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As academics and staff at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) we want to state our support for our students and others that are similarly located at historically black universities (HBIs) as they have been embarking on this protest action. Seeming to exist outside of the media’s spotlight unless there is a moment of violence, we suggest these students have something to offer beyond a racially scripted instantiation of violence or ‘chaos’.
We also want, along with earlier statements circulated through the media, to affirm our support both for students nationally and across all institutions, as well as for the clear thinking and commitment to non-violent protest that has been an integral element to the formation of this action, both at UWC and at other institutions of higher learning across the country. The actions of the police, often violent, in engaging these protests must be deplored and condemned in the strongest terms.
After conversations with our students, and consideration of the recent announcement by President Jacob Zuma of a zero percent fee increase for 2016, we feel a few things should be said. Especially since this aspect of these actions is not so readily reported in the media – perhaps learning is not sensational enough. We feel that a zero percent increase on fees is a start. It cannot be the end.
Students have been united, regardless of institution and political affiliation, behind the call, ♯FeesMustFall. As students work out their responses to the 0% increase, we call for continued unity in the struggle for tertiary education to be made accessible to all, regardless of tactical differences that may arise.
In principle we affirm the call for a national tax to fund higher education, although we also think that other creative solutions need to be explored.
This struggle is a struggle to study; it is a struggle for education, not for riotous assembly or an escape from the rigors of intellectual work. Our students are protesting as students so as to be students. This is not only a time of crisis, but is also a time of emergence. It is a moment in which the seeds of a new expression of higher education in South Africa can begin to be shaped and planted. This emphasis in the protest is evidenced in the retreat of UWC students after a night of confrontation with the SAPS, not to their bedrooms, but to the Student Centre so as to study.
It is, however, readily apparent that the landscape of tertiary education, or indeed all education, in South Africa is not even: the weight of apartheid planning still bears down on us in our present. Students today are united, regardless of institution, in asking for tertiary education to be accessible to all. Accessibility, as students themselves have articulated, is not merely a question of fees. It has to do with everyday life, the cost of residence, the accessibility of resources such as books and computers. Accessibility also means having the time and space to read.
Indeed, we understand the struggle to be for epistemological openness, for a re-thinking of our concepts, a rethinking of the university’s relation both to the State, to the public sector, and to society broadly construed.
We suggest, however, that the distorted perception of what counts as tertiary education in South Africa must be addressed. That the media coverage of the protest action has focused on the debate on fees and accessibility through the lens of historically white institutions (HWIs) is not accidental. Rather, it is a symptom of a more pervasive condition in which HWIs have become synonymous with arrival in the age of developmentalism and entrepreneurship. As many of our students have argued, this distortion is integral to the very bureaucratic structure of higher education in South Africa. It perpetuates the media stereotypes and general public perceptions that render HBIs as sites of disorderly and often violent conduct. The actions of students primarily, but also staff, render such stereotypes as patently misleading and false. The unevenness of this landscape has an even sharper and more viscerally immediate consequence: students at these institutions have been left more vulnerable to vicious police action.
Free education is not only about money, resources, student to lecturer ratios, the end to the outsourcing, although it clearly does mean this. It also means an education that works towards freedom. It means working through legacies of apartheid difference that persist in our present. It means considering the university as a space for thinking beyond the confines of instrumentality, as a site from which Africa, as philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne has argued, might be thought as an open question. Today it is not enough to say that the university must be decolonized. Rather we suggest that one of its central concepts, that of Africanity (the condition of being African in the world), must be produced as an open concept. By Africanity as an open concept we mean a resistance to a fixed definition, a hospitality towards difference held inside its own meaning, one which turns toward a future that resists a repetition of the past. In other words, to say that Africanity is an open concept is to suggest that it might yet be resistant to apartheid’s concept of difference that relied so strongly on the production of rigid racial identities.
To say so is perhaps once again to have the hope that the doors of learning shall be open.
Maurits van Bever Donker (CHR)
Riedwaan Moosage (History)
Nicky Rousseau (History)
Patricia Hayes (History)
Heidi Grunebaum (CHR)
Premesh Lalu (Director: CHR)
Suren Pillay (CHR)
Heike Becker(Anthropology and Sociology)
Vivienne Bozalek (Director: Teaching and Learning)
Paolo Israel (History)
Jung Ran Forte (Anthropology and Sociology)
Tammy Shefer(Women and Gender Studies)
Ben Cousins (PLAAS)
Leslie Witz (History)
Miki Flokkeman (English)
Paul Adolphsen (English)
William Ellis (Anthropology and Sociology)
Uta Lehmann (School of Public Health)
Kate Highman (English)
Ciraj Rassool (History)
David Holgate (HOD: Mathematics and Deputy Dean of Natural Sciences)
Ursula Arends (PLAAS)
Paige Sweet (CHR)
Sisa Ngabaza (Women and Gender Studies)
Mafaniso Hara (PLAAS)
Gillian Kerchoff (PLAAS)
Peter van Heusden (SANBI)
Rebecca Pointer (PLAAS)
Umesh Bawa (Psychology)
Cathy Kell (Linguistics)
Suraya Mohamed (School of Public Health)
Allison Fullard (Deputy Director: Library Services)
Ferdinand Mukumbang (School of Public Health)
Marijke Du Toit (Teaching and Learning)
Ruth Hall (PLAAS)
Thandi Puone (School of Public Health)
Roger Field (English)
Lindsay Clowes (Women and Gender Studies)
Lucia Knight (School of Public Health)
Uma Mesthrie (History and Deputy Dean of Research and Post Graduate Studies: Arts Faculty)
Shirley Brooks (Geography, Environmental Studies and Tourism)
Leon Pretorius (School of Government)
Richard Knight(Co-ordinator: ESS)
Desiree Lewis (Women and Gender Studies)
Andries du Toit (Director: PLAAS)
Neil Myburgh (Community Oral Health)
Bradley Rink (Geography, Environmental Studies and Tourism)
Nikki Schaay (School of Public Health)
Fairuz Mullagee (Social Law Project, Faculty of Law)
Arona Dison (Community and Health Sciences)
Diana Gibson (Anthropology and Sociology)
Alan Ralphs (Division for Lifelong Learning)
Wendy Woodward (English)
David Sanders (School of Public Health)
Efua Prah (Anthropology and Sociology)
Lannie Birch (English)
Helen Schneider (Director: School of Public Health)
Shamiel Jassiem (Director: Legal Aid Clinic)
Laurence Piper (Political Studies)
Hazel Bradley (School of Public Health)
Michael Rowe (Physiotherapy Department)
Charlyn Wessels Dyers (Linguistics)
Daniel Tevera (HOD: Geography, Environmental Studies and Tourism)
Woldekidan Amde (School of Public Health)
Roger Ronnie(Social Law Project)
Fiona Anciano (Political Studies)
Cherrel Africa (HOD: Political Studies)
Mark Hoskins (Political Studies)
Leah Koskimaki (Political Studies)
Nohle Siboto (Library Services)
Mike Dyssel (Geography)
Charl Davids (Psychology)
Lameez Lalkhen (CHR)
Issued by The University of the Western Cape Academics and Staff