south africa in the twilight of liberalism: richard pithouse

KAFILA - 12 YEARS OF A COMMON JOURNEY

[Note: Recent events in South Africa – from raging student movements across university campuses to xenophobic violence in the streets of Durban – seem to echo so many struggles both inside and outside the university “here.” This is the first of hopefully several posts from South Africa, that seek to listen and travel across.]

Guest Post by RICHARD PITHOUSE

South Africa was supposed to be different. We attained our freedom, such as these things are, after everyone else but Palestine. It was late in the day but the afternoon sun was glorious and the best people, people who had passed through the long passage of struggle, told us that we would be able to avoid the mistakes made everywhere else.

There was a mass movement that, whatever its limits, had won tremendous popular support and carried some noble ideals through its travails. Its leaders cast long shadows. Our Constitution, we…

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statement from students occupying uct’s bremner building aka azania house

BREMNER OCCUPATION STATEMENT

We, the Rhodes Must Fall movement, are occupying the Bremner building with the intention to 1) disrupt the normal processes of management and 2) force management to accept our demands. We have chosen to occupy the Bremner building, and the Archie Mafeje room specifically, because of its strategic and historical significance – it is the place where management carries out its activities, and these are precisely the activities we seek to subvert. In addition, the building is a historical site of protest – in 1968 UCT students opposed the university’s decision to rescind the professorship of one of the continent’s leading anthropologists, Archie Mafeje. We have chosen the Archie Mafeje boardroom to recognise his struggle against the very institutional racism we are fighting against.

We have claimed and transformed this space to begin the decolonisation of the university. We are implementing a programme of rigorous political education under the guidance of a group of black lecturers from UCT and other South African universities that interrogates and problematizes the neo-colonial narratives pertaining to Africa. This education forces us to reject these narratives and their normative nature because they re-inforce our displacement both geographically and existentially.

We have begun to question the entire neo-colonial situation, whether South Africa belongs to all those who live in it and whether it is us the people that are occupying this building or whether we are realising the fact that this building and its land always belonged to the people. This education has extended far beyond the falling of the statue and has reached the language of struggle. How do we organise, how do we mobilise and most importantly how do we get what we want. How do we resolve the tensions between Pan-Africanism and intersectionality, moreover how does that implicate our own movement. Management has told us that they are allowing us to stay in Bremner. This building that sits on the land of black people, this building that was constructed on the sweat and blood of black people. If UCT is not afraid at this point all we have to say is NANG’UMFAZI OMNYAMA MAX PRICE!

We are here because we are calling into question the legitimacy of the supposedly democratic process Dr Max Price has put in place to address the removal of the Rhodes statue.

It is infuriating that management is attempting to open up a process of debate through their plan of action. Alumni have been emailed and asked for input, and notice boards have been put up near the statue to allow for comment from the broader student body. This is unacceptable to the black (by this we mean all oppressed people of colour) students, workers and staff belonging to this movement. It is absurd that anyone besides those who experience the statue as a violent presence should have any say in whether the statue should stay or not. White students in particular cannot be consulted in such a process because they can never truly empathise with the profound violence exerted on the psyche of black students. Management is making clear through this process that they are not interested in alleviating black pain unless the move to do so is validated by white voices. Opening up the discussion to an alumni that is overwhelmingly white and male will only prejudice black people, and black women particularly, in the decision-making process. To refuse to explicitly acknowledge these skewed demographics is unacceptable. Our pain and anger is at the centre of why the statue is being questioned, so this pain and anger must be responded to in a way that only we can define.

Further, the ‘Have Your Say’ notice boards have only made UCT’s black community more vulnerable – UCT has crafted a space that allows students to be blatantly racist with impunity, at the expense of a safe space for black people. This shows that UCT either does not know the violence black people face here, or they truly have no interest in our protection. Finally, it is revealing that while black protestors are threatened with and are facing investigations, the racist backlash from white students has been met with silence by the university.

That the presence of Rhodes is seen as debatable shows that management does not understand the extent of the terrible violence inflicted against black people historically and presently. The push for dialogue around the statue reflects the disturbing normalisation of colonisation and white supremacy at UCT.

In his letter “From the VC’s Desk: Rhodes statue protests and transformation”, Dr Price states that there has never been such university-wide discussion on this issue. He does so without interrogating why this is the case. It is the fault of UCT management that discussion has been suppressed for so long. Black students have clearly not had any channels through which to express their pain within the university, and no genuine steps have been taken by UCT to provide such. It is telling that a student had to go to the lengths that Chumani did in order to garner the university’s attention on issues of black pain. The fact that management has clearly disregarded the experiences of black students, staff and workers for the last 21 years on this campus calls into question their legitimacy in dealing with the issue of removing the statue.

The illegitimate nature of this process is also illustrated by our walk-out last Monday in protest of the disingenuous Heritage, Signage and Symbolism seminar. After the walk-out, the remaining members of the seminar stopped the discussion to respect student protestors and our decision that any conversation on the statue can only happen on our terms. The fact that the Vice-Chancellor mentioned this seminar in his letter without contextualising it reveals that he is committed to upholding a process that is clearly to the detriment of black students.

We take issue with Dr Price’s reasoning that “it is a council decision”. Again, the only view relevant to the decision is that of black students, workers and staff, and we refuse to accept the trivialisation of this fact in the form of management prioritising white stakeholders. We are also fully aware that UCT senior management has taken unilateral decisions before with no delay – we refer here to the decisions taken on the admissions policy which was pushed through by senior management.

