“We must call a spade a spade”
By Erica Dibela
The SRC at the University of the Free State (UFS) has played a crucial role in the recent protests on campus. Their involvement, however, has been coupled with controversy as rumors and speculations made rounds. Do they want the Rector to fall? Are some of them spies? The Journalist’s Erica Dibela interviewed the SRC President, Lindokuhle Ntuli, and the SRC Associations’, Sikhululekile Luwaca, on recent events on campus.
The Journalist (TJ): How many members of the SRC actually engaged in the protest action?
Lindokuhle Ntuli (LN): All of the SRC members were active in the protests.
Sikhululekile Luwaca (SL): I can never answer the question of how many SRC members were active in the strike, partially because we operate as a collective.
TJ: Are there members of the SRC who plan to resign?
LN: I am not aware of any SRC members wanting to resign. Around this time a lot of people are frustrated academically as well, but no one is resigning. We will continue to work together as the SRC and make sure we achieve our mandate.
SL: I have seen no resignation letter and I have heard nothing about anyone wanting to resign.
TJ: Were any of the SRC members who took part in the protest arrested?
LN: No SRC member was arrested. They wanted to arrest us, but we managed to escape.
TJ: What made you decide to go to Shimla Park on 22 February?
LN: When we went to Shimla Park our goal was to get the attention of the University. It had disengaged from negotiations with the workers; it had victimised students taking part in the protests which were peaceful. We drafted a letter of demand to them requesting that they reinstate Trevor Shaku in his position as research student assistant; we wrote a letter of demand to them that they re-enroll Cobe Lee as a student at the University and they refused. Prof. Jansen said that he does not have time; we are not in his diary so he will only respond when he has time to do so. We wanted him to respond in 24 hours and he failed to do so; we said if he does not do that we will take matters into our own hands, and at the same time we knew very well that he would attend the rugby match. And, there was no other better way to get his attention, except for the rugby match. It is also not because of the fact that rugby is supported by mostly white people; even if it was a soccer match we were going to disturb the match. We thought that by protesting they would go back to the negotiation table with the students and the workers because they would have realised how frustrating this is. But it was perceived as if these are just chaos-creators and disruptors. The Rector saw what happened and allowed the match to continue as if nothing has happened.
There is no transformation at the University of the Free State, we just have black numbers. There is no real transformation. Our university is very passive in approaching transformation. Even in the statement that was issued by the University they said that the spectators attacked the workers and the students who were protesting; it was not just the spectators, it was the white students and their parents. You call a spade a spade so that you can be able to resolve a problem;
To run through the different engagement processes, let us engage on racism, and further than that we have these sessions at different times. We have more than five sessions on different days to ensure that we move with the students as a collective. On the last day we will sign a declaration, black and white students, were we say we commit ourselves to a non-racial society and conduct ourselves in a manner that is in the best interest of the society. That declaration will stand on a wall; we will print it and it will exist for many generations to come. They will know that this generation of ours signed that declaration because we believe in unity, we believe in reconciliation and transformation. Regardless of the passive narrow approach of the University, we will lead them. They will join our sessions because they have no constructive approach on how to attack racism. They are afraid that they cannot trust students on how to have an intellectual conversation between black and white.
TJ: How many students and workers were arrested throughout the entire protest action?
LN: There were 56 students and workers arrested during the strike.
TJ: How true is the rumour that the Rector wants you to step down as SRC President, and how do you feel about that?
LN: The Rector didn’t vote me into office. He cannot dictate unless he wants to fight directly with the students, start a revolution against the students, then he can remove me from office. I was never elected by Prof. Jansen to office, I do not work for him, I do not take orders from him. I am accountable to the students; those who elected me to the office.
SL: Some students chose not to vote, so we cannot be informed by students who did not vote to remove the President. Only those who voted would be the ones to say we should remove the President. This should also be a learning curve for you to be able to voice your view; you must participate in the SRC elections.
TJ: Why did the SRC not attend the Peace Walk that took place on 1 March?
LN: The Peace Walk was a joke, and without taking away from the importance of the power of prayer, but it shows the attitude of the University towards transformation. It shows how narrow and shallow the University is. When we are talking of issues of transformation you cannot completely ignore the incident that took place on Monday by marching from the Main Building to the Callie Human Centre. Students are now leading the process of transformation; the SRC will lead management because they are not prepared to change the University. They are comfortable in sitting in their offices; we are not comfortable with the status quo therefore we will address and confront racism. Since the incident happened on Monday 22 February, the University has only done one thing, which is the prayer walk, and they think they have dealt with the problem. On the other side, the SRC has been having engagements with black and white students to understand one another.
SL: When the prayer meeting was organised we were not considered so it was obvious that they did not want us there.
TJ: In the memorandum that you recently released, do you feel as the SRC President that you have included and represented all the students on campus – black and white?
LN: This is a struggle, one that is against the system simply because the system is designed to uphold white privilege. That is why you would have 90 percent white students in the Medical Faculty and only 10 percent black students. It is what has been happening in the past – the University of the Free State is a historically white Afrikaner university. Without us decolonising the University and changing the system it will always favour white people at the expense of black people. The manner which you are treated as a black person at the University is not the same manner white people are treated. You find that black students stand in queues for hours and white students just walk through and get assistance – that is white privilege. White supremacy is advanced and protected by the system. When you are calling for inclusivity, for white supremacy to be destroyed systematically and the interest of the black students to be taken into account as those of the white students, it is obvious that white people would be offended because they are comfortable with how the system is. The system does not favour a black person. The statues and the symbols of the University do not favour a black person. Black students also have a history to tell, they would also like if a building would be named after an icon they are proud of. We can never be apologetic for calling for transformation, as it will never come on a silver platter.
TJ: Is the SRC in any way part of #UnsilenceUFS?
LN: Yes, we support the initiative; we move collectively. In fact, I am also a member of #UnsilenceUFS.
SL: We are supporting #UnsilenceUFS because for so long students have been scared to voice their opinions and in an academic institution that should not be the case.
TJ: In your memorandum your first demand was that the Rector should step down. Why do you want him to step down?
SL: There is so much frustration on campus, and everyone is looking for someone to blame. With the incident that happened on Monday the first person one would point fingers at would be the Rector. There are always two sides to the coin. Yes, Prof. Jansen has achieved a lot but how and why did this incident happen under his administration. It is also a call for us to reflect and also ask ourselves, is this something that we really want or are we influenced by emotions and anger. Our issue is the system that continues to oppress, and not an individual.
TJ: What are your thoughts on the incident that occurred on Monday 22 March?
LN: The last time I heard a person crying was back home when my little niece was crying. But the latest time I heard a person crying was a woman who is as old as my mom after being kicked by white students, kicking her as if they were kicking a dog. That is the problem and the challenge that we have in this University and the issue of the system. Tell me we are not allowed to be angry after that happens, tell me we are not allowed to remove the statue that still represents white supremacy and black inferiority.
SL: For so long we have been creating an illusion, pretending as if there is no racism. But there is racism on campus and it is time we deal with it.
TJ: The protest was about the workers’ rights, so how did the students become involved in this protest?
SL: We knew as the SRC that both the Student Forum and workers were involved in the strike. When you say that you are supporting the cause, there is no time when you disassociate yourself from the cause. When you are for something in the beginning, you must be for it until the end – this is so that when development comes you do not end in the middle and say I am not for this – you have to see it through. We have seen around the country how protests that have been led by only the people, who are not the SRC, have ended in anarchy. It is very important that whatever uprising happens, the SRC is well informed so that they will be present.