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No love at Rhodes University?

There’s a widely used quote by Martin Niemöller that I love: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

I was reminded of this quote as I read Larissa Klazinga’s article in the SA Jewish Report titled: “Rhodes University: Not a Home for All”. I am not interested in much of Klazinga’s article per se but more the extent to which her story offers an important teachable moment about white masculinist racism, whiteness and privilege and how it is as harmful to white women as it is to black people. Klazinga’s story is a clear example of how it’s only when whiteness rejects them, that many white women start speaking out about exclusionary processes and silencing done by white men at predominantly white spaces like Rhodes.

Klazinga in the seven page piece chronicles her two year journey as a self-identifying “Jewish lesbian” and the “anti-Zionism” she has encountered leading to her leaving Rhodes in 2013. A self-identified “Zionist”, Klazinga says she was not prepared for the “bigotry” and “the vitriol directed [at her] over the past two years” and is in shock.

While working at Rhodes for over a decade “conceptualising and organising a myriad of transformation initiatives [aimed at] highlighting gender-based violence, xenophobia, racism and other human rights abuses” she managed to displease Roger Adams (the Deputy Dean of Students) by her support of Israel. What interested me the most is Klazinga’s conclusion that Rhodes “has become a totalitarian institution” and that she was shocked that she was not “allowed to speak, even in private … At Rhodes. In 2012.”

This is something many black Rhodes alumna have been saying for years (myself included) for we know Rhodes is not a home to all. We also know the violent silencing that often occurs at predominantly white institutions of higher learning in SA, the “Ivory towers of white supremacy”.

The Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) at Rhodes faced disciplinary action, were convicted and had to do community service for inviting the ANC secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, in 2010. When they were going to bring Julius Malema, Rhodes called the police and surrounded the venue with heavy police presence (although he didn’t eventually come). In their statement at the time the PYA noted that while leaders from the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Congress of the People (Cope) could come and talk at Rhodes without hassle, there was always contention, fear and resistance with the ANC. They concluded that Rhodes University “is led by counter-transformation forces … because Rhodes University is still run by the same ‘old boys club’ that subscribes to the racist philosophies of Cecil John Rhodes …”

This was in 2010, and one of the reasons I am interested in understanding why Klazinga who held such an important office at Rhodes only realised in 2014/2013 how autocratic the university is when so many black students have been saying this for years. Part of the answer to this lies in that many white women only speak out about oppressive white (male) systems and institutions, not when they still enjoy white privilege, but after that system rejects and turns on them.

In her pioneering Stanford Law Review article “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color”, Professor Kimberle Crenshaw writes about the importance of intersectionality especially the intersection between gender and race. While Klazinga claims to have been doing intersectional work at Rhodes, her article exposes her white privileged gaze and how oblivious she is to the authoritarian treatment many black students are continuously subjected to, how they are silenced and often excluded from the university for their political views and associations.

The big lesson here is the importance of intersectionality and that whites should not wait to speak when out against injustice and white authoritarianism when their privilege is threatened. Klazinga herself says she never thought her Zionism would be the reason she left Rhodes, and this is because she saw her struggle narrow and isolated for instance from the struggles of the (mostly black) PYA members.

But Klazinga is marinated in white privilege and will do just fine as a white woman with incredible social capital (including an attorney), a generous settlement with Rhodes and higher education, which is more than I can say for the many young black women and men I saw continuously silenced and excluded from the university in debt, without degrees and quite frankly depressed. No one spoke out for them.

Author

  • Senior Anthropologist at the University of Johannesburg and Researcher at The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH), Oxford University. Co-author of the "Anti-Racist Teaching Practices and Learning Strategies Workbook" with Warren Chalklen, PhD. Available: https://bit.ly/3huUEMP

24 Comments

  1. Chris Stevens Chris Stevens 5 January 2014

    Perhaps you would consider joining me at NMMU where political activity and transformation are actively encouraged? Although, I suspect that you would find it below you due to the elitist mentality that drove you to select Rhodes in the first place.

    That being said, you have something to this article. There is definitely a strong prejudice to favor a specific demographic to Rhodes, I have seen it, I have experienced it. And indeed there is a strong tendency by Caucasian women to cry bloody murder only when the privilege is not in their favor.

    Thank you for this more considered commentary, you have clearly taken my advice from your previous article not to just demonize white males without any true relevance. Just take heed not to cry “white male wolf” when the tide is not in your favor. I was accused publicly of being a racist when I suggested in my social development lecture that broad based development should benefit all South Africans, regardless of race and that legislation bind large corporations to social responsibility projects rather than employing a system of selective empowerment which has been perverted by corruption and nepotism. As the only white male in the lecture room you might just imagine the response I got.

