Power against black voice: Brutalization of black bodies and obliteration of protective space.
The recent march at University of Johannesburg APK campus by a certain student organization cries out for an in-depth analysis because is a tip of an iceberg. Moreover when the people at the heart of the issue are black students whose only plea was to hand over a memorandum that sought to bring the plight of black students in an anti-black institution forth. Universities throughout the world have always been known to be a breeding ground for dissent or protective space that allows creativity; innovation and intense battle of ideas which take centre stage.
The recent events at University of Johannesburg reflect the widespread dictatorial and militarist attitude meted out against anyone who is for justice for the black body in an institution that is not in touch with the trials and tribulations of a black student. The explicit violence committed against blacks by the university and state machinery is shocking taking to consideration our violent legacy and reality as a country. It is reminiscent of the Verwoerd-Strydom-Botha regime that used torture and mutilation as a form of deterrent to dissent or to voice one’s pain. The University is no different from the latter because when one looks closely it practice the very same methodology in dealing with student dissent and concerns.
For an instance the university went out of its way to hire people who would beat up Black students, it hired “Bouncers”; taking to cognizant the university has security in place. Furthermore the university ill intentions of suffocating the voice of the voiceless didn’t end there. For the multitudes of students who were coming to hand over a memorandum to the Vice Chancellor, the university raised a false alarm that the university might be in danger of being disrupted or damaged and thus involved the South African Police Service. Their only sin was to ask why the introductions of the biometric control system without consultation, why the punitive measures against student leaders and constant exploitation of female students by lecturers.
Shockingly one finds that instead of the Vice Chancellor receiving the memorandum of grievances of students, he decide to be secretly chauffeured through the backdoor. The leadership of the supposed Pan African centred institution. The University of Johannesburg strive to be an epicentre of Pan African institution. In other words the university strive to be the harbinger of the emancipation, unity and defense of Africans in the continent and the diaspora. The very same university is the one that shuns the Afrikan student to voice her grievances and her cries.
On that fateful first Thursday of August (Women’s month) black students were once again reminded of our insignificance and indignity at a University. The university was turned into a battleground between students against the formidable front comprised of the riot police, security, and the hired bouncers. Images and videos of blood gushing from the bodies of black students, the police beating students and any bystander was implicated and thrown at the back of the police van. Moreover the disturbing image of the black female student who was dragged and banged against the pavement at Madibeng Building. The latter re-open that painful chapter at the Cheik Anta Diop University in 2001 and not forgetting the martyrs of Addis Abba University, where university autocracy compounded by state machinery. Moreover Professor Suren Pillay of the University of the Western Cape on his message to Rhodes Must Fall movement, said the university is supposed to be a space that is to be occupied by battle of ideas not the body, worse black bodies.
On painful moments like this we reminded once again of the urgency and necessity of decolonization of institutions of higher learning. Particularly the University of Johannesburg which has continuously shied away from curbing the inherent dictatorial and racist tendencies that linger through its corridors, administration and policy configurations. The colonialism remnants are evident in the response of the University to students’ expression of frustrations.
The increased violence and use of state apparatus to quell dissent is a feature of master and a subject relationship where the master had the right to squash any form of uprising with maximum force. The oppressive education system that Paulo Freire in his outstanding book titled pedagogy of the oppressed talks about. Clearly is widespread across the lecture halls where black minds are reduced to uselessness and cram sponges to advance to another level of their studies. Moreover the university administration has assumed a role of superiority and reduced the student to subordination irrespective of the stake the student has in the institution.
Is this way of thinking compounded with that lurking apartheid legacy that has entrenched the wishes of the university hegemony over those of the students. The former perpetuate institutionalised violence not only against the body as we saw on 06 August 2015 but against the mind and soul of black students. The Black bodies who were brutalized on that day when they came to hand over memorandum of grievances shouldn’t be taken as an isolated incident of party student politics; it must be seen as a consistent attack on the black student at the University because the violence has always been committed through colonial knowledge and thought.
Decolonization of tertiary institutions places the university and other institutions in society as agents of development and cultural preservation. Decolonization of tertiary institution blurs the line between superiority and subordination between the university administration and students.
The valour of those students on 06 August 2015 should continue to inspire us to push further decolonization of the university because it is these outbursts that become constant reminder of the violence blacks are subjected to at a university. In the same breath we condemn the obliteration of protective space of the university and the brutalization of students.
This piece was written in August 2015!
Originally published at obakengmompati.blogspot.com.