We stress that this movement is not simply about the removal of a statue, and removing the statue is only the first step towards the radical decolonisation of this university. The removal of the statue is the first condition of our campaign – from which point we will allow management to engage with us. We demand that Management accepts that there is no decision to make: this movement has decided that the statue must fall. We demand that Dr Price organises an emergency meeting of council this week Friday the 27th of March to discuss the processes involved in removing the statue from this campus. We will remain in Bremner building until we receive confirmation of this.

olive schreiner on cecil john rhodes

“We fight Rhodes because he means so much of oppression, injustice, and moral degradation to South Africa; – but if he passed away tomorrow there still remains the terrible fact that something in our society has formed the matrix which has fed, nourished, and built up such a man!”

— In a letter to John X. Merriman on 3 April 1897, published at Olive Schreiner Letters online.

Rhodes statue, head covered in garbage bags. University of Cape Town, 17 March 2015. Photo: Rosemary Lombard

Statue of Cecil John Rhodes, head covered in garbage bags. University of Cape Town, 17 March 2015. Photo: Rosemary Lombard

Some more provocative white writing about the legacy of Rhodes can be found HERE.

ethel waters – his eye is on the sparrow

Pause to watch, listen and reflect.

Have you ever experienced the weird magic of coming across something obliquely on Youtube, on your way somewhere else, and it speaks so powerfully, so uncannily, to all the things happening right now around you that all the hairs on your body stand on end? This is one of those times. The scene comes from a 1952 film called The Member of the Weddingbased on the book/play by Carson McCullers, starring Ethel Waters, Julie Harris and Brandon De Wilde. I came across it because my housemate Khanyi and I were singing this old hymn, hamming it up Lauryn-Hill-in-Sister-Act-2 style. I wanted to check out some of the older versions… and this clip revealed itself to me, complete with contextual preamble.

Just to tether this to a little of my own current context (I unfortunately don’t have time to write much right now), here is something written by one of my MPhil classmates about the student protests demanding the removal of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes that are currently happening at UCT, and here is the official SRC statement on the matter.

member-of-the-wedding-julie-harris-ethel-waters-brandon-de-wilde-1952

the situation is clinical

somewhere in 2008 i sent friends and family a short account of a visit to hillbrows’ HIV testing site. to cut it short it was a nightmare, surreal. the counsellor sat me down, asked my age, the number of sexual partners blah blah. he then broke down HIV for me, this is what it is, blah. to tie a bow on it, dude then asked where my family was and if i had any younger siblings who would take care of me when i get too sick to do so. he hadn’t even drawn blood then. what followed was a small confrontation, he shut me up by stating, ‘i wouldn’t be so cocky before my ‘positive’ comes back.’

i took the test and walked down to the johannesburg art gallery. kay hassan eased my anger, his fathers’ music room reminded me of home, the people there who would have to take care of me if the clairvoyant counsellor had had a clearer crystal ball. i’d seen other counsellors before mr doom and gloom, they had been informative and quick to ease my nerves. he was a bad apple, i filed a complaint.prick

today i tried my local clinic on for size. with ‘kick start’ clinics closed i’ve struggled to find a testing site that’s free and near and last year i missed my december first test. woodstock community health centre sits just on the other side of mountain road. when electricians arrived too early for my husband to open for them, i ran home to open up and leave them with a short ‘to do’ before zipping back up the road to join the freebie queue. after my folder was called i waited a short 45 minutes (govt health care people, catch up) before i was asked to see a counsellor. as i stepped in another gentleman was called.

‘no, we’re not together,’ i offered.

‘yes, that’s fine. just both of you come in.’

‘oh, ok’

i’m in this weird room with a counsellor, a dude i met on the bench outside and i’m about to disclose my sexual history. i’m about to know how many people mr bench has been with. this is all too heady. i sit and giggle awkwardly. i’m thinking of my one night stands, i realize i don’t know as much about any of them as i’m about to find out about this stranger. i giggle some more then ask, ‘but how?’ at which i burst out laughing. the counsellor raises an eye brow, i cross and uncross my legs then clench my butt cheeks, got to stop laffing.

‘how old are you?’

the counsellor is barking at mr bench, who looks at me and i shrug my shoulders. a quiet knock introduces mr bench’s friend, his translator. the man is french. there’s four of us in the room and the translator is hot and about to find out i’m pretty easy and live around the corner. i need a smart phone. for ten minutes i sit listening as questions bounce from the counsellor to the translator and then finally to mr bench. it’s amusing, it’s someone else’s nightmare.

‘have you ever had anal sex?’

‘i’m sorry, i’m going to have to wait outside.’

my shoulders are shaking, my chest is tight. i am clenching an unclenching my fists. i’m biting at my lower lip and i want to punch the daylights out of our counsellor. my knees buckle a bit as i sit at the bench outside the office. i didn’t get mr bench’s name but i know a few things about him that should remain in the safety of ‘doctor patient privilege.’ i sat through it, i laughed about it. yes, i shouldn’t have been put in that position but it’s one thing to need a translator to buy milk and bread and quite another to have a second person know your status before you do. mr bench is just one dude, a home affairs glitch. shame. i’m just a sweet little asshole, who should have used better judgement. when they leave i can’t look either one in the eye, i’m ashamed and can’t wait to half die.

my turn comes and i ask the counsellor why they asked us both to come in.

‘it’s a faster turn around.’

if they prick us, do we not bleed?

kyle shepherd trio – die maan skyn so helder

“The moon’s shining so brightly tonight…”

Kyle Shepherd (piano, voice), Shane Cooper (double bass) and Jonno Sweetman (drums) perform a version of this subversive traditional Cape Goema song arranged by Kyle Shepherd. Recorded live at Welgemeend, Welgemeend Street, Gardens, Cape Town, South Africa on Friday 21 May 2009.