What the #RhodesMustFall campaign represents

2015-03-22 15:00

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In describing the actions of students at the University of Cape Town (UCT) regarding the protests against the statue of Cecil John Rhodes, I always emphasise that the problem we have is not with the individuals in the university, but with the norms and values of the institution.

Once you begin to grapple with the idea that the institution is working against black students and staff members, you will realise that the statue of Rhodes is a symbol of this form of racism.

To understand what we mean by institutionalised racism, we need to only ask why the university still has no black, female professors.

Ask students how many black lecturers they’ve had since they began university, compared with white lecturers.

Why is our senate predominantly made up of white males?

We, as black students, are often told by the institution that we should transcend race. Yet the norms and values of the institution remind us daily about our place in this so-called equal society.

However, white students are never told to confront their white privilege.

It is only when we start grappling with institutionalised racism that we will start to understand why students are so frustrated by the system.

People often condemn the actions of protesters when they use faeces, but they never interrogate why someone would be pushed to that extreme.

Students have been talking and debating race issues on campus for a number of years, yet the university still does nothing to create real transformation.

You might not agree with the use of faeces as a form of protest, but through understanding the institutionalised racism that students face, you will understand the frustration that leads us to this point – especially when we are in a space that preaches equality, yet when we plead for racial transformation, we are systematically ignored.

Regarding the statue and the new process to discuss its removal, we are under no illusion that its fall will mark our freedom from institutionalised racism.

But its removal also signals a change in mind-sets for everyone at the university, especially those who believed it was not a problem.

The statue symbolises the complacent thinking that UCT is transformed and is a place where all feel welcome.

The #RhodesMustFall campaign represents students telling the university that what it is doing is wrong and we will no longer sit idly and be victims of its actions.

The process the university has embarked on is important, but what is its point if the mind-set of the university, and its norms and values have not changed?

Chikane is a student at the University of Cape Town.

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