South African Students Vow To Fight White Supremacy

South African Students Vow To Fight White Supremacy
Members of the #RhodesMustFall student movement

AFRICANGLOBE – The UCT #RhodesMustFall Student Movement is an independent collective of students who have come together with the aim of subverting white supremacy and institutional racism at UCT.

This movement was catalysed by Chumani Maxwele’s radical protest action against the statue of Cecil John Rhodes on Monday, March 9. This has brought to the surface the existing and justified rage of Black students in the white supremacist space which is cultivated and maintained by UCT, despite its rhetoric of “transformation”. In our belief, the experiences seeking to be addressed by this movement are not unique to an elite institution such as UCT, but rather reflect broader dynamics of a racist society that has remained unchanged since the end of formal apartheid.

This movement is not just about the removal of a statue. The statue has great symbolic power – it is a glorifying monument to a man who was undeniably a racist, imperialist, colonialist and misogynist. This presence, which represents South Africa’s history of dispossession and exploitation of Black people, is an act of violence against Black students, workers and staff. The removal of the statue will not be the end of this movement, but rather the beginning of the decolonisation of the university.

At the root of this struggle is the dehumanisation of Black people at UCT. This dehumanisation is a violence exacted only against Black people by a system that privileges whiteness. Our definition of Black includes all racially oppressed people of colour.

We want to state that we adopt an unequivocally intersectional approach to our struggle against racism. An intersectional approach takes into account that we, as Black people, experience different forms of oppressions. Our understanding of race is informed by recognising other forms of oppressions such as gender, sexuality, disability and class.

With regard to white involvement, we refer to Biko: “What I have tried to show is that in South Africa, political power has always rested with white society. Not only have the whites been guilty of being on the offensive but, by some skilful manoeuvres, they have managed to control the responses of the Blacks to the provocation. Not only have they kicked the Black, but they have also told him how to react to the kick.”

We support the White Privilege Project and encourage white students to engage with that. They can contribute through conscientising their own community on campus.

In line with our positions, we reject the policing of the responses of Black students to their violent experiences. We want to add that we feel that the constitution’s conception of racism is fundamentally racist because it presupposes that racism is a universal experience, thus normalising the suffering of those who actually experience racism.

Bringing Down Cecil John Rhodes’ Statue
A South African protester next to the offensive statue of the genocidal maniac Cecil Rhodes on the UCT campus

It is laughable that UCT has a building named after Biko, when Biko himself said: “Those who know, define racism as discrimination by a group against another for the purposes of subjugation or maintaining subjugation. In other words one cannot be racist unless he has the power to subjugate.”

We have noted that the UCT SRC has supported this movement and we welcome their solidarity. However, we are wary of the contradictions inherent in the SRC taking up such a cause. Given that they are a structure specifically designed to work with management, having them lead puts this movement in a compromised position in which we would have to negotiate with management on their terms.

We find the way in which UCT management has “engaged” with this movement to be disingenuous. At no point have we been engaged directly by management.

We also find it infuriating that management is attempting to open up a process of debate through their “Have Your Say” campaign. Alumni have been e-mailed and asked for input, and noticeboards have been put up near the statue to allow for comment from the broader student body. This is not meaningful engagement of Black students by management, and in fact shows a complete disregard for the Black experience.

Finally, it is revealing that while Black protesters are threatened with and are facing investigations, the racist backlash from white students has been met with silence by the university.

Objectives of the movement:

Our immediate demands are that we receive a date for the removal of the statue from campus grounds, and that the university investigation of student protesters be withdrawn. We find it unacceptable that management has presented a date on which council will discuss the statue.

Our long-term goals include:

1. The removal of statues and plaques commemorating racists; the renaming of buildings from names of racist or average white people to Black historical figures; the re-evaluation of artworks which exoticise Africa, poverty and the Black experience and are predominantly done by white artists; the recognition of suppressed Black history relevant to the institution such as slave graves on campus, and Black people who have contributed to the development of the university.

2. The implementation of an Afro-centric curriculum. By this we mean treating African discourses as the point of departure and only examining Western traditions in so far as they are relevant to our own experience; financial and research support of Black academics and staff; radically changing the representation of Black lecturers across faculties; revising the limitations on access to senior positions for Black academics.

3. An admissions policy which explicitly includes race and which prioritises Black applicants; improved academic support programmes; a meaningful interrogation of why Black students are most often at the brunt of academic exclusion; the development of an improved financial aid system; improved facilities which deal with sexual assault as well as facilities which help Black students deal with the psychological trauma as a result of racism.

4. The end of victimisation and intimidation of workers; challenging the system of outsourcing which diminishes UCT’s accountability towards workers and gives rise to worker vulnerability; the implementation of support structures for workers similar to those offered to students for sexual assault and mental health, as well as access to services dealing with labour, family and housing issues.


In solidarity,

By: The Rhodes Must Fall Student Movement