary struggle is to represent the oppressed and marginalised student populace; any SRC that fails to do so does not deserve to be in office and must be repudiated by the students.
Moreover, we must be mindful of the fact that institutional bureaucracy, failure to preserve institutional memory, short term in office and the politics of decorum hinder our ability to represent students adequately. SRCs often lack the urgency, due to various interest groups, and understanding of the plight of black folk to robustly and unapologetically address matters of blackness. Some SRCs are further given exorbitant benefits by the university and thus, at times, results in the deterioration of student representation. It therefore becomes incumbent upon us to endorse and assist radical, progressive, and non-partisan student-driven movements which seek to eradicate the quandary of black existence.
South Africa must be a safe haven for all those who live in it and not a selected and privileged few. Places like Stellenbosch have to be made central to this struggle as we pave the way forward. The town of Stellenbosch exemplifies how segregationist planning and ideology remains effective 21 years after the end of formal apartheid. The town is still segregated according to race, both in a spatial, social and psychological sense.
Remnants of this oppressive ideology is apparent at Stellenbosch University where some students and lecturers insist on justifying their exclusionary position with the proposition that the institution is an Afrikaans University, and so black students need to assimilate to this culture or leave, when in fact it is a public institution that belongs to all who live in the country. Some of these students and lecturers have expressed these racist attitudes with threatening letters and text messages to members of the Open Stellenbosch collective. This institution continues to promote exclusionary language practices and celebrates people like HF Verwoerd, KR Wilcox and Eben Dönges with bronze plaques and building names, while it runs university-sanctioned talks and seminars on 'transformation' and 'inclusion'.
Fellow comrades, your silence to an unjust system will only serve to perpetuate injustice. This may be hard to grapple with, but our salvation will not be found in the after-life and do not ask the man upstairs for an answer, you have two hands; join us and use them to dismantle white supremacy at its very core.
Yours in deep devotion to Africa
University of Cape Town
President of the Students' Representative Council
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