#UCTShutdown: a glimpse behind the scenes

#UCTShutdown: a glimpse behind the scenes

One thing is certain to me: if you think you have a solid grasp of what is going on at our universities right now, you are probably wrong.

The bottom line is that it is not simple – it is complex and complicated and there are so many stories and so many groups and for us to be able to embrace or dismiss one view completely is not a sign of wisdom, but more likely that of laziness.

What is happening at UCT is also what is happening at WITS, but it’s also not.

What is driving the students at Stellenbosch is the same thing that is driving the students at CPUT and also not.

Wheels within wheels – if you are formulating your opinion of the University protests ONLY from what you’ve seen on tv or read in the newspapers, then i think you are being completely short-sighted and i beg you to take in some more opinions and listen to some stories.

change how you look at things

It feels important for me to say that there are SO MANY PEOPLE doing much more stuff in terms of engagement/connection and listening than me on this. My glimpse of the story is full of holes, and every day i try to fill up some of those holes a little more, so that i have a bit of a clearer idea of what is going on.

But i have been fortunate enough to be a small part of the Peace and Justice Witnesses team that formed out of the St John’s parish in Cape Town and have spent some time on UCT, CPUT town and CPUT Bellville campuses. So i have had a taste.

A group of volunteers from local churches gathered last monday early in the morning for some training by some skilled mediators and then waited to see if people on campus thought it would be helpful for us to head on up there. A small group of us ended up at UCT and spent time there during the day. In fact this whole last week there have been shifts of different team members at UCT day and night. Our main purpose has been to observe and listen, but also the hope has been [and has been realised in a number of situations] to help de-escalate moments that seem to be getting out of control and hopefully be one more reason for violence not to happen. We know of at least two other peace-keeping teams that are present at UCT.

courage to listen

i have not personally been on any of the campuses when any of the more hectic stuff has gone down [Tuesday night last week at UCT and Thursday night at CPUT] but our teams have been there and we have a live feed pretty much happening on Whatsapp so that we can stay connected to the latest happenings and be in prayer for those on the ground.

In terms of engagement, two of the things that blew me away last week where these:

[1] Gareth Stead, head pastor of Every Nation/His People church in Cape Town was on the ground at CPUT Bellville [where shit has both literally and metaphorically been thrown, as well as bags of water and urine, and stones] However, at the same time as all of this is happening, Gareth’s church has been hosting an international denominational conference. To get pastors our of their church buildings and on the ground is one thing, but when something that has obviously been planned and worked towards for a long time is happening, to decide to leave that and presence himself with his team at the university speaks volumes of commitment and service. That really impressed me.

[2] In a similar way Anglicans Ablaze is another big conference happening this week and one pastor Annie Kirke, cancelled her workshop so that she could be on the ground doing the stuff. After another workshop they put out an invitation to the pastors for some people on the ground at CPUT which has been one of the most volatile campuses in this province and without hesitation four women jumped at the opportunity. Three of them were older black female pastors from various places around the country and the fourth was a pastor lady from Norway who we almost had to fight to get her to leave she was so invested. They came and put their lives on the line and engaged and prayed and were members of the peace team while an important meeting was happening between the students and the Vice Chancellor [VC].

change direction quote

A lot of people seem to be focusing on this year’s students and what happens to them and their exams and their future and so on.

If you’re a this year student or a parent of one, then that makes a lot of sense. i get it. But at the same time, this feels a lot bigger than just that. The conversations that are happening at Universities across South Africa right now tend to have a bigger focus that looks to see more people receiving tertiary education that presently can’t afford it. Or seeing those who have the education but can’t get jobs because their degrees have not been released because some fees have not been paid, being able to do so.

What i know of the UCT demonstrations is that there is a focus on decolonising education which looks also at who is being employed and what is being taught and how is it being taught. Much bigger questions that if they are not addressed today will likely keep us heading in the same direction.

