Many students are in limbo, living out of their suitcases, while the #RhodesMustFall movement and the University of Cape Town square off.
Violence broke out on campus earlier this week and tensions increased between #RhodesMustFall and UCT management over student housing shortages and financial and economic exclusion.
Students were put in temporary housing and are waiting to be allocated permanent residence. No student is homeless.
First-year student Simphiwe Sigaba said: “The issue with #RhodesMustFall is that they are only focusing on students who are on financial aid or who have been academically excluded.
“That also puts us in a difficult position because, what they [student housing representatives] said was there are academically excluded [students] who don’t want to move out. Those rooms are supposed to be given to students who qualify to be at UCT.”
Bonginkosi Mthethwa* arrived at UCT from the Eastern Cape in the first week of February to find the accommodation he had applied for was no longer available, despite having shown housing administrators his bursary letter to prove that his residence fees are covered.
The first-year student was in a strange city and had to rely on friends to help him.
“Some of my friends, they got res [residence] because they have NSFAS [National Student Financial Aid Scheme], and I didn’t because I’m on a bursary. My bursary is paid directly to the institution,” Mthethwa said. “It includes everything – accommodation, meals – everything.”
UCT’s head of media liaison, Elijah Moholola, confirmed that students who have been awarded financial aid and have submitted a housing application are “guaranteed a housing place in terms of our housing policy; that is, they are prioritised”.
Race has come to the fore of the housing shortage at UCT with #RhodesMustFall accusing the institution of being racist for excluding black people from permanent residence.
Mthethwa said the administrators “say their criteria is to start with those who are on financial aid, but you will see a lot of whites here. I don’t think they are on financial aid.
“Where I stay, there’s only black people. Those who don’t have residence, it’s only black people.”
The university has denied the allegation of racism.
“According to unofficial figures, only about 10% of students in residence this year are white and the majority of applicants for housing are black. So it is logical that the overflow we are dealing with would also be black. In 2015, 75% of students at UCT residences were black,” Moholola said.
He said the residences were overbooked this year as a result of the protests last year that led to deferred examinations. The number of first-years accepting housing offers has also increased.
The university has a total of 6 680 beds for a student population of 27 000, Moholola said.
“When applications for residence places are received, the university generally over-offers by a certain percentage because the take-up rate is usually lower. However, this year the take-up rate has been unusually high,” Moholola said.
UCT said that, out of the initial 800 students who were displaced, 50 have problems still to be resolved.
The student housing crisis came to a head earlier this week when #RhodesMustFall and riot police clashed on the upper campus. Stun grenades and rubber bullets were fired, and student buses were torched.
The #Shackville structure erected in protest by students was destroyed. Later, vice-chancellor Max Price’s office was petrol-bombed.
Although UCT has stated that it respects students’ right to protest, it has criticised #RhodesMustFall, saying the protest was unlawful.
“We hope that students will recognise that this is not an acceptable form of protest and that they will not align themselves with this, also recognising that they put their future at risk by risking expulsion if they participate in criminal protests,” Price said.
Following the violence, UCT has obtained a court interdict from the high court in Cape Town. It prevents 16 students involved in #RhodesMustFall protests and “those persons who associate themselves with any unlawful conduct” from disrupting university processes and entering any UCT premises, unless it is for classes or exams, and housing registered to them. The 16 students may also not be on the university’s premises until 2pm Friday February 26, unless they stay in a residence allocated to them.
Sigaba said she doesn’t know who to believe. Her experience of student housing has left her drained. She thinks international students are being given priority.
Sigaba said she was allocated a place in the Forest Hill residence, but when she went to sign in on February??1, she discovered her name had been scratched off the list and someone else had been given her room without prior notice.
“International students have to stay with each other, so there’ll be two in a flat. What happened was, in that flat, there was only one, and they wanted to put [in] another one. They removed me and then they put an international student there,” Sigaba said.
Moholola said international students were not being favoured. “This is totally untrue; no international student is being prioritised. If any student has a housing offer, we are obliged to place her/him in a room,” he said.
The Mail & Guardian has seen photographs with the details of a residence block and Sigaba’s name crossed out to accommodate another student, identified on the page as an international student. It remains unclear who deleted her name.
Sigaba lived with a friend for a week, and was then given a room in Forest Hill after pleading with student housing representatives.
Although she supports aspects of the #RhodesMustFall campaign, she said there have also been problems.
As tensions between UCT management and the movement continue, students without permanent accommodation are caught in the middle.
For Mthethwa, his position remains up in the air.
“I don’t know, I really don’t know,” he said.
* Not his real name
Artist of burnt work sides with students
Opinion on #RhodesMustFall has become widely polarised in the wake of the protest earlier this week, which saw framed pictures at the University of Cape Town go up in a ball of flames.
#RhodesMustFall supporter Dudu Ndlovu has described the protest as a “day of rage” where students were fed up with what she called the university’s lack of resolution over student housing.
The students entered Fuller residence on Tuesday to eat and while there, they stripped pictures from the walls, before moving on to do the same at Smuts residence and Jameson Hall.
“You go into that residence, and you see the audacity of the university to not only not give you res, but to have millions of rands worth of artwork and commemoration of white people who have put you in this position,” Ndlovu said.
Among the multitude of pictures destroyed was Keresemose Richard Baholo’s Extinguished Torch of Academic Freedom, the destruction of which has been instrumental in drawing negative sentiment against the student movement.
When the Mail & Guardian spoke to Baholo, it was the first he’d heard of his paintings being burnt, simply saying: “Shame.”
He took the news calmly, he said, because the paintings belonged to the university and there is nothing he can do to change the fact that his work has been destroyed. But he said he did not support violence.
The paintings focused on transformation and academic freedom. Six of his paintings had been exhibited in Fuller residence.
“I’m not happy in the sense that if they had known the value of the contents of the paintings that were not necessarily colonial in nature, then there was no need for them to lose their cool, because those paintings can never be reproduced,” Baholo said.
The students involved in burning the paintings said that they hadn’t intentionally burned Baholo’s works, but in their intent to destroy colonial art his paintings became collateral damage.
Baholo shares their sentiments, that art with colonial representation does not belong inside transformed institutions.
“They create a contradictory atmosphere where learning may not be effective enough because it does not reflect the values that the university is currently striving for,” he said.
Baholo said he supports the #FeesMustFall movement, which #RhodesMustFall forms part of. He said that when he was an art lecturer at the Vaal University of Technology he advocated for the curriculum to be transformed to reflect African knowledge and indigenous knowledge systems.
Regarding the violence involved in the students’ protests he said: “#FeesMustFall, I support.
I may not agree with the mechanism of achieving that. I think the violent aspect of it, that’s unnecessary.
“But, I would appeal to the university management to anticipate and not underestimate the anger and the discomfort their delay [in transforming the university] is causing the students,” Baholo said.
“The rage is just growing to a point where people are beginning to see that it looks like the non-violent approach does not seem to be working,” he added.