South Africa’s most prestigious art school is in danger of becoming a war zone. A collective of art and drama students at the University of Cape Town’s Hiddingh campus have barricaded themselves inside a studio after being issued with a police interdict that, they say, prevents them making artwork about the #FeesMustFall protests.
Their artworks were seized in the early hours of this morning by “large men in full body armour” members of the Umhlangano collective told City Press today.
UCT media liaison Pat Lucas, however, denies that an interdict was served. “The students had erected a roadblock where traffic accesses the Hiddingh Campus. They were reminded by a campus security officer that an interdict was in place, which was issued on February 17,” she told City Press. The students posted a video of this officer on Facebook.
“We made large banners and several sculptural installations, including installations of balloons that were seized in a blatant attempt to demoralise us. We also proposed new names for the buildings to honour our own creative elders and those name tags have been removed,” they said in a statement to City Press, wishing to speak as a collective and not as individuals.
They started the collective to “make a safe space for creative expression during #FeesMustFall”.
The university responded by saying: “The creation of a blockade in a campus roadway was in violation of that interdict, because it is necessary for the safety and security of staff and students at UCT to keep the campus open for public access. The materials that were blocking the traffic access consisted of bins, benches and two vehicles that were placed in the roadway. Two students agreed to remove the vehicles after they were requested to do. The other materials were removed by security staff.”
Now the students say they are being forced to work outside under constant surveillance by private security. On Facebook, they added that their work is not violent nor a violation of space. “It is an inclusive one which we are activating through intervention. We ask that all that join our space respect that.”
To this, Lucas said: “The limited use of private security in this instance was in line with the stipulations vice-chancellor Max Price makes in his letter to the campus community of September 25.” She quoted the letter which reads: “For the coming week then, the university is open for staff, but all classes are suspended. We are asking faculties to use the week to organise discussions between students and staff to hear their issues and suggest ways forward. We will provide limited security to protect access to campus so that such engagement can proceed, and so that operational support services can continue.”
The students are asking UCT staff to decide whether or not they will choose to support their actions by assisting them to protect their workspace and “honour the sanctity of the shutdown. The situation on campus is currently tense, we are shaken and distressed. Students are rallying but we’re tired as we slept with one eye open and ears to the doors”, they said.
The alleged seizure of artworks came only days after the arts and drama students of the university had the campus shut down on September 16, declaring that the campus should be a safe space for students to engage with each other and should be off limits to staff as well as unidentified, un-uniformed security.
The group are now calling for support from the public to continue their work.
“We welcome students, workers, and cultural workers as collaborators to join us in our activities for a radical shift of the institutional culture of this creative campus and in envisioning a decolonised university,” they said on Facebook.
* Pictures courtesy of the collective of art and drama students at the University of Cape Town.