By Vissého Adjiwanou
It started as a “mood swing” from some black academics at UCT, questioning the lack of transformation within their institution and challenging the inadequate responses from the administration. In their statement and later engagement with UCT, they called for the dismantling of any institutional discrimination, the recognition of the contribution of black academics to the institution, and for their fair and equitable ad hominem promotion, and for a more inclusive UCT.
Not only black academics, but most importantly black students at UCT feel alienated by their institution, discriminated, unheard. They feel like “outsiders” in their own institution. For so long, they silenced their frustration, until recently. Their movement is unprecedented, even in a country like South Africa which has seen so many great political organisations and leaders. The RhodeMustFall movement demonstrated exceptional skills and strategies that ended 24 years of aberration at UCT: the dismantling of the Rhodes statue. But, plenty of aberrations persist at UCT, and for the first time, they are all challenged, vigorously: workers conditions, outsourcing, fees, patriarchy …
What started as a RhodesMustFall movement has become a springboard for student activism throughout the country. From Rhodes to fees, outsourcing to gender issues, from Cape Town to Johannesburg, a new generation of young people took over streets and media, to appeal for the end of the status quo.
If you look at it clearly, you will see that this movement is not about FeesMustFall. If you cannot see that all parts of your ship are sinking and therefore it is not about taking the water out, you are definitely out-of-scope. Unfortunately, the responses to this movement do not match the call. In each administration, public or private, there is a lack of leadership who understand or respond to this call adequately. The response, until now, has been a day-to-day strategy, focused on “resolving” one problem at a time and keeping a low profile until the movement wanes. That is the way administrators conduct their business; but this time, this strategy has failed.
This movement is a call for the emergence of a new South Africa, a new vocabulary, structural and institutional renewal. We in South Africa cannot resolve these problems with old ideologies that are used elsewhere, and which have proven unsuccessful to reduce economic inequalities among citizens. South Africans cannot put the country forward with administrators whose sole ambition is to preserve their jobs. Another year of lack of imagination and leadership is something we cannot afford. The time for a new policy, a new commitment to excellence and sacrifice is now. There is too much energy in this young generation, too much talent, it will be an aberration to not build from this movement a new country.
This is the best time to be a leader in South Africa, leave the old clothes and join the youth in re-imagining South Africa.
Vissého Adjiwanou is an academic based at the Centre for Actuarial Research at the University of Cape Town and a member of the UCT Black Academic Caucus.