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In defence of Rhodes Must Fall

By Andrew Verrijdt

It’s hard to justify the destruction of historical and cultural items that Rhodes Must Fall is undertaking, and I’m not going to.

But how many of us have taken the time to find out what this current protest is actually about?

It may interest one to know that the most immediate cause of the current protest is that government bursaries from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme are too small to cover both university and residence costs leaving many students with a deficit of tens of thousands of rand that they have no practical way to recover.

Twitter @RhodesMustFall
Twitter @RhodesMustFall

And of course the most serious and long-term cause of the protests is that we are still not dealing with our racism problem, or our poverty problem. We’re just not.

We are still living in a country where most of the kids born in townships or on farms are screwed for life, and they know it. Our prisons overflow with poor people who were smart enough to know that joining a gang gave them a better chance of a good life than working on a farm for a pathetic R120 a day (including an “unprecedented” salary increase that only happened after massive protests).

Things in this country are not changing because the people with the power (which includes President Jacob Zuma, all the other politicians, all of our media personalities, and damn near everyone who is reading these words) don’t care enough to change it.

One may of course argue that there are other ways to get the point across rather than wanton destruction. But to that I must ask: like what exactly?

They’ve tried everything else. They protested peacefully for weeks and achieved nothing. But after one day of destruction everyone is talking about them.

It must seem to the protesters that our society is indicating very clearly that we will not listen to them until they start lighting fires.

Perhaps this is the reason why every significant movement for social change in human history has begun with large numbers of people breaking the law and then smashing things.

And there is a serious lack of empathy for the plight of South Africans of colour. I had major “developmental delays” when I was at school. It took a fleet of psychologists, occupational therapists, and learning support teachers before I was able to survive in a mainstream school. Getting to complete a PhD (as I am now doing) seemed impossible.

If I’d been born a poor black South African (even today) I would have been doomed. I have worked as a school psychologist and I can tell you that there is no chance that I would have gotten all the support I needed, there is little chance I would have made it to matric, and the odds of my getting a university bursary were lower still.

And if I had made it to university I may have found that my “full” bursary was actually R50 000 short.

If this other “me” looked across the multiverse to see me here, and realised that their dreams had died simply because this country’s powerful are far too comfortable with the status quo …

Well … I think I would’ve burned down a whole lot of shit by now.

Andrew Verrijdt is a psychologist, writer, UCT student, and privileged white guy, based in Cape Town.


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