[intro]Student protests at the University of the Free State had a far-reaching impact on individuals. Ayanda Ngena, a 3rd year Journalism student, discovered exactly how much she was affected by these events after her lecturer opened a discussion on what happened. She shares her experiences in this issue of The Journalist.[/intro]
The year is 2016, which marks 22 years of democracy. It is also the year in which we celebrate the 40 year anniversary of the Soweto uprising of June 16, 1976. The anniversary that celebrates the brave learners who took to the streets in protest to speak out against an unjust education system.
I was born some 13 years after the events in Soweto. The experiences of that time are but a tale to me. Stories told to me by people who lived to talk about it. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, I was only a few months old. This means that I lived in a more peaceful South Africa. I know not of riots for freedom or marches against oppression. I experienced a ‘free’ South Africa. The so-called ‘rainbow nation’ that was built on forgiveness and the promise of equality. I can visit any beach. I can sit on any train or bus seat. I went to a former Model C school and got the same education as the white kids who sat beside me in those wooden desks. I grew up in the democratic South Africa.
I am a currently student at the University of the Free State (UFS). Before enrolling at UFS, I was a student at the Central University of Technology (CUT), also in Bloemfontein. At CUT racism was not an issue. When I first got to CUT, the university had already put into effect the transformation process. Afrikaans was no longer a teaching medium and all students were taught in English. For me, coming to UFS was a strange experience. I found that the racial divide was indeed a reality, which I was faced with for the first time in 24 years. Prior to this, I was ignorant of this struggle. The human race was the human race, until race became part of the race.
At UFS, for the first time, I was black.
On that fateful Monday evening, when the chaos first broke out, I was making my way out of the library. I knew there was something happening when I noticed a few white students being escorted away from the chaos and the black students being man-handled. It seemed that there was no distinction between those who were simply bystanders and those who were part of the protest. And for the first time in my life, I felt unsafe because of who I am. A black child. That reality was so clear; so evident. Whether or not I was part of the protest was irrelevant, I was black and therefore a threat. I felt dizzy. Surely these were not the scenes from the democratic South Africa I had come to know? Surely, these experiences lived in the apartheid past of the Soweto students?
The following week, classes at UFS resumed and as I entered through the main gate the first thing that caught my sight was a police hippo and a number of men in SAPS uniform. My heart skipped a beat. I felt scared. Terrified. I was shaking. I knew that if anything had to happen, if chaos erupted and I was anywhere near it, I would be a target. Not from the students. No. But from the police. I would have to flee for my life because I am black. The colour of my skin made me a candidate for brutality and victimisation from the very people who were supposed to be protecting me.
I went to class expecting to continue with lectures as I did with all other lectures. Rather, our lecturer, allowed us to express our feelings and thoughts about what was happening on campus. She gave up her entire lecture to discuss what we felt and how we were affected.
I found myself amidst a struggle. I found myself amidst a revolt. I found myself amidst racial conflict. There was anger. Frustration. Desperation. Animosity. And hatred. I found myself thrown into a place I knew not of. All because of who I am. A black child.
And I wonder, does it end here? Or is there more to come?