This tweet by Nomboniso Gasa sums that idea up:

Perhaps we can start with a conversation that is not based on what ‘I and my own will lose’. & focus on what we can build. @nombonisogasa

i have listened to some students speaking and giving speeeches and have heard testimony of students who got up in class and took over lectures or who gave Q and A sessions to explain what they were about, that were hardcore and excellent and well thought out and brilliant. There are some incredible young leaders who know exactly what they are wanting and are working towards.

i have also witnessed a young student, who after everyone had left a particular lecture room that i was the last person in [besides him], proceeded to set off a fire extinguisher in the room. To me that was absolutely unnecessary and a waste and had no specific purpose that i could see and just seems [in my opinion and view] to be pure vandalism for the sake of it.

One call would be to not group all the students under one banner. Both in terms of the amazing/well-thought out/strong values student and the chancer/vandalising/destruction student. And realising there is also probably some overlap. Which of us is 100% amazing or 100% pathetic? i was a student once and i was pretty awful in terms of the taking-seriously of it and so i can’t assume every student today is in that bracket either. Don’t broad brushstroke the entire movement under a single heading.

Also we heard at UCT the other night that some of the students who were there and causing a bit of disruption were actually CPUT students who had been expelled and so that adds a further dynamic. Not everything is what it seems.

fix enviroment quote

 

Today, it seems like a lot of meetings and conversations are happening on various levels and between various people as far as Cape Town institutions are concerned, which seems really positive. People are starting to sit down with each other and listen to each other. Hopefully positive movement will come from all that.

#UCTShutdown has been a helpful tag [on the Twitterer] to follow what is happening there and #FeesMustFall to get an idea of what is going on around the country. We now have people involved at UCT, CPUT, UWC and Stellenbosch which is really great and so we are able to get some kind of clearer idea of what is going on at those places.

It sounds and looks like things have been a little more crazy at WITS today – i have some people who have been there but not had as steady a stream of information so harder for me to have a better idea of what is going on there.

Also spoke to someone from KZN today who says things are tricky there because the place has been in an ongoing state of protest and shutdown over the last number of years relating to a number of different things and so any #FeesMustFall protests that are going on now are hard to discern from what is normally happening.

Extra Reading:

If you have not yet read the piece i wrote titled, ‘The Passion of the Cries’ then PLEASE give that a read [and share it with others who are struggling to see any sense in this struggle]. That was a piece looking at or rather listening to the music and song and beat behind the struggle that is taking place on UCT and seeing something powerful, beautiful and transforming within that.

If you’re questioning why students turn to violence then perhaps give ‘That car burning hooligan’ a read – a modern parable giving some small insight into what might move people to the point of destruction or violence [yet not condoning either].

Another good read is an extract from Antjie Krog’s ‘Country of my Skull’ which i shared in this post titled, ‘Hey dude, where’s my bicycle?’ 

Lastly, and more specifically for people who follow Jesus perhaps, is this piece titled ‘The Fast or the Furious’ which gives some kind of a biblical precedent for not letting these things pass us by. If you find any of them helpful, please feel free to share or tag people in them.

About the Author:

Brett Fish is a lover of life, God, tbV [the beautiful Valerie] and owns the world's most famous stuffed dolphin, No_bob (who doesn't bob). He believes that we are all responsible for making the world a significantly better place for everyone.

2 Comments

  1. Kevin October 13, 2016 at 10:32 am - Reply

    Hey what about the students who did actually pay and want to study? Surely we should be allowed to complete the year?

    • brettfish October 13, 2016 at 10:38 am - Reply

      That’s a great question Kevin, and a tricky one. What is happening on the campuses is super significant for the country as a whole and from the outside it is easy to see it as a “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one” but when you are studying or have children who are studying of course that becomes totally subjective and much harder to grasp – i overheard a black student at UCT the other day when i was walking around with them looking at his friend and explaining how he is giving up his studies for the greater good and so i guess the students that are protesting, or some of them, see that as the answer. Maybe this thing is bigger than me? Have you had any time to engage with protesting students and ask them that question?

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