By Michelle October
What a time to be alive, students revolting and the flames of rebellion licking at the doors of the colonisers. The Rhodes Must Fall movement’s reignited its efforts and burning historic artworks at the University of Cape Town.
This activism could just as easily be airlifted and placed outside Parliament’s doors because black graduates who work in nice offices with “nice” jobs are struggling to find accommodation and we’ll continue to struggle because that’s how the system’s set up.
Graduates seem to be distancing themselves from the Rhodes Must Fall movement when we should be joining forces.
Imagine for a moment you have “middle-class” parents that are not well-off. Let’s say your father is a driver and your mother an administrative worker. With these jobs your parents don’t live in a shack but there’s little chance they’re going to buy a Mercedes-Benz.
Imagine you went to school and worked very hard and managed to get yourself into university with a bursary. This is obviously the best-case scenario, in millions of other cases you’d need to approach the National Student Financial Aid Scheme for a loan. Now imagine that you graduate and get an internship in your field (still the best-case scenario) and they pay you an intern salary.
— Rhodes Must Fall (@RhodesMustFall) February 15, 2016
At your new job you have the opportunity to interact with those in higher-income brackets and you acclimatise to this new world wherein you can break the boundaries of your parents’ salary bracket. There is room for you to improve, get a promotion, and do better than your parents someday. But you get to work late because you have to make the long commute to the office via the taxi, bus or train, all of which are unreliable and this affects your performance at work.
In order to keep up as a promising intern you need to move closer to the office. Invariably your new job is in the CBD or its surrounds. In another scenario you’re not even from the city and have to find an apartment.
You have to deal with racist landlords not even considering you for a place. But even if a landlord does take you on there’s the problem of the exorbitant fees that come with a flat, especially in Cape Town. If you’re an intern you’d need to have (somehow) saved up enough money to pay for two month’s deposit as well as the first month’s rent.
But your parents can’t afford to put you up in an apartment until you get on your feet, so you’re screwed. You’re unable to exceed at your job because you don’t have the social capital that comes with having the same living conditions as your privileged colleagues.
Your white counterparts live in apartments in Sandton or Sea Point and probably have cars by now. They can stick around after work for drinks and network with co-workers because they, unlike you, don’t have to catch a train at 5pm to get home by 7pm. They can do more and so they can be more.
These are not middle-class concerns. (One could argue that the middle class doesn’t truly exist for people of colour.) These are issues that young black professionals face and this is a highly contentious space that’s key if we’re ever going to realise the idea of a world in which blackness can succeed without the constraints of institutionalised racism.
Housing in Cape Town (and everywhere else in this country) is not a middle-class issue but one of blackness and by extension Must Fall-ness. The intersection of property, racism and how it affects young black workers can’t be overlooked. We shouldn’t look at our student brothers and sisters and take no action.
The Rhodes Must Fall movement isn’t confined to schooling or housing institutions, it transcends every aspect of our lived experience. This is why we have a responsibility to take up the struggle and not sit idly by enjoying our measly salaries.