    All I ask is that you consider that whilst this is an issue which we need to address collectively, we must not demonize an entire demographic because of the injustices which occurred before many of us were even born.

  2. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 5 January 2014

    May I ask why all these various hordes of ‘silenced’ have not spoken out?
    This is the first that I have heard of the horrible mess that Rhodes is in. It is a bit difficult to become angry at how people are treated if those badly treated people keep us in the dark by simply refusing to speak out about it. When you know better, you do better.

  3. Terry Tee Terry Tee 5 January 2014

    As a Rhodes alumnus myself I read this article with some bafflement. It seemed to give almost no concrete examples of prejudice at Rhodes. The incident cited, of a non-visit by Julius Malema leading to a police presence, is not an example of silencing, is it? Imagine this: if he had come, and there was some kind of disturbance, the university authorities would then be condemned for not making proper provision. The trouble with this kind of allegation is precisely that it makes the offence something subjective. Where is the proof? The proof is that the person making the complaint feels offended. Well, we pass through life and we are often offended, but in most countries that does not hold up in a court of law. We need objective evidence – and it is not forthcoming in this solipsistic article.

  4. jans jans 5 January 2014

    Agreed on most counts. Being black in South Africa today, or anywhere else for that matter, remains a raw deal. It can be rightly argued that there remains a legacy of white patriatism at Rhodes that smothers other perspectives. But this is not a demographic reality, even at Rhodes. And while everybody should be afforded their say, no one has the right to force theirs to be heard. This type of “tyranny of the majority” is typical of large union and youth league rallies and while I wouldn’t defend the admin’s kid gloves approach of prevention being better than cure, there are plenty of venues to invite rabble-rousing politicians off-campus. If the PYA does not wish to invite the scorn of moderate quiet-loving academics, then perhaps they should change their brash style of inviting certain doom to the pastoral nirvana that is Rhodes, and instead ask permission and make appointments. Unless that is beneath them. Likewise with Klazinga, everyone is entitled to their opinion and although there does not seem to be much likeminded support, there will always be a few kind souls who will welcome her into their arms despite her strong contrarian beliefs. I personally do not expect a red carpet to be rolled out if I were to consider the merits of Apartheid (which is what she is arguably doing). And if I were, I would rightly expect the University to publish their respectful disagreement on the subject to distance themselves from the risk of being misconstrued of supporting…

  5. Cam Cameron Cam Cameron 6 January 2014

    “The Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) at Rhodes faced disciplinary action, were convicted and had to do community service for inviting the ANC secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, in 2010.”

    No, I don’t think you were CONVICTED and SENTENCED just for inviting Mantashe. That’s not a crime. What you were convicted and sentenced for was a criminal act. Care to tell us what that was?

  6. Mark Mark 6 January 2014

    Perhaps your article would be tempered by the fact that a dominant black government only fights for the rights of, or directs discourse for the benefit of black people. This in turn leaves minority groups within a minority feeling even more isolated. Would SASCO or the Department of Women, Children and People of Disabillities fight for this white person’s rights as an oppressed academic? Not likely,but you can bet your bottom dollar that battle lines would be drawn if it was a black woman feeling oppressed. I would edit your opening statement to read more on the lines that support of the individual or a group is dependant on a number of predefined characteristics that have to be met, or no action is taken.

  7. Andrew Andrew 6 January 2014

    As a white male researcher working at Rhodes, I applied for an NRF Career Advancement Fellowship that would pay for my salary. This application had to go through Rhodes. I was told that ‘your application was not successful as you did not meet the internal selection criteria of Rhodes University for this programme’. The director of human resources (a white woman) also told me that ‘If you would like more detailed feedback than this, I am happy to provide this’. I indicated that I did, and this was in October 2013. I have heard nothing since. So in my personal experience, as a while male researcher, I can’t say I have experienced much ‘while male privilege’ at Rhodes.

  8. fraud fraud 6 January 2014

    It’s hardly surprising that those who are/were not on the receiving end of this “oppression” would deny its existence….it’s human nature really. We become oblivious to someone else’s struggles if we are not affected. So the comments were expected….

  9. Sydney Sydney 6 January 2014

    @Andrew, were you expecting ‘white male privilege’ at Rhodes? Shame on you, how could you expect Rhodes to go out of their way to make an exception for you? Oh, I get it. You were not expecting ‘white male privilege’? It was the norm, a white male researcher should get preferential treatment from a white human resources director(why else would you mention her race). You miss the point of the article. It’s decrying the deafening silence that abounds when an injustice does not affect you, not so much about white privilege.

