The feminist future of #FeesMustFall is now! Viva!

 

The #RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall and #EndOutsourcing movements are noteworthy for having “a fairly well-defined ideology and view of history, which could be described as Black Consciousness combined with anti-imperialism, feminism and, to a lesser degree, socialism.” Of particular interest to many is the feminist leadership and core of these movements. When Africa Is a Country compiled an eleven minute video on #FeesMustFall, whom did they interview? Women: Malaika wa Azania, Khanyisa Nomoyi, Ntombikizhona Valela, Julie Nxadi, Siyamthanda Nyulu, Lithle Asante Ngcobozi. For the entire film, the discussion of #FeesMustFall and of the national shut down is conducted and led by women. This has been a feminist uprising, from leadership personnel to strategy to implementation.

One sign of this feminist impulse is the insistence of women within the movement to challenge the decision making and discursive practices of the movement itself, and to do so openly, publically and positively. Daily Vox reporter Pontsho Pilane wrote about what she saw at Wits, “The way female student leaders were systematically ignored, sidelined and silenced during the #FeesMustFall movement suggests that once fees have fallen, the next big issue that needs attention is our attitude towards women … I don’t know what is worse, experiencing overt sexism or just being systematically sidelined by the already patriarchal political environment. Either way, I think it is time that we seriously talk about the erasure and silencing of black women in this student movement and many others like it. Those who believe that black women will put their womanhood at the altar of sacrifice in the name of the “collective struggle” are blinded by their male privilege and will indeed feel like this is an attack on their person. Black women calling out the patriarchy and misogyny within the movement is not an attack, it is a protection of their humanity – including their blackness and womanhood – in its entirety.”

Kagure Mugo, a recent UCT alum, saw the same: “We are living in a South Africa that tried to build itself without young people, without women and too a large extent without the so-called `previously disadvantaged people’, because of the nature of hierarchy within the struggle system, and now we are here. This grading of the suitability of leaders based on age and gender within movements is what has landed us in this position where #FeesMustFall is a national issue, #Marikana is a part of reality, and we still desperately need #16DaysOfAcitvism all year round. We forgot about young people, the worker and women once certain men reached the top. Intersectionality is not an expensive word, it is integral to building up a people because no-one is simply one thing.”

The names of women leaders in this movement keep on keeping on: student leaders like Shaeera Kalla, Nompendulo Mkatshwa, Jodi Williams, Alex Hotz; outsourced workers like Moedie Motlanke, Cathy Sepahela, Zelda Mohamed; and reporters like Pontsho Pilani and Ra’eesa Pather all attest to the centrality of intersectionality in this movement.

As Camalita Naicker, a student at the University called Rhodes, wrote, “There has been an insistence from the beginning that any struggle for decolonisation must be intersectional and recognise not only the role played by women, but that transformation must have gender relations as central tenet. The constant feminist backlash has kept many movements from collapsing into reliance on patriarchal or misogynist leaders and leadership styles even if this is an on-going battle. Perhaps even more inspiring has been the fidelity to principles and values that foreground the collective spirit and decision-making practices of these movements. Rejecting and resisting co-optation or the tendency of management to divide and rule by attempting to single out student leaders and have private meetings, while remaining disciplined has proved their maturity and intellect time and time again.”

#FeesMustFall #FeesHaveFallen #RhodesMustFall #RhodesHasFallen #PatriarchyMustFall The feminist future of #PatriarchyMustFall is now! Viva!

 

(Photo Credit: zelamartin.com)

Professor Jansen, do you want ‘concomitant action’? #RhodesMustFall

With unbelievable insensitivity Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State, has labeled a section of the protesting students as gangsters. This comes only three years after the Marikana massacre, when a similar criminalisation of protesting workers by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa played a role in creating conditions for the police to kill thirty-four mineworkers in a single incident. The consequences of criminalising protestors have either passed over Prof. Jansen’s head, or he actually does not mind the killing of black protestors as much as he minds a school girl laughing at what she perceives as her white teacher’s overreaction to the death of a dog.

Jansen put forward this libelous label on 9 October this year when he delivered the inaugural Stephen Ellis Memorial Lecture at the Netherlands Embassy in Pretoria. After starting off with the story of the black school girl laughing at her white teacher Jansen displays great determination to paint some of the protesting students as callous balls of undirected anger which culminates in the following tirade:

“There is no ideology or memory or history here, only a hodge podge of pro-black/anti-white sentiment on the tip of an angry tongue that finds expression in the lashing out at public gatherings and memorial lectures, in newspaper columns of especially the Sunday Independent though with more balance in City Press, and in the occasional book production.

It is an anger that is particularly vicious of its critics. In its milder forms of dismissal the critics are old, representing a bygone generation that simply by virtue of age is out of touch and irrelevant to the struggles of youth. They should allow the space for political articulation to be occupied by those who really know, the newly angry young activists. In its harsher version, the older critics of the new anger are trounced as everything from right-wing reactionaries to white-loving establishment figures who have done nothing to advance black professors in the academy or decolonise the curriculum or change institutional cultures.”

This is just one of the many untruths about the protesting students that Jansen managed to cram his lecture with, even while being forced to concede that the aims, methods and outcomes of the protests were just. Before I untangle this small sample of professorial lies, let me note Jansen’s basic trick. He speaks about a group of students, particularly the #‎RhodesMustFall movement at UCT, who have expressed searing anger at the everyday racism at former white and English universities, who have put forward radical critiques of whiteness and who have drawn on thinkers such as Franz Fanon and Cornell West. He also speaks about a group of students who have used violent and intolerant methods to suppress people they disagree with. Without a grain of evidence, he speaks of these two groups as one group. He is thereby able to taint his ideological opponents with the label of gangsterism. Jansen’s main beef with the #RhodesMustFall movement is not any particular action of theirs, but the fact that they have radically broken with his mainstream mix of conservatism with small dashes of liberalism.

Now let us look at the above somewhat randomly selected paragraphs. One might disagree with the ideology and memory of the #RhodesMustFall students, but to say they do not have these things is simply not true. They have a fairly well-defined ideology and view of history, which could be described as Black Consciousness combined with anti-imperialism, feminism and, to a lesser degree, socialism. Their ‘anti-white’ sentiment has been clearly explained and motivated. They hate ‘whiteness’ as the embodiment of racism and privilege. Maybe the professor thinks this is not enough reason to hate, but then he should explain why. He does not like the angry tone of the students, but an angry tone does not invalidate an argument professor, even if it upsets some white people.

It is also not true that the #RhodesMustFall activists have dismissed critics simply based on their age. In fact, it could be argued the student movements have been very respectful of black academics at these institutions, many of whom do not share the radical politics of the students but are intent on using this moment for their own purposes. There have been many reading and discussion groups where older people have been invited to share their thoughts with the students, and even when the older academics were critical of the students the engagements were respectful and constructive. Yes, students have accused some of their detractors of being rightwing reactionaries, but that does not mean they were wrong. Are there no rightwing reactionaries on university campuses? Or is this one just hitting too close to the bone, Professor?

You complain about ‘violence’ but you are helping to set up the students as targets for state violence.

 

(Photo Credit: Ra’eesa Pather / The Daily Vox)