The fight against injustice comes in many forms. Resistance art has already played a formidable role in student led protests including #Shackville at UCT, which saw the public demonstration razed down by police. Another recent incident was the Rhodes Must Fall exhibition, Echoing Voices from Within, at the Centre for African Studies Gallery at UCT, which saw disruption from transgender activists. Likewise, at UFS, a group of students are harnessing the power of art to stand up against oppression and injustice.
The birth of #Unsilence_UFS
Following the events of February 22 and black students’ arrests, an attention-grabbing movement is claiming its place at the UFS. Unsilence_UFS was formed on 28 February. It is a growing collective that first demonstrated outside the Callie Human Centre when university leaders joined by church groups, held a prayer walk for peace and justice. The Unsilence_UFS group of students was dressed in black with tape covering their mouths and their hands bound. This was their first demonstration, which, according to one member, “reflected the circumstances of black students on campus; voiceless, silenced, and barred from protesting.”
Protest art is loosely used to describe creative works that are produced by a group of activists or a social movement. The Unsilence_UFS movement’s aim is to find creative ways of expressing black students’ demands. Their campaigns thus far have included a march to Shimla Park, where they were joined by two representatives of the Rhodes Must Fall movement from the University of Cape Town. More recently they launched a demonstrative campaign called #BlackBaggage, where members carried stuffed black bags around campus. According to a member of the movement, “carrying this black plastic with contents is a demonstration of the daily burdens and struggles of black students. It is also indicative of the silenced black students that we have resorted to such measures for our daily plight to be noticed.”
This shift in the methods of protest adopted by Unsilence_UFS speaks to the shift in the approaches adopted during student protests. At the University of Cape Town we have seen demonstrations such as #DeathOfADream and #Shackville. This shift may be attributed to the police presence on university campuses and the court interdicts that students are subjected to.
Breaking the silence
A member of Unsilence_UFS, Amanda Charles, explained that the movement was a space that black students created in order to heal from the traumatic events that had been taking place on campus. The space was also formed to psychologically and emotionally prepare student activists for what would come after protests and demonstrations- particularly considering the possibility of police intimidation and arrest. “The interdict was the last straw because protesting was the only way we could voice our grievances and demands. Protest could not be taken away from black students and that is why we found creative ways to protest. We would not allow our intellectual capacity to be undermined because we knew there are over a hundred ways of protest,” said Charles.
Andries Vermeulen, a student at UFS, said the use of protest art by Unsilence_UFS is effective. “I think it’s a much more effective way to combat inequalities that are here and to get the message out than protests, or straight up shutting down campus. I think that the culture where people in South Africa were angry, about something and they just needed to oppose an oppressive system, numbers were their advantage. That has changed. We are a university campus, we can think of creative ways of changing things. That’s why I think this is a brilliant idea.”
When asked if he feels represented by the movement, Vermeulen said yes.
“It promotes transformation of campus in a creative way. I am completely for that,” he said.
Unsilence_UFS is an unapologetic pro-black inclusive movement that seeks to fight against white supremacy and institutional racism. Siphesihle, a member of the movement, said, “Our main objective is to say we are here and we have been here for very long time.” The movement seeks to provide a voice to student activism at the institution. Siphesihle says that to him the fight against white supremacy is voicing their experiences on injustice based on race. “Confronting this ugly face of white supremacy; like when my friend was kicked-out of res for no reason but being black. She went to the Housing Residence Affairs thereafter to report her case but the matter was never dealt with.”
“We’re fighting against the fact that punitive measures are not taken against white students. For instance, when a friend of mine was in the toilet and a bucket of water was poured on him by white students; nothing was done about it.”
Unsilence_UFS takes on issues ranging from transformation and financial exclusion to issues around accommodation on campus.
All photos by Lihlumelo Toyana