    Had Klazinga spoken out when others were silenced, she would have received more sympathy from others within Rhodes, others affected by the system in place there.

  10. Sarah Sarah 6 January 2014

    So true. I’ve heard of that old boys’ club, and I was really appaled when Malema was barred from speaking, even though I am not a fan at all. That was a direct attack on democracy, yet these people would never acknowlege it. Sad thing is, these are likely the same people that would also be up in arms about the secrecy bill.

    Plus, might I add, Zionism is actually a fundamentalist believe that takes away people’s voices. Especially people of colour. It’s NOT the same as Judaism. I am happy to defend Jewish people against discrimination, but Zionism should not be exempt from criticism. No movement that takes away human rights should be…

  11. Sarah Sarah 6 January 2014

    And might i add, like Klazinga should be free to speak AND deal with the criticism, so should Julius…

  12. Tanaka Tanaka 6 January 2014

    #Chris Stevens: are you suggesting that everyone who goes to Rhodes has an “elitist mentality” that drives them “to select Rhodes in the first place”?. You sound angry. If you were rejected from Rhodes or were not able to apply here for financial reasons, I am sorry. A Rhodes degree is rather expensive. I am not elitist. I am a Rhodes student but I do not think I am elitist nor have I been accused of such.
    That being said I have to disagree with you on two scores:-“There is definitely a strong prejudice to favor a specific demographic to Rhodes, I have seen it, I have experienced it” – Again I am sorry for your bad experience, Rhodes is an historic University that has made great strides into our new and young Constitutional democracy, much has changed, much still needs to change but I do not believe that there is such a “strong prejudice” of any sort at Rhodes. Also, the fact that injustice occurred years before most of us were born does not in any way, change the reality for those who are historically poor or marginalized.

    To the author of this article, Larissa has done so much for people other than herself and for causes that did not directly affect her. So maybe she didn’t appear for the PYA members but really she can only do so much, how many black people aren’t standing up for “black rights” at Rhodes? That doesn’t mean we don’t care or aren’t helping in our own ways. we are all fighting one battle or another we just can’t fight them all.

  13. Mark Mark 6 January 2014

    @Sydney, dont rock your race (card) hobby horse too hard, you will probably fall off. You are likely to find that the student expected a bursary because he was doing research that he believed to be valauble and therefore acceptable for a grant. But thanks for muddying the waters with the same old response we always hear. What a white man with an opinion!!!!!! It must be racially biased in favour of keeping the white man elevated…..So one dimensional and pseudo-intellectual.

  14. Andrew Andrew 6 January 2014

    @Sydney. My point is, from a personal point of view, that there is no white privilege at Rhodes. No I was not expecting privilege. But some feedback from Rhodes regarding why my application was not successful would have been appreciated, especially since they offered feedback.

  15. Nick Nick 6 January 2014

    Gcobani,

    If you are on any level familiar with the work that Ms Klazinga did, on a daily basis, at Rhodes, you would concede that she did a fair job of intersectional activism. Her activism for LGBTI rights – making Rhodes one of the “safest” spaces for gay people of all races in South Africa – and feminism broadly, whatever your personal opinions about it, was intersectional in its premise and action. How you are oblivious to that, as someone engaged in Rhodes life, is beyond me. Ms Klazinga was one of the biggest rabble-rousers at the University during my many years there. Just because she didn’t stand up for causes you deem to be more pertinent than others, it doesn’t mean she wasn’t an intersectional activist.

    So, while your points about white privilege are correct on many counts and may be true in many instances at Rhodes (which does have a student culture that can be argued to still be very hegemonically white) – unfortunately, I don’t think those accusations can be leveled at Ms Klazinga, regardless of your thoughts on her Zionism.

  16. bernpm bernpm 6 January 2014

    Do Rhodes students (and maybe staff included) have nothing else to do then bickering about black/white and their historical and current privileges.

    I have always believed that Universities were learning centers with academic debates and coming with valuable proposals for solutions to social problems.

  17. athies girl athies girl 6 January 2014

    I was silenced not once but twice at Rhodes. In my first year at Rhodes I was in a double room and asked to move to a single room.Everything was set to go until someone, who was also in my position, who happened to be white also demanded to be moved to a single room. Well it goes without saying that she got the room before me….you know the first come first serve rule was immediately thrown out the window and quickly replaced with the “Its a racial preference” rule. She did not want to share a room with a person of colour, so her situation was more ‘dire’ than mine….I was heart broken as I watched her move into a room that was meant to be mine. I was told that s how it works and being first year I was too scared to say anything. So I went to my room and cried…and I got over it! surprise surprise same crap happens to me 2 years later..As soon as I heard the words “racial preference” uttered I knew where that was heading…..So a little wiser, I thought to myself, go the Hall warden..surely he’ll see it from your point of view…’you first come, first serve’…..NO! I was given the same speech as before..I could not believe what was happening to me….This time around I was told that I was a good person and I will get over it..WOW! How is that for being SILENCED by the very same institution we love and respect!

