by  Nyesha Lashay

Back in August I was walking to my bus stop, and I saw this news headline:

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I didn’t think much of it, but I took a photo of it because I had been hearing a little bit about the #FeesMustFall protests that happened at UCT last semester, and I thought it might be worth documenting.

Fast forward a couple months and here I am…right in the midst of the chaos and tension that has come to characterize the #UCTshutdown, a now 4 week long student led protest happening at the University of Cape Town, which has led to the official…well…shutdown of the entire university. I haven’t been to classes in 3, going on 4 weeks now, as students have effectively disrupted the entire academic agenda. That means no lectures, no discussions, no campus bus services, no library access, nothing. The University is officially at a standstill. 

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photo by Raz, OkayAfrica

As an international student, it has been hard to keep up with everything that is going on here at UCT especially since I arrived in July (second semester), and these protests are a continuation of what happened during their first semester (January-June), but here are a few key facts that I have gathered from some South African students (and the internet) about context and what is happening right now.

  1. The University of Cape Town is still very much a colonial institution, thus students are demanding decolonized education that no longer privileges eurocentric notions of knowledge and knowledge production.
  2. Last semester, UCT experienced a 3 week shutdown as students protested for the #FeesMustFall and#Shackville movements, which addressed the financial hardships as well as the housing crisis that many Black students experience at UCT. (The current protests are partially a continuation of these protests.)
  3. Several of these protesting students were suspended, interdicted, or expelled following these protests last semester…which has led to
  4. Students demanding/protesting that the impending charges be dropped and that their fellow classmates be allowed to return to campus.
  5. Administration doesn’t seem to be interested in that. In fact, 
  6. Administration seems to be more concerned with upholding UCT’s reputation as a prestigious learning institution & making money rather than making the necessary changes to move forward.
  7. Administration went as far as hiring private “security” aka heavy duty police force to “maintain order” on campus. That just made things worse. Several students have been arrested.
  8. Protesting students have made it known that they will keep shutting down UCT until their demands are met…
  9. They have also made it clear that they are willing to die for their cause.
    1. (Side Note) Last week there was an “anti-protest” protest on upper campus, which was weird because it was mostly white folks, highlighting the racial divide that is still painfully clear in post-apartheid South Africa.
  10. Tensions are high y’all. 

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photo by Raz, OkayAfrica

Naturally, the campus shutdown has been the talk of Cape Town, or at least it seems that way. From uber drivers to tattoo artists, everybody has their 2 cents to add. For the most part, general reactions have been negative. Like, really negative.

Many people believe that the protestors’ demands are unrealistic/unattainable and that the protestors are just “a bunch of lazy idiots who don’t value education and want a break from classes.” I wish I could say that comments like these are not commonplace, but they are. Several people have gone as far as to say, “South Africa has been liberated for 21 years, this isn’t about race anymore” or “Education has nothing to do with race.” I’m always baffled by how many people, Black and white, actually believe that 21 years is enough time to reverse CENTURIES of racism and that higher education facilities like UCT are free of interpersonal and institutional racism. 

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photo by Raz, OkayAfrica

It’s hard for me to even engage in conversations with people about the protests because like Solange said, “I’m tired of explaining, man this shit is draining.”

These students definitely have a lot to be mad about.

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photo by Raz, OkayAfrica

I’m not sure when / if I’ll ever get to finish my classes for the semester, which was initially stressful & hectic for me as a graduating senior, but UCT’s study abroad office assured students that we will receive credit for our current grades, no matter what the outcome of this semester is.

I’ll admit…this state of uncertainty and unrest definitely makes me appreciate the stability of schooling back home, no matter how much I say I’m over Wisconsin.

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photo by Raz, OkayAfrica

Seeing how committed these students are to dismantling South Africa’s unjust education system is refreshing, and it makes me wonder if anything like this could happen at UW-Madison / what that would look like.

Until then, let us find inspiration in those who put themselves on the frontline for liberation and keep them lifted in our thoughts.

peace,

nyesha

Read more on Nyesha’s experiences abroad in Cape Town, South Africa

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