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#Shackville is your struggle too, black graduates

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.

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.


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  1. Iain Botha Iain Botha 18 February 2016

    Really? No, seriously, you really believe what you’ve just written?! First off you don’t condone the blatant criminality and vandalism perpetrated by the RMF criminals (I will not elevate their position to genuine protesters), burning anything they assume to be ‘white’ and than have the shear arrogance and hypocrisy to blame the housing crisis on racism? Please tell me you don’t see the double standards in that logic? I’m going to let you in on a lil’ secret about ‘whiteness’ – IT DOES NOT EXIST. What, do you think ‘whites’ all gather at some secretive location (presumably a golf course) and discuss ways to keep ‘the black man down’?

    “What should we do this weekend Neville?”
    “Why let’s put up rent to exclude the blacks, because as you know, all whites are excessively wealthy and have cars and jobs and trust funds and the like, and are not completely excluded from the job market by draconian racial laws”
    “Very well, hooray!”

  2. King Thato Morwe King Thato Morwe 18 February 2016

    .All universities must be shut down with immediate effect!! We want free education and transformation in our lifetime. We mean NOW!!!!

  3. Pieter Schoombee Pieter Schoombee 19 February 2016

    Personally, I rented a room, before I could afford a flat.

  4. martin martin 19 February 2016

    Hey – something seems to have escaped your attention.
    What you have just described is LIFE.

  5. Spyti K Spyti K 19 February 2016

    Yes, I’m sure Itumeleng Molefe will experience an absolutely horrific struggle to find housing and finance his BMW as a young graduate/intern.

  6. sue townsend sue townsend 19 February 2016

    And all this is the universities’ problem? and fault? Who votes for the ANC…the people who run the country and have gotten us to this state…and seem to want to keep poor people poor and uneducated.

  7. Voldemort Rupert Voldemort Rupert 19 February 2016

    Michelle I find your post very relevant and I have to say I am very embarrassed by the responses it has elicited so far. It seems that the human race is devolving into utter selfishness as a result of the materialistic society that we now live in. White people don’t need to get together on weekends to plot this nonsense. The society has been geared to be easier for well established families and bugger the rest. Just because the ‘romans’ opened the doors of their culture to all races did not make us free. Just because some of them are black now doesn’t make them not romans. What I mean is whiteness is not restricted to pale skins. So like you say, if we are now managing to break out of the mold of financial limitation, now is the time to reach back and give others a hand out of the bottomless pit rather than to rush forward embracing whiteness and ignoring the struggles of our sisters and brothers who have not had the same opportunity.

  8. maria maria 19 February 2016

    Oh dear, more meaningless generalizations to polarize South Africans on racial lines … South Africa needs people who are optimistic and able to forge a life for themselves despite obstacles .. like everyone the world over. Young black people are actually favored by the system in South Africa and should rush to take advantage rather than waste energy on “white envy ” and hatred.

  9. ecotechnologist ecotechnologist 19 February 2016

    Jonathan Jansen talks of the danger of “racial pride” where citizens are allowing themselves to fall into stereotypical behaviour, thus further polarising our society. We are in danger of being blinded by indignation and forgetting some key facts:

    1. Accommodation shortage/funding: This is not a problem suffered exclusively by black students in South Africa, All over the world, students of every race struggle to pay the fees for education and accommodation, taking loans that take 20 years to pay back. And in South Africa, white students have long suffered from the burden of student loans and inadequate cramped living solutions in order to attend university while juggling night job to pay bills. The stupidity of these students is if they had approached problem this with a peaceful plea to a crowd-source solution, like refugees in Europe with the #refugeeBnB initiative, they might have experienced the hospitality of many of Cape Towns homes. But who will welcome a group of violent students now?

    2. Travel to work: Its narrow-minded to profess that only black graduates can lay claim to this particular challenge. Many people in cities all over the world spend hours on public transport/sit in traffic because they don’t live near their place of work. Wealthy people, white people, Asian and Arabic also suffer this burden.

    These are problems that are endemic to a combination of factors such as inequality, poverty, high population density and the constant battle of our academic institutions, city planners and national governments to keep up with demand, and in the case of South Africa, the race to rectify the wrongs of history. This current administration has illustrated massive failings in managing to keep up. And it absolutely does not justify the disgusting and self-serving behaviour of some of the citizens of this country.