  18. Kelsey Kelsey 6 January 2014

    This guy uses two isolated incidences of disciplinary action, and Larissa’s heated resignation, to demonise Rhodes as some sort of apartheid bastille. Not very conclusive proof, if you ask me. Larissa (whose job was largely to deal with our rights and safety) is not obliged to write about other people’s problems in this instance – she’s giving a testament of her own personal experience and that does not make her a white supremacist. She was very influential, outspoken, well-known and controversial at Rhodes, so of course her story is going to gather more attention than that of the average dissident.

    I’m not denying that some elements of white supremacy still exist, nor that they need to be addressed, but this guy has completely blown things out of proportion – he makes it sound like all white people are self-centered, wealthy and petulant, which is not true at all. It is not constructive to vilify an entire race (and a very excellent institution with several people of colour at its head) of people whilst dealing with the issue of racism – that’s racist too, you know. There is also a difference between expressing your opinion and creating a shit storm.

    Also, plenty of white people are “silenced and excluded from the university in debt, without degrees and quite frankly depressed”. Education is not free in this country and, unless you are a truly exceptional academic/leader etc etc, you cannot remain at an institution if you cannot pay the bills (nor if you fail)…

  19. Chris Stevens Chris Stevens 7 January 2014

    @tanaka

    I was merely being a bit snarky at the author. It is a popular belief that Rhodes is one of the best university in the country, a reputation deserved on many counts. However, “lesser” institutions are often overlooked because they as viewed as “not as good”.

    Perhaps if you read into the subtext of my comment you will see that my sentiment is directly in line to the one that you express. I feel that we do have many fights to fight in our “post”-apartheid South Africa, but let’s not replace one injustice or system of prejudice with another.

  20. Birch Birch 7 January 2014

    ‘Klazinga’s story is a clear example of how it’s only when whiteness rejects them, that many white women start speaking out about exclusionary processes and silencing done by white men at predominantly white spaces like Rhodes.”

    Gcobani, you make a presumptuous statement here about white women that borders on the very sentiment that you speak against in your article. White women are not a homogenous group of people, at Rhodes or anywhere else in the world for that matter

  21. bernpm bernpm 8 January 2014

    @Birch: In my previous comment on this article I expressed my surprise about the content of the Rhodes seemingly important issues being : “black/white and their historical and current privileges”. Not a very academic contribution to the learned world.

    If I am reading well, you seem to add a possible gender conflict to the black/white privileges debate.
    My question: Is Rhodes really a University in the traditional sense or is it a socioeconomic debating club based on potential gender based differences in a racially divided society, busy with an analysis of the potential injustice resulting from the current Rhodes world order.

  22. George Kahn George Kahn 10 January 2014

    This article is being intentionally deceitful in its statement of fact. The PYA were never disciplined because they invited the SG of the ANC, and Rhodes did not call the police to prevent Malema from attending his gathering. The author has purposefully omitted the truth to suit his objective, labelling Rhodes a institution that bans the ANC from its campus, and thereby inferring that it still practises aspects of apartheid, and labelling Klazinga a hypocrite, where she turns a blind eye to the tactics of banning the ANC and then cries out when her beliefs are besieged. Neither the facts in this article nor the objectives are true.

    Those that were disciplined were disciplined because they refused to follow the university’s procedures for holding gatherings that invite important figures. They judged themselves above the rules laid out for other students and associations. Others parties abided by the university’s procedures, designed to ensure the security and dignity of its students and guests, which is why nobody else was disciplined. Rule of Law means nobody is above the rules, not even the PYA. I am certain Rhodes not only would of allowed the SG’s attendance, but would have even granted him a better venue and a proper more respectful introduction.

    The police were not summoned to stop Malema’s speech. Rather they were there to safeguard it and the dignity of all those that went to hear it.

    This article is profoundly dishonest. The author owes much to Rhodes…

  23. Philip Machanick Philip Machanick 13 January 2014

    The notion that Rhodes would prevent a high-profile speaker like Gwede Mantashe from speaking on campus is so absurd as to render the rest ofthe article non-credible. The univerity has its flaws, but real critique does not rely on garbled facts.

  24. Sydney Sydney 28 July 2014

    Rhodes is still very much a “white” institution.

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