2015 is a year which has proven that covering the gunshot wound of Apartheid and a predeceasing colonial past with a plaster, is no longer a sustainable way to maintain a race-free society. Institutions of higher learning are sites which continue to be necessary demonstrations of dismantling democratic myths about a deeply wounded society.
Stellenbosch University is the latest institution of higher learning to attract the spotlight of the transformation and decolonisation debate. Last month, the Open Stellies organisation released Luister– a short documentary depicting the inflictions of institutional racism on students at Stellenbosch University. Since then, Stellenbosch University has continued to be the focal point of reference for racial debates across the country. The attention which the documentary has brought to the university has made it uncomfortable, causing a peculiar reaction from certain students at the university. This reaction can be identified as the #IAmStellenbosch campaign. The campaign seeks to materialistically erase the Stellenbosch University’s racial transgressions. The campaign involves amateur portraits of students who smile and pose with handwritten statements which are meant to represent the diverse culture of the campus.
The #IAmStellenbosch campaign is microcosmic mimicry of the reckless, offensive and violent way which the Rainbow Nation project attempted to feign a perfect society.
Reproducing Hegemony via Cultural Annihilation
The personal narratives offered by the individuals portrayed in the #IAmStellenbosch campaign do more damage than good to the ideal of diversity.
Each narrative indirectly works to complement one another in concomitant ways. An accurate example of this can be demonstrated if one places a white individual and a “non-white” individual who both claims not to see colour, in a society such as Stellenbosch University.
Based on assessing the collection of narratives portrayed in this campaign, a white person (or a person who identifies with the dominant hegemony) is likely to not to see colour for two reasons: (1) Claiming not to see race is fuelled by the fear of being perceived as political or radical as a consequence of having an interest in race relation. This fear heightens the anxiety of this individual is very likely to face being perceived as an invaluable member of the dominant hegemony, at best. Or being a traitor of the hegemony, at worst. (2) Claiming non-racialism absolves one from the responsibility of acknowledging South Africa’s cultural diversities which are carried by individuals as social currency.
A Black person (or a person who is not inherently a part of the dominant hegemony) is likely to claim not to see colour for two reason: (1) Claiming non-racialism as a black person in a Stellenbosch University/South Africa context grants that particular black individual with the opportunity to navigate environments which are inherently foreign. As the processes of navigating these spaces continues, one’s Black/’Otherred’ identity becomes less of a holistic representation of this individual’s entity and more of a prerequisite access card to these spaces. (2) Claiming non-racialism is an outfit which easily appeases the eyes of whiteness. Accepting both non-racialism and intersectionality is conceptually inane and practically unachievable. This is why non-racialism falls in the trap of being a one-way ticket to hegemonic assimilation.
Varsity Idealism and Intellectual Shortages
Besides being one of the self-congratulatory barometers which white hegemony uses to measure its own version of freedom, the #IAmStellenbosch campaign is also a telling indication of the untransformed academic and intellectual space that is Stellenbosch University.
South African universities are not safe and ideal spaces where new thought is encouraged, developed and nourished. Instead, these institutions of higher learning are spaces where figures who threaten its hegemonic intellectual agenda are readily apprehended.
Stellenbosch University- and other universities around the country which are considered to be South Africa’s best- teach decade-long curriculums which most often fail to produce graduates who are interested in doing the work of tackling the structures which perpetuate phenomenons of vast injustices and inequalities which underpin the present South African narrative. If anything, these institutions of higher learning groom students to export their intellectual currencies to Western nations under the impersonation of being “world-class citizens” and active beneficiaries of an unjust economy- if graduates if they choose to remain within South African borders.
South African university curriculums continue to teach Africa and South African literature, the state of the land redistribution & repatriation debate, the manifestation of affirmative action policies, African languages and Gqola’s feminism as anthropological objects which are only there for academic amusement and decoration. Black lecturers should not have to suffer the double contemplation of whether to teach capitalism’s role in the Marikana Massacre or just stick to the course outline which makes no mention about capitalism’s devastating hand in the state of South Africa’s migrant labour sector.
Even conversations about curriculum transformation are demoted to being discussed in condescending and complacent tones because, the necessary changes which need to be made are not a part of the hegemonic agendas which are deeply embedded in these institutions.
A student should not be graduating from an institution of higher learning with the ability to proudly say refer to themselves as “non-white” and still “…not fully understand Apartheid”. If this is the case- which it very well is- then it is an indication of that student’s inability and refusal to understand the present South Africa in which that student will live.
More importantly, that is an indication of the institution’s failure to teach.
Perpetuating the Violence of Silencing
The #IAmStellebosch campaign’s attempt to have a conversation about racism on its campus is ideologically unsound and possesses suspicious intentions. While the acquisition of information which the campaign portrays may be questionable, it is without reasonable doubt that #IAmStellenbosch is a collection of arbitrary exceptions which serve a faulty purpose in portraying South Africa as nation which is supposedly free.
While the campaign’s intention is to portray a narrative of a non-racialised, diverse, yet homogenous society, the campaign carelessly neglects to assess the nature of its homogeneity narrative. This neglect is a careless undermining of the campaign’s disingenuous message which reveals the cracks in the walls of a house which whiteness has built for itself.
The predominant idea which embellishes the campaign actually speaks to the aspiration, assimilation or preservation of a whiteness which is under no obligation to transcend itself, or, to recognise any other consciousness.
For an example: is factually correct that there are white people have intimate relations with other race groups. It is factually correct that there are black people at Stellenbosch University who pride themselves in being able to speak Afrikaans. It is factually correct that there are individuals who prophetically claim to not see people as racialized figures, rather as human beings. However, these facts are exceptions which do not have a legitimate place in the discussion about the frameworks, trends and motifs of contemporary racism. These exceptions have a misplaced role in annihilating the truth in Stellenbosch University being one of the last remaining fortresses of Afrikaans nationalism to exist in a democratic era. These exceptions are misplaced in negating the fact Stellenbosch University is built on an odious foundation which continues to police and insult and react violently towards non-hegemonic/black bodies on an institutional, intellectual, socio-cultural, physical and emotional level.
The narratives which this campaign portrays are hazardously wrong to suggest that the ushering of democracy is synonymous with destroying the previous racial structures and reversing the generational adversities of the past. It is interesting to contemplate the chances of the #IAmStellenbosch campaign not being a reaction to the realities raised in the Luister documentary. To say that #IAmStellenbosch is an arbitrary exercise in achieving social cohesion and not a reaction to Luister, is a blatant lie. The real intention of the #IAmStellenbosch campaign is to protect whiteness from its racial transgression, by silencing the voices which speak against it.
The #AmStelllebosch campaign is a lazy effort in understanding how South Africa is structurally, pedagogically and emotionally set up. The #IamStellenbosch campaign is as much of an overwhelming willingness to silence as it an unwillingness to learn. The #IAmStellenbosch campaign is a mediocre exercise which seeks recognises itself as the only consciousness that matters. This is the fundamental nature of white hegemony.
“Non-racialism” is the new magic cloak whiteness wears to disguise itself.