Dear Archbishop Ndungane
I write this letter to you because this week I was forced to ask myself “Why must our struggle continue?” This is not the first time this question has plagued me. Why must it be that a student at the University of Cape Town (UCT) is pushed to the point of having to throw fecal matter over the statue of Cecil John Rhodes in order to have a conversation about transformation at UCT? How is it that we are now at this point?
This week I was forced, again, to come to terms with the idea that the University of Cape Town has no plan for real transformation on campus. Transformation that I can see. Honest transformation. Transformation that means something. I write this letter to you not as an attack on your person, though I must note that your silence on matters of transformation at UCT is disconcerting, I write this letter as an appraisal of the institutionalised racism that continues to persists within UCT. This letter is addressed to you because I can no longer put my trust in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor or Senate to lead any form of meaningful transformation at this institution.
The form of institutionalised racism that persists at UCT is unlike the other forms of obvious, obscene and repugnant acts of racism that exist at other institutions of higher learning. Ours is worse. Ours is systemic. Ours is subliminal. It is the form of racism that makes you ignorant about your subjugation because you are never challenged to seriously engage on critical matters. It’s the form of racism that allows those who enter UCT from a position of privilege to never have to question their privilege. The privilege of being able to walk past a statue of Saartjie Baartman in the library and have no idea that simply placing her on display, with no justification, is an insult to her legacy and painfully offensive to many students.
You see the problem we face at UCT is that the discussion around transformation, and in particular racial transformation, is largely ignored or recklessly diluted by those in decision making positions. Racial transformation is often packed away into policies that have no tangible outputs and have meaningless impact on the university. If it were true that the university was indeed moving forward with regards to transformation why is it that we do not have a real,meaningful, transformation strategy? Reverend, what we want, what we need, is transformation that we can see.
Currently the transformation goals of the university are:
Making the university a more representative institution in terms of its academic and support staff, and of its student body
Promoting enhanced intellectual diversity,
Transcending the idea of race,
Improving institutional climate and and having an enhanced focus on our intellectual enterprise on African perspectives
With regards to representation, we both know that the University has have failed in that regard. Last year the Office of the Vice-Chancellor (OVC) tried to defend this by lamenting the lack of quality black academics across the country and further explaining that the University cannot afford to offer competitive salaries to entice young black graduates to continue studying. Both these arguments are weak at best, they show that there was never really a plan to increase representation.
I would also like to challenge you to a game that students that the university often play; I want you to ask a student whether they have ever been lectured by a black academic and if yes how many? The response will surely break your heart.
With regards to intellectual diversity and focusing on African Perspectives, I believe we are making headway but there is still a lot left to be desired. The work of our postgraduate students as well as academics must be commended and cannot be ignored. But, if you were to step back, just for a moment, would you say that this is enough? Do you think we are being progressive enough in our production of african intellectualism. Have we really engaged on learning and sharing the idea of African perspectives? Is it not sad that it is a common saying amongst students on campus that “UCT is in the unfortunate position of being a European university stuck at the bottom of Africa”? What is the intellectual diversity we are looking for? Who is it for?
These are the real questions that need to be asked.
Why must we transcend the idea of race when racial dialogue is stifled on campus? Not through physical action, but through the creation of institutional rules and norms that prevent those in power enacting real change. Why must we transcend race when white students are never told to accept their white privilege? Even more so, why should we transcend race when the university further allows white students to express that white privilege unopposed on campus because there are simply no structures to do so.
The university wants to move towards a post-racial society but conveniently ignores the fact that in order to do so one must effectively deal with the idea of race first. The university threatens to place disciplinary charges against a Chumani Maxwele and further vilifies his actions but never once does the institution take responsibility for having created the environment in which the only way we can be heard is through fecal extrements. If this act is not enough to garner the universities attention, what should we do next? Should we march to Bremner and be met by the same OVC that we believe hasn’t done enough to transform and hope that that institution has changed its mind? What must happen for us to finally get the University’s attention? Surely, it can only get worse from here.
My issue, Reverend Ndungane is not with individuals within the university. My issue is about a institutional culture at UCT that has not realised that it is infused with norms and values that inherently promote discrimination for many of its students. It seeks to subjugate us by not allowing us to feel like the transformation we need is also the transformation that we can see. Worst of all, many of us don’t even realise it.
We as students have and will continue to mobilise ourselves and discuss this matter of Rhodes and we will resolve on the issue of transformation. We will not be intimidated by threats of disciplinary action against dissenting voices who have often been denied the opportunity to speak. We will create a plan of action for real transformation at the University of Cape Town because we are slowly beginning to the help each other break the chains of institutional racism.
Why Must Our Struggle Continue?
Rekgotsofetse “Kgotsi” Chikane
A student who wants transformation he can see