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TUT students vs The coconut bourgeoisie

In my previous article on the #FeesMustFall protests I made the point that a hierarchy of legitimacy was being entrenched in having the state publicly respond to political claims originating from historically white institutions and not when they originate from historically black universities (HBU). These claims, which the HBUs have for the past couple of years being tirelessly voicing, have the same substantive roots as those being hashtagged in these current protests. I further argued that what we are witnessing here is a rupture in SA politics where the elite middle income is asserting itself as a legitimate public-self in public politics.

In following the TV coverage of the protests last week the one thing which was a curiosity to me were the accents of the student leadership. Just on a qualitative perspective the student leaders at these historically white institutions had what I would call model-C and/or private school accents. This is a sharp departure from the vernacular accents which one comes to associate annually with protests at HBUs.

The accent with which one speaks English is no trifling matter in SA. A model-C accent speaks of a schooled experience. It speaks of a familiarity with white culture. It speaks of an acquaintance with certain cultural symbols. A model-C accent speaks of the ease with which an investment bank would hire you to join their corporate finance team (all in the name of culture fit). Or how easily a law firm would see you as competent to be inducted in as an associate. A model-C accent serves as a gate keeper when at the Louis Vuitton shop in Sandton City, the sales person is not sure about you. It serves as a marker of those with whom one can reason. An accent facilitates empathy from Twitter users who see projections of themselves in you and therefore see legitimacy in your demands. An accent serves as a visa to opportunity but also a passport boldly asserting your origins. That is to say, a model-C accent is a passport asserting you one of the coconut bourgeoisie.

On the other hand when someone speaks with a vernacular accent they are often seen as being in a rude state of refinement. A vernacular accent is the voice of unreason. It is the accent which comedians and intelligentsia alike mimic when they want to personify someone driven by base desires absent of any reason, absent of rational strategy. A vernacular accent is associated with those guys that burn things. Those guys that cannot articulate their concerns but have to resort to violence. Those guys who cannot enunciate English to some snobbish satisfaction.

These differences in accents are superfluous much like biological differences in race are. However it is how people interpret them and give meaning to them that makes them so problematic. It is problematic when the coconut bourgeoisie starts exoticising the rage and anger of HBU students as unreason. It is problematic when the coconut bourgeoisie in an act of self-centred empathy only want to acknowledge the systemic basis of their bourgeoisie rage but not extend the same courtesy to students from HBUs. It is problematic when the coconut bourgeoisie do not see that the rage of HBU has the same seeds as their rage. It is problematic when companies do not even look at the CVs of students from HBU but only from the likes of University of Cape Town and Rhodes. It is problematic when a government entrenches a hierarchy of legitimacy by reacting to grievances from historically white universities. It is problematic when something that was so superfluous gets given meaning beyond its original scope.

Day in, day out, Twitterati are waging twars against whiteness yet paradoxically affirm it in their being. They affirm it in their self-centred empathy. They affirm it in their veneration. SA is in the process of birthing multiple public-selves that are each making legitimate claims on the state. It would be a tragedy for such public-selves to find basis on superfluous differences.



  1. Isabella vd Westhuizen Isabella vd Westhuizen 26 October 2015

    Go and watch my Fair Lady
    This is an old issue you are raising.

  2. HughRobinson HughRobinson 27 October 2015

    What is needed here is the applying of the mind without prejudice. What needs to understood is that the model C black will have a better chance as he has in the main learned that hard work and stiff competition is the name of the game.
    There is nothing exemplary about being non coconut if you use wanton violence or intimidation as a means to an end. The term coconut I have noticed is used by those who will never make it in the real world even if the world was thrown in their laps. These will always have an excuse.

  3. DavyH DavyH 27 October 2015

    The coconut bourgeoisie? What hatred you hold for your own people.

  4. RSA.MommaCyndi RSA.MommaCyndi 28 October 2015

    I can guarantee that the author has no idea about TUT. As an institution, it is not exactly something to be admired.

  5. Ta Gino Ta Gino 29 October 2015

    some of those that “speak funny”, as if to mimic white people, presumably, their teachers, do not necessarily partake in the said cultural products in any meaningful way….

  6. Helizna Kilian Helizna Kilian 30 October 2015

    All schools should be Model C standard. All students should have a model-C accent. It’s atrocious that there are not enough schools. Build more schools. Train more teachers. Encourage students to want to be teachers. Build more schools. Unfortunately deafness and greed is rife in the DoE! #Buildmoreschools

  7. Helizna Kilian Helizna Kilian 30 October 2015

    I like coconut. White & fluffy & goes great with cappuccino. Why is it being used as a derogatory term anyways? Is there not room for everyone in this country? BBBEE creates the the coconut bourgeoisie, so if their existence offends you, Melo, advocate for the removal of this economic dead horse. And is this Russia that we use the term “bourgeoisie” instead of “middle class”? Anyways, revolution comes by means of the bourgeoisie, so I’d suggest embrace them, instead of deriding them with so much contempt.

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