When the timer hit the 17th minute in an on-campus rugby match on Monday the 22nd of February 2016, a group of protesters brought its movement to the rugby fields of the University of Free State, South Africa. These were outsourced contract workers who worked in the university, fighting for attention to their plight, fighting for a change in their working conditions. Young black students had joined them in solidarity with the movement as it could easily have been their own parents fighting for fairness. In an instant, riled up spectators attacked the protesters thus creating a black versus white standoff twenty-one years after South Africa formally deserted its apartheid past. African independence was exposed for what it is; a facade, a fluid and unstable dishonest house of cards that could fall into the rubble of non-existence the moment it was confronted by real issues. This independence is a freedom crafted by the slave-master and the world should stop pretending it is sustainable.
Open Stellenbosch a collective of students working against institutionalised racism at the University of Stellenbosch took to Facebook with a message of support for students at the University of Free State. It read, “We are very worried about the safety of black students and workers at the University of Free State. Black students who stand in solidarity with outsourced workers at UFS disrupted a rugby match and were eventually attacked by white students and their parents. Once again we witness a violent attack of racism on black students by those who couldn’t care about the workers (mainly black women) who cook them food at Res, clean their rooms and lecture halls.”
What has been particularly disturbing as Open Stellenbosch then pointed out is the level of nonchalance with regards to the brutal physical attacks on blacks. UFS is not an isolated case as the University of Pretoria is also trying to douse flames of racial violence sparked by protests against its exclusionary language policy. To the ordinary black student who is trying to be heard, it seems violent response against him/her is protected and officiated by the silence of the powers that be. If they are not silent, they use apologetic rhetoric but end up arresting the same students they claim to understand so deeply at press conferences. Some academics have even gone a step further and label students who protest against racial injustice enemies of peace and progress. This is hypocritical to say the very least.
The campus violence in South Africa is unfortunately not just that. It is rooted in the nature of African independence from colonialism which was drafted in a manner that did not appreciate that the beneficiaries they did indeed profit from the inequality. Questions like how economic equality would be achieved in a manner appreciative of past injustices were never addressed and if they were, half-baked solutions were only offered. This then reminds one of Sir Hilary Beckles’ open letter in support of Jamaica’s reparations claim from Britain which read, “We ask not for hand-outs or any such acts of indecent submission. We merely ask that you acknowledge responsibility for your share of this situation and move to contribute in a joint programme of rehabilitation and renewal.” The statement was in tandem with a motion the Jamaican parliament had approved to seek monetary compensation for Britain’s role in the slave trade of the 1700s and how it benefited economically from seemingly exclusively social injustices. Jamaica made a move to answer the questions of equality that have been a sensitive chapter leaders hurriedly flip past. Now that these were not answered, violence drawn on racial lines is a reality decades after the vestiges of colonialism were seemingly eradicated.
It is even sadder that in 2016, The University of Free State still has statues of champions of racial segregation mounted in its campus for some reason. Furthermore, important buildings in the campus are not named after champions of the struggle for equality but after their anti-thesis. When confronted with such questions, the university claims it was never approached by anyone to make such changes. This is a ridiculous argument that is as sickening as it is pathetic. No one should have to wait to be told that the paradigm has shifted and it is time to put black culture on the same level as the dominant white culture. They are the academics, why wait to be told? The Vice Chancellor of UFS should be called to give the world satisfactory answers in the very least. Whites attacked blacks in the shadow of apartheid President CR Swart’s statue. Something should be said Professor Jonathan Jansen, something should be said to be done. What is even more sickening is how the rugby match continued forty-five minutes after the brutal attacks. A rugby match is apparently more important than a black man’s life. The world can pretend not to see this in a desperate attempt to maintain peace but the worth of a black life in 2016’s world is clearly lower than a rugby match.
Image Credit: Times Live