#FeesMustFall: An interview

I was interviewed by Sophie Schasiepen for the Austrian feminist magazine an.schlage in 2016. The interview covered issues surrounding #RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall and feminism within the movement. It was originally published in German here. This is the English translation of the interview. The translated piece is longer than the German version.

In April 2015, the #RhodesMustFall (RMF) movement achieved the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes* from the campus of the University of Cape Town (UCT). Debates leading to this event soon included demands for much more radical and extensive changes than just the removal of a statue: the protests were aiming for the decolonization of South African universities – and the country as a whole. Out of these discussions, many more initiatives were founded on different campuses throughout the country, amplifying the momentum of RMF. In October last year, a new climax was reached when students, parents and staff protested against an increase of tuition fees in, forming the #FeesMustFall (FMF) movement. All major campuses in South Africa were temporarily shut down. Jacob Zuma´s promptly following promise for a 0% increase of tuition fees has not put an end to the struggle – on the contrary, this year, at the beginning of the new term, protesters have been interrupting the registration processes and are continuing to take their demands to the streets.

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The Fuck Campaign at Wits

All pictures by Zimasa Mpemnyama

By Masego Panyane

UPDATE: The South African Human Right Commission (SAHRC)’s Issac Mangena has confirmed that a complaint has been laid with the commission regarding Mthunzi’s t-shirt and the matter is being looked into by the commission. Mangena added that there will be no hearing held by the commission for Mthunzi on Wednesday.

A group of protesting students took to the Great Hall Piazza to voice their displeasure about a fellow student, Zama Mthunzi being reported to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) for Hate Speech over a t-shirt he created during an artistic protest over the financial exclusion of poor students, presence of security personnel and other reasons, on campus in January.

Mthunzi, a 3rd year Mathematical Sciences student caused a stir on social media after an image of him in a t-shirt written “Fuck White People” trended on social media sites.

The Art Activation, which happened in January, was a protest organized by students to say how they felt at Wits-like they are “dying” because of the “oppression they face at the hands of the institution”. Mthunzi says the activation was when he ‘spontaneously’ created his t-shirt to show how he was feeling at time.

“I just took a t-shirt and I wrote how I was feeling at that moment. I was feeling hatred, because it was times of financial exclusion…and you’d look, come to lines and see how White people are paying, they’re relaxed, there are no financial problems so it arose that Black exclusion is so [rampant] in this institution” Mthunzi said.

Mthunzi’s t-shirt was met with harsh criticism by some members of the university community with a complaint having been allegedly laid with the Human Rights Commission and an investigation taking place in the university.

The protest took place during the lunch hour on Monday afternoon and there was a considerable amount of security personnel guarding the Great Hall entrance and the immediate surroundings of the piazza. This, however, did not seem to faze the demonstrating students as they continued painting t-shirts, singing and explaining to fellow students why they were there.

The university released a statement condemning the actions of protesting students, and it has also stated that it has heard that Mthunzi will “apparently” be appearing before the SAHRC but they are “Not sure who laid the complaint with SAHRC”.

The demonstration is set to continue till Wednesday in solidarity with Mthunzi who will allegedly be appearing before the Human Rights Commission regarding this complaint.

 

Story originally published on Witsvuvuzela.com

Arrests in “criminal activities” at Wits

by Zimasa Mpemnyama and Masego Panyane

All pictures by Zimasa Mpemnyama

UPDATE: Following their release on Friday evening from the Hillbrow Police Station, the students appeared at the Hilbrow Magistrates Court where the case against them was withdrawn by the prosecutor for further investigation.

Twenty #WitsFeesMustFall protestors were arrested earlier today following an alleged contravention of a court interdict obtained by Wits University. The students will likely spend the weekend at the Hillbrow police station as they are expected to appear in court on Monday.

The students who have not been named, are suspected of being involved in a number of actions including occupying the Solomon Mahlangu Concourse, and using a burning foam mattress to intimidate students. In statement released shortly after their arrest Wits University said the individuals had been involved in a number of “unlawful activities”, including “attempted arson, malicious damage to property, the alleged burning of a bus, the setting alight of a mattress at the back of a library and the vandalisation of University property.”

Gauteng Police spokesperson Captain Tsekiso Mofokeng said the students were being charged with contravention of a court order. “During the activities they were notified by the police that what they were doing was illegal and they should stop … as soon as we finalise our paper work, they’ll be notified of bail”, Mofokeng said.

Wits EFF Student Command chairperson, Vuyani Pambo, who spoke on behalf of the arrested students shared a different version of events. “About 20 students were congregated at Yale Road, sitting eating chips and having chocolate when the police passed for the first round, second round they rounded them up with the private, over paid security, Fidelity and forced them into the van. Then students being educated as they are, asked why they’re being arrested, and the police said get into the van … We got here and asked what was the charge because at the point of arrest, there was never made to the students, or rights read to the students”, Pambo said.

