I remember sitting in class on my first day of first year looking at my lecturers in awe. I saw you as individuals who were passionate about developing future leaders in different faculties. Some lecturers even actively maintained positive relations with various students in class – calling them by name amidst the hundreds of us.
And now I need to ask you, does your responsibility to us as your students end once we exit the classroom? Is our pain, suffering and lived experiences put on hold once we enter the classroom? Is the context of the country no longer relevant in the context of the Stellenbosch colony?
Protestors are students in your classroom. Students who will no longer be in your classroom if fees increase. Some of these students are the heads of their households. Some are from remote areas who despite challenging circumstances managed to push their way through to tertiary level and are the first in their family to be in such a position.
Within the context of Stellenbosch, there isn’t a day that black bodies enter your classroom space without having had a confrontation about race, or without having had to defend our race against slurs in supposedly safe spaces like residences and faculties. There isn’t a day that womxn enter the classroom without having experienced some form of rape culture.
What do you feel or think when students walk into class after coming from a rape culture protest, an end outsourcing protest, a FMF protest? How can you continue to lecture knowing that campus is militarized, knowing that there are 30 Men in Black outside the lecture venue? How can you continue to lecture knowing that black students are being denied access to your classroom on the basis of our black skin and the assumption of us being protesters?
This movement is bigger than all of us. You say you continue to lecture to protect the rights of those who want to exercise their rights to education, and yet you fail to recognize that the current inaccessible education denies millions of South Africans of their right to education.
In a University of 30 000 students, how can there only be one lecturer who shows their solidarity with the FMF movement? How can there be only two lecturers who show solidarity with #EndRapeCulture protests? What makes you different from the lecturers at UCT and Wits who have shown solidarity with the greater movement, who have listened to the voices of poor students and who have committed themselves to a responsibility to students that is not confined to classroom spaces. A recent piece by UCT staff and postgraduate students writes as follows:
“As support staff and post graduate students, we are committed to a decolonised education project and to our students. Thus we see it as our responsibility to ensure a safe learning environment. Such a safe environment is one where students, and all those who support them, do not have to suffer the trauma of surveillance, the constant threat to their physical bodies, or the brutalization of their psyche and spirit through a curriculum and pedagogy that dehumanizes them, and fails to address the most immediate needs of their communities, and the society as a whole.
We will not return to such a toxic climate, and in doing so support an institution which only speaks in the language of violence. We cannot return to teach at a university that continues to be silent and inactive on the issues that matter-free, decolonial education.”
I ask that deans, lecturers and other university staff have these matters of introspection. If you can listen to the cries of students who ask you to postpone tests due to their Rocking the Daisies commitments, then you can surely heed the voices of poor black bodies who are asking you to stand in solidarity with calls for accessible education. Our lived experiences cannot be ignored simply because we are no longer in the classroom setting.