Fighting the greater struggle of institutionalised racism

A photograph made rounds on Facebook on September 19 2014. Someone had used black spray-paint and wrote the
words, “FUCK WHITE RACISM.
BLACK POWER. BIKO LIVES” on the University of
Witwatersrand’s Great Hall stairs. 

Dikeledi Selowa tags 25 Wits students on the
photograph and asks, “Someone tell me what the HELL is this at the Great Hall
stairs.” A conversation ensues.

At the time the Mail & Guardian met with Wits EFF chairperson Vuyani Pambo, who is now one of the leaders behind the
#FeesMustFall protest that started at Wits last Wednesday. Pambo said black
students wanted to decolonise and transform the university. He told the M&G
that they have been calling for the university to hire more black lecturers,
especially black women lecturers. He said in making this call, the university
had painted them as violent when in fact it was Wits University that has been
very brutal to the black students, the workers, lecturers and the security
staff.

The workers on campus are
unregistered labour and thus have no claim to the unemployment insurance fund,
provident fund or sectoral minimum wages. The treatment of black staff and black
students has become worse since Habib became the vice-chancellor, Pambo alleged.

“Do you know that black
workers on campus have to use separate toilets? That’s an inherent apartheid practice,”
said Pambo at the time, something that was also said by Mcebo Freedom Dlamini,
another leader of the #FeesMustFall protest. Dlamini spoke to a large group of
Wits students on Wednesday on the same Great Hall stairs. Dlamini told students
that even though they were protesting for fees, the greater struggle was the
inherent racism at the university.

“I know some of you say, ‘Oh
my gosh, what racism’ [using a twang], but I say to you, do you know the
workers here are not allowed to use the same toilets you use? You have been
complaining that the toilets are dirty since the university was shut down. You
cannot see institutional racism, you feel it,” Dlamini said to the crowd of
students.

But to go back to the
photograph on the Wits Great Hall stairs posted last year, Dikeledi Selowa
writes:

The M&G interviewed Tasneem Essop, one of the students behind
#TransformWits movement. Essop (23) was SRC secretary in 2013 and is currently
reading for a Masters of Political Science at Wits.

She told the M&G, “As a student activist the
biggest issue to deal with is access to education – basic and tertiary.”

“Young people, and by people
I mean black people, who are academically viable are excluded every year
because they can’t afford the education,” she said.

Essop said the problem with
this country is that structurally nothing has changed. She said the people who
could not access education institutions during apartheid are the same people
who can’t access them today.

“These are the people who
fight and somehow manage to get funding but are again excluded by the same
institution.”

“People with just two years
left to their degrees were excluded. What is to become of them? I should be
able to access higher education, anything beyond that is a violation,” said
Essop.

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