By Sara Lagardien Abdullah
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 2 of VARSITY News.
The University of Cape Town (UCT), as with any other institution, is not immune to the happenings of the world that it is situated in. Over the past four years alone, the University of Cape Town has witnessed events that have presented it with unprecedented challenges — leaving the University to question its position in an ever-changing world of uncertainty. From the dying days of Fees Must Fall to Day Zero, the upsurge of Gender Based Violence and now, the pandemic that is Covid-19 – also known as coronavirus, UCT has been brought to a halt once again – arguably more severely than in its past.
In 2017 UCT – along with other universities across South Africa – was confronted with the final days of the Fees Must Fall movement’s omnipresence. The movement was a historical, meaningful and urgent movement that sought to stop increases in student fees and increase government funding of universities. However, for fees to fall (an act embedded in an ethos of decoloniality) the Fees Must Fall movement presented UCT with a not-so-unfamiliar range of challenges. Simmering throughout the year as a continuation of its previous years of being active, the Fees Must Fall movement at UCT re-emerged prominently at the end of 2017. Classes were suspended, resulting in the University responding by erecting an examination tent on UCT’s rugby fields to thwart disruptions. Students were to write their final examinations in these tents along with the heightened presence of security and police dogs on campus.
2018 brought with it Day Zero which signified the prospect of Cape Town running out of municipal water between January and April. While Day Zero was never reached, those residing in Cape Town adopted an increased awareness of water conservation, implementing measures to curb Day Zero, and encouraging a maximum time of two-minute showers and the collection of grey water for other usages, amongst other measures. By February the then Vice-Chancellor, Max Price, conveyed the University’s plans to immediately reduce UCT’s water consumption by 50%. Fortunately, fears of Day Zero devastating Cape Town did not last too long, however, it’s precautions and lessons persisted and it was only two years later (through efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus) that the water saving nozzles on taps have been temporarily removed.
A look at the statistics easily reveals that South Africa is a country synonymous with gender-based violence (GBV). Whilst GBV has not escaped South Africa’s landscape, the brutal torture, rape and murder of UCT first year student, Uyinene Mrwetyana, in 2019 resulted in nationwide protest action. Classes were suspended, engulfing the campus in an eerie sense of unease. And now, in 2020, UCT faces a global pandemic (being the outbreak of Covid-19) which has been accompanied with a national lockdown, resulting in the suspension of the academic programme which is set to restart online beginning with an orientation session on the 20th of April 2020.
Indeed, we are living in unprecedented times and whilst the injustices of our collective past are not at all distant. Covid-19’s nature, being a global pandemic, undeniably stands out from the previous years of trials and tribulations. Perhaps it’s the virus’ seemingly indiscriminate essence with anyone being a possible victim. And whilst we can distance ourselves physically, we cannot distance ourselves from the reality of Covid-19’s destructive possibilities. Leading on from President Cyril Ramaphosa’s national address, UCT responded swiftly – initially in accordance with the banning of 100+ people gathering and then in accordance with the national lockdown. Globally, it’s a strange time for most and the university is left to question its function as an ivory tower during these times.