My SRC President is Black

Student Representative Councils are one of the most important decision making body’s in campuses around South Africa when it comes to representing and protecting legislature and the interests of students.

 (Wits University’s incoming 2016 black female SRC President, protesting during the recent #feesmustfall campaign)

There seems to be a trend across South Africa’s top universities of having mainly and mostly a black body of its student representative council. This can be seen in Wits University’s controversial and now ex-president of 2015, Mcebo Dlamini. Ramabina Mahapa also president of University of Cape Town is a black student. Rhodes University has a much similar trend with newly elected president Sisesakhe Ntlabezo who will serve as 2016 president.

Tweet following the announcement of 2016 Rhodes University SRC President
Tweet following the announcement of 2016 Rhodes University SRC President

When the 2016 Student Representative Council was announced at Rhodes University. We witnessed the university’s first all black SRC body.

This year only 48 percent of students at Rhodes University voted in the elections. This is an increase from last year’s election where only 45 percent of students voted. The entire new elected body consists for the first time of only black council members. These demographics however reflect a sense of political apathy that roams the University.

The question now arises whether or not the race of South Africa’s leaders of top elite institutions does or does not matter in light of transformation issues circulating across campuses. Does being a black SRC President play part in achieving objectives outlined in the mission statement of the SRC such of that of Rhodes University of achieving institutional governance and “transformation”,

“In pursuit of this vision, the SRC will strive to develop an informed student body that is able to participate in institutional co-governance and transformation in a scholarly and progressive manner.”

The question of whether or not race is essential was posed at a few students from Rhodes University who had interesting opinions on the subject. Khuselwa Thembani who is a first year at Journalism student responded passionately; “Personally, the race of the SRC President is the least of my worries, basically it doesn’t matter. Because the SRC represents the student body and it requires a President that will be able to do exactly that and quite frankly compatibility to fulfil the duties of a position has nothing to do with race. Therefore skill, knowledge basically being compatible for the position should take priority over race.” 

Khuselwa further motivated her opinion by explaining her feelings about whether or not  South Africa as a country, specifically black people were possibly not ready for a white president because what she calls  obvious reasons. “If the student body has a say as to who becomes president, then I would use the above statement as a reason for why the trend of having mostly black SRC presidents exists. If the student body doesn’t have a say as to who becomes president, then  I would say its either the end is unintentional and it just happens that the SRC presidents are black most of the time. Or maybe the SRC members feel a black president is more or would be more influential and able to relate and appeal to the majority of students at Rhodes, who happen to be black. Basically I do not have a clue why this trend exists, all of the above are assumptions and opinions”.

sibu

Sibusiso Kinat had contrasting views; “Personally I feel that race does matter in the SRC simply because it allows for people from different backgrounds to at least have a representative who they can identify with their problems” .

There seems to be a divide on the trend of having mostly black student representatives, however whether or not “my president is black” is an issue remains a question students across South Africa are yet to explore.

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Will Vandalism lead to a better Rhodes?

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.

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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.

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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.

Grahamstown speaks out about Makana Municipality

Picture by: The Oppidan Press

Under the power of African National Congress members, the Makana Municipality of Grahamstown has gone through tremendous challenges with regards to fulfilling its responsibilities towards the people of the town and the town itself.  This recently caused the Democratic Alliance (DA) to challenge the processes and decisions made by the municipality. The controversy between the political parties evoked underlying tension within the people of Grahamstown with regards to poor service delivery, poverty and crime.

Luvuyo Ellman Gqosana has been a community member of Grahamstown for all of his life and he shared his knowledge, experience and thoughts on the topic when interviewed. He believes that the Makana Municipality is “simply a disaster“, basing his argument on the Municipality’s failure to fulfill its responsibilities. Referring to the current state of infrastructure, the increasing crime and unemployment rate and poverty in Grahamstown. Considering the corruption that members are accused of and the belief that most of the members are not compatible for their positions in the municipality, he foresees no change in the immediate future. He revealed that the community claims the current mayor and the one prior were/are involved in a relationship, the mayor prior was not able to improve the state of the town, which is reason as to why community members have no faith in the new mayor to bring about change either.

Gqosana is aware of the controversy between the DA and the ANC with regards to which members are part of the municipality, “there is need for change and the DA has the potential to bring that change if given power through the Municipality structures” he said. However, “many fear racial issues arising and becoming a problem because the DA is dominated and essentially controlled by white individuals” he added.

On the contrary to the above statement. Fadzayi and Farai Chikurunhe, who are international students at Rhodes University and members of the community of Grahamstown, believe that the town needs to prioritize recruiting compatible individuals into the municipality regardless of their race. The students claim they are aware of the poor job performance by members of the municipality but they were not aware of the changes in the municipality and the interference of the DA. When made aware of this, Farai said that “I support the actions taken by the DA because members of the ANC have been in charge for a long time but they haven’t been fulfilling their responsibilities”. Fadzayi added, “The responsibilities they have to provide people with services like water and sanitation, to eradicate unemployment and work with the police services to eliminate crime. I think it’s time for change.”

The students had no knowledge of the proceedings with regards to Makana Municipality. They also feel they do not have power to influence the actions taken by the Municipality and therefore they do not engage but as community members they are also affected by the lacking competency of Makana Municipality members.

Some have given up on the fading town of Grahamstown, however some are way too eager to give up without a fight. The community of Grahamstown and the town itself has survived many struggles in the past and so its community believes it will survive the struggles brought by its own Municipality.