Pambo says there was a “faffing around” when police were asked what the charge is. He says the university is using “Apartheid tactics” to shut down protest on campus.

The students were released late on Friday evening with no bail.

 

Story originally published on Witsvuvuzela.com

The funding struggle is real

Violet 1

My name is Tebogo Langa* I am studying  a bachelor of Accounting and I am in my second year.

What happened was, I have, I had an outstanding fee of R19 433 and because I wrote a deferred exam in January automatically my NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) application for this year was declined, so I was told. I went to the SRC to find out if they can’t help me register because that was my main objective coming back to school this year.

There is a particular gentleman that promised that he would help, he even spoke to my brother last week Wednesday and said that he will meet Fees Office to ensure that by Friday I am registered. So on Thursday, the day after, I think the 4th of February, I call him he doesn’t answer his phone, it goes straight to voicemail.

So I call my brother and tell him that “listen, faculty has given me until the 8th as the last day to register, if not then I’m not gonna be able to come back to school.” So he had to take a loan to pay the outstanding fee, a loan of R20 000, and that’s how I managed to register.

I lost both my parents. I am from a family of five kids. My eldest brother, he is the one who actually takes care of us, he is a Metro Police, he works for JMPD, so that’s how he managed to get the loan coz he has a payslip, he qualified for it. But repaying it means that his family and our family are now having to do some financial adjustments and what seems like basic essential food to a lot of people to us is like luxury. From that we also need to cut down to ensure that he doesn’t go into further debt. I am the only one in the family to go to varsity.

I wasn’t [on Financial Aid] last year. I applied for it but they said my application papers got lost in the system. That’s why I didn’t have funding last year. But the year before I did have NSFAS.

I had to pay registration fee last year by myself, after paying it they said that all the appeal decisions would be out in March. And when they were out, in their system I basically hadn’t applied because they didn’t have my supporting documents. So throughout last year I have been contacting higher departments, I’ve got emails I can send them to you. I’ve got emails stating that I’ve been tryna find funding but when they come back into the school and they find out my financial standing, whether I qualify for NSFAS or not, they say they can’t help me because I’m not a NSFAS student. But they didn’t look into the fact whether I qualify for it or not but the fact that the system says I didn’t apply, they couldn’t help me.

I have appealed the NSFAS decision because they declined my application because I wrote a deferred, but the appeal will only be answered on the 31st of March so I think then will I know which way to go, but if the appeal is unsuccessful I don’t know how

I am going to pay this year’s fees.

I stay in Alexandra so I travel to and from school. I have never stayed at res before because when I had NSFAS I didn’t want to pay a bigger bill, but now that the years are going by and the workload is getting tougher its actually exhausting travelling, spending over an hour on the road and not having to stay on campus longer because of transportation so you are actually limited as to what you can and cannot do on campus.

I think the one thing I have learnt from working with the SRC in particular is, I know they’re working with a lot of people but can they not make promises that they cannot fulfill because had my brother not gone and took out this loan I wouldn’t be a student right now.

I know people who owed up to R60 000 from last year alone, those kinds of people can’t get that sort of money right now. I mean if the bank were to give you a loan of R60 000 they’d need actual property as surety, and say the parents fail to pay [the loan] back they now need to sell the only thing that they have, their only home.”

*As told to Zimasa Mpemnyama

*Names have been changed

Story originally published on Wits Vuvuzela.

A protesting pen

The University of the Witwatersrand has been riddled with student protests for the past week. The protests were sparked by the University fee increase of 10.5% for the 2016 academic year.

When I initially heard about the protest I had no hesitations about which side I would take. I didn’t think twice about whether or not I should join the protesting students or not. At this juncture I was sure – I am a student before I am a student journalist. In fact,  I am a black student before anything!

As the protests proceed, the word ‘objectivity’ keeps on cropping up in my head. What does it mean to be objective in a continuously changing country like South Africa. At times I believe that our history as a country doesn’t allow us to be objective. History gnaws at our feet and begs us to remember it. Include it. Use it in our reporting.

What I struggle with the most is how objectivity is perceived and embraced. To me it seems like to be objective is to be comfortable with the status quo. It means not questioning or interrogating, in a meaningful way, the worst of injustices. It seems almost superficial.

What I think though is that even those that are object have chosen a side. They are part of an ideological framework that accepts society as is and demonises radicality.

Many,  including close friends, have asked me why I have not been writing about the protests. The truth is, when it comes to certain things I choose not to be objective – in the traditional journalistic sense. In certain occasions my blackness, my feminism,  my class consciousness, won’t let me be an objective journalist. And that is fine. I accept this.

So what is a black feminist journalist to do in situations of injustice? I guess… use their pen to protest – and hope they don’t get punished for it. Or alternatively they join the masses and fight for change to happen, with pen in hand. Dripping with the ink of resistance!