2015 has been a turbulent year for the Rhodes University Campus. Debates around name change, institutional racism and graffiti around campus reminding us in bold red about the Marikana massacre. For many incoming first years, Rhodes had been heralded as the most diversely minded and liberal university in the country, those claims would soon be met with validation with the beginning of mass student protest and debate around the UCT Rhodes statute and the rise of the Black Student Movement.
Now whilst these attempts and Movements make for great gossip and dining hall conversation, we should be asking ourselves, “Are we really heading towards a better Rhodes?” It seems like only the controversial events are spoken about whilst the constructive efforts of the students and staff are undermined and nearly forgotten.
Various instances of graffiti have popped up around campus, showing that some disgruntled students have taken to vandalism in place of constructive action. Whilst there have been various attempts at meetings aimed to illicit debate and change other (as of yet unnamed) individuals have taken to defacing the institution. Now this vandalism has definitely garnered attention to itself as well as the ongoing debates however is this really the right way towards change?
These instances of graffiti have been met with mixed reviews, where most students have deemed them a harmful eyesore which devalues the very institution people are fighting for. Recent interviews have shown that a majority of students believe that this vandalism is only detrimental to the debate, however a few students pointed out that although they are an eyesore, they have been able to create wide-spread awareness and debate.
Clara Coetzee, a first year had this to say, “I am very much against visual protests that negatively impact on the aesthetic of the university. I feel that as Rhodes students we take pride in our environment and not vandalise it. I think a better alternative would a platform for visual protests.” However, another student, Kirra Evans said that she was in favour of the graffiti, “It gives people a voice who feel as if they are not being listened to and it stares academic bureaucracy in the face, clearly showing that people’s concerns cannot simply be brushed off to a simple debate.” Vice Chancellor Dr. Sizwe Mabizela has a similar attitude, instead of removing the various pieces he has left them in hope of creating engagement, ““This act draws our attention to the fact that there are voices crying out to be heard,” Mabizela said.
Whilst the graffiti has done just that, a better question would be one exploring whether or not students can create transformation and change in a more constructive capacity. In light of the graffiti and other forms of destructive forms of protest it seems like a large trend has appeared amongst the transformation of student residences. Examples being of the residents of Graham House rejecting an all white group of sub-wardens, Jan Smuts decision around a name change and what was known as Hilltop House becoming Sisulu House, in memory of the struggle fighters Walter and Albertina Sisulu. These decisions have been met with great acclamation.
When asked about their role in the transformation of Rhodes University many first years were confident in saying that although they had only been here for less than a year the believed they could contribute just as much as any other student in enabling change.
“I do not think that first years should doubt or undermine their capabilities in issues that directly effect them. The process of moving forward involves the voice and hand of everyone working together, including first years.” – Mananya Senona
In the next few weeks to come the responses of the major players of the institution will be it crucial. In light of these slight changes it could almost be expected that more change will come.