OPINION | Outrage followed a white student peeing on a black student but government pees on people’s constitutional rights

White pee trends. Held by its spell, we talk of nothing else all week. The last time we were held ransom to white pee was in 2008, when white men mixed their urine with beer and made adult cleaners drink it while singing Afrikaner dirges. They recorded their humiliation of black people with a voiceover telling the grand story of Afrikaner heaven before the advent of forced integration. 

This was at the Reitz men’s residence at the University of the Free State. This time, the piss up is at the Huis Marias student residence at Stellenbosch University. But it turns out that there’s been quite a stream of pee at Stellenbosch. We missed out on an earlier 2018 incident of a white man’s pee directed at a black person, because it wasn’t recorded. 

What’s with all this pee? 

In the animal world, males mark territory with urine. They lift a leg and spray a jet of pee to draw borders. But boundaries are only necessary when territory is contested. White men have ruled the roost in residential establishments of Afrikaans universities for more than a century. With the fall of apartheid, historically white universities have allowed in black students. But every so often, white men have to pee to mark their turf. This turf is both the physical space and the very bodies of black people. 

On the Afrikaner farm (plantation), the owner is lord over both land and labourer (slave). The master’s son or kleinbaas is the master in training. He acts on his tenuous authority to reassure himself that one day soon, he will be lord over land, beast and native. His time at university is only a brief detour to validate his knowledge before he returns to take up his rightful place at the family farm or firm. 

But at university, his dorm neighbour is a cheeky native — not because he said anything but because he is a space invader. He is not like the workers who sleep in the hovels out back, beyond the trees, or those who travel to the township every night. This native sleeps in the main house. He has a computer and books rather than a spade and hoe. 

Something is off here. It is up to kleinbaas to fix it. Mummy said he is the future. Daddy told him to man up and prepare to lead the family and community. The Afrikaner’s son unzips his fly, and in time-honoured tradition, he shoots an arching jet of urine onto the tools that should only be his. He claims his inheritance and hopes the native will know his place. 

Pee is natural. Like poo, it is primal. Recall the poo protests in Cape Town and how human excrement was thrown at the Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town. This act was to disempower Rhodes who had lorded over black people, sitting on what appeared like a toilet seat, while surveying Cape Town. Using pee to subjugate is a return to the primacy of the body. 

The golden shower, where one partner asks the other to pee on them, is a phenomenon often associated with edgy sex lives. Here the dominant partner, usually the man, asks their partner to subjugate and humiliate them with urine. It is a power game where the scales are tipped, even if only for a moment, before social norms return the balance of inequality. 

My colleague, Brett Bowman, recently reminded me that Donald Trump is alleged to have asked sex workers to pee on his hotel bed. Bowman reminds me that Trump’s power was always secure, but he needed to return to a state of vulnerability in order to validate his crude politics. 

In the Stellenbosch case, the black student did not ask for urine. But it is instructive that urine, an instrument of domination and territorialism, was used against a black student. In this case, we might suggest that the white student was reasserting a precarious dominance where the native was threatening his ancient hold on power. To understand this in context, we must remember the place of Stellenbosch University in the historical arc of this country. 

All apartheid’s presidents studied at Stellenbosch. It is hallowed ground. The heart of the Broederbond. Even as a university professor, I cannot walk through Stellenbosch without planning my exit. Its beauty and hypnotising white walls are not for me. Sunset is curfew and I must make my escape before minor aggressions turn into imagined racist epitaphs that ring through the dark. I do not remain to find out. 

This is a testament to the staying power of the white Afrikaner project which is founded on a vile masculinity that must vanquish, conquer and entrench itself for eternity. Witness the towering phallic symbols of the Voortrekker Monument, Taal Monument and sky pricking spires of Stellenbosch. Next to the farm and NG Kerk, Stellenbosch University is the jewel of Afrikaner’s triumph over wild Africa. 

There is a lot at stake when it comes to the university. The Afrikaans language wars played themselves out at Stellenbosch University with a tenacity that suggested that the very culture and way of life were at stake. Other African language departments closed down at most universities without fuss or protest. 

For now, pee. We are rightfully enraged by the viscerality of urine outside the toilet and its base racism. Its crudeness offends our middle-class sensibilities. But we should be careful not to be too enthralled by the spectacle of white pee, lest it blind us to other social ills. For instance, we are less enraged by the racism experienced by working-class people. We are even less angered by the everyday humiliation of rural and impoverished people. It does not make it to newspaper headlines and it has none of the black and white drama that rubs against our common primal wound. 

But many people live close to urine and faeces. Because parts of the country do not have pipe-drawn water, those who live there have to stare at their communal faeces every time they go to the toilet. We cannot flush away the smell. When I am at my home in Lusikisiki where water pipes were installed but through which water has never run, I am returned to a different relation to excrement.

Far from the indignant middle classes, rural complaint and protest gain no traction. The standing of our indignities can be measured by their distance to white sacred spaces like Stellenbosch University. 

Therefore, while we are rightfully enraged by urine at Stellenbosch University, we should be equally outraged by how the unholy alliance between government and capital urinates on impoverished rural people. So when Justice Minister Ronald Lamola describes the Stellenbosch golden shower as akin to urinating on the Constitution itself, he may want to attend to the matter of when the ANC government will stop urinating on the Constitution. 

Hugo ka Canham is an associate professor of psychology at a Johannesburg university. He writes in his personal capacity.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.

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Hugo ka Canham
Hugo ka Canham
Hugo ka Canham is associate professor in the department of psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand.

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