    We should be trying to work together, everyone contributing to the solution, instead we seem to be forgetting that this country is in transition, a transformation to equality that is going to take more than the last 20 years and more than the current misguided leadership. As long as the attitude of “us and them” prevails, we will not move ahead.

    Disclaimer: I am a white middle-aged dual-national who has been brought up with all the privileges that seem to justify this vehement resentment and rage. Ironically, the privileges of my background are exactly the principles that these students are fighting for. I have spent most of my life living overseas, recently in many African countries where ordinary citizens are struggling with many more challenges than most of the current students can possibly imagine. We are so lucky here in South Africa. Basic human rights that some people will never know, we take for granted: example:

    1. Most children are able to attend school (including girls at an equal rate)

    (access to school for six-year-olds improved from 49.1% in 1996 to 96.1% in 2011.)

    2. Every citizen in this country is eligible to vote. And yet we squander that right. (only 73.48% or registered voters participated in the 2014 election. More shocking, only an estimated 73% of all eligible adults in South Africa have registered to vote.

    My comment is aimed at reaching at least one of these dissident minds in the hopes that you might turn away from the blind indignation and start looking outward to find solutions together. Life is hard for most people on the planet. The solution does not lie in blaming others.

  10. Peter Watermeyer Peter Watermeyer 19 February 2016

    Your points are valid. With the benefit of your experience and perspective, and knowledge of our society as it is, can you come up with some workable proposals on how to improve matters?

  11. Stu Stu 19 February 2016

    Sounds like how I grew up. And I’m white. My family nor I had money to spend or lend on Uni.

  12. John Chimhanzi John Chimhanzi 21 February 2016

    The kind of thinking in this article, and the attitude of RMF, is a disgrace and embarrassment to Africans. All over Africa, hard-working people are battling to eke out a living, living in refugee camps, and working hard without social grants or racist government policies that benefit the sons of the local political elite. Zimbabweans, Malawians, people from the DRC have educated themselves yet are working as car guards and waiters – silently, without complaint and without demands, without burning and destroying. They are the poor in money, but the greatest treasures of Africa, and the pride of our continent. The people from RMF are not the poor – they are the privileged sons of that elite. They have an arrogance and entitlement mindset which is shameful in a continent of so many poor, hard-working people who would be more than grateful to have a tiny chance at getting the ‘measly salary’ that the author speaks so contemptuously about.

  13. chris chris 22 February 2016

    “What I mean is whiteness is not restricted to pale skins.” Then why call it whiteness?
    By using phrases like “white minority capital” instead of the “The super rich” or “The 1%” all you are doing is stirring up race based hatred, fight for the poor by all means but leave race out of it!

  14. RSA.MommaCyndi RSA.MommaCyndi 23 February 2016

    Have you never considered productive interaction? Is burning the artwork of the first black graduate really the sum total of the conversation? Art work, by the way, that is worth more than your tuition fees

    University is for the top of the top and the best of the best, I shudder to think that these are the best we have! They didn’t design a wonderful, self sustaining, green, housing solution, and ask for sponsorship and a place to erect it. No the best that the best architectural, scientific, engineering and environmental brains could come up with was a standard shack! All that knowledge and the best they have is a bloody shack! That shack shouldn’t have been next to a porta-loo, it should have been in it! It is a disgrace!

  15. RSA.MommaCyndi RSA.MommaCyndi 23 February 2016

    I shared a bachelor flat with three other students. We had no electricity for 2 years and our cockroaches were so anorexic they were almost see-through. It was considered a right of passage and what being a university student was all about. …. sore feet from waiting tables and chatting up every guy in town to get a meal ….. looking back, it was such a wonderful time

  16. Pieter Schoombee Pieter Schoombee 25 February 2016

    And who will pay for your “free” education?

  17. King Thato Morwe King Thato Morwe 29 February 2016

    the government

  18. Pieter Schoombee Pieter Schoombee 1 March 2016

    And where will it get the free money? So that you can study at the university you shut down?

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