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Building a living archive of struggle 0

Throughout 2015, on our campus outside central Cape Town, we were involved in an uprising around tuition fees, outsourcing and student accommodation.

Unlike the elite “white” campuses, such as the nearby University of Cape Town or Stellenbosch, where campus struggles often took on a symbolic form, ours was a struggle against the ongoing marginalization of students and the exploitation of workers at one of South Africa’s historically black universities. This marginalization was apparent in the absence of media coverage of our struggle, until dramatic scenes of police violence played out on national television.

The University of the Western Cape – or UWC as the university is popularly known – mainly serves black (colored and African) students. This is partly a function of its history under apartheid. South Africa inherited a three-tiered university system. Elite, white “liberal” universities at the apex (UCT, Wits), Afrikaner campuses (Stellenbosch, Pretoria) and “historically black” universities (basically campuses constructed by the apartheid regime for specific “ethnic” groups. Throughout the 1970s and 80s the university was known for student resistance against both the apartheid government and Afrikaner senior management and staff. Under the leadership of Jakes Gerwel, the university attempted to transform itself from an apartheid university to “the intellectual home of the left” through the recruitment of radical scholars and intellectuals. In his 1987 inaugural address, Gerwel (later Mandela’s Chief of Staff) outlined the university’s role in the wider political struggle against apartheid:

I am becoming rector at a time when the crisis of authority, the crisis of validity – some people call it the crisis of legitimacy – of the state and the government is not any longer just a theoretical construction but is written in huge letters in every house, every school and every university.

Today we once again find ourselves confronted by a state that is increasingly paranoid, repressive and facing its own crisis of legitimacy. Off-campus the growth of protests against the lack of services, housing shortages and rampant unemployment occurs against a backdrop of corruption, patronage and state capture. Over the last month, we’ve reflected on the dramatic events on our campus, exploring the themes, contradictions, highlights and tensions that emerged and are ongoing. From these reflections we have compiled a report that highlights the experience of students at UWC during the #FeesMustFall struggle and some of the unresolved issues, particularly the question of labor outsourcing.

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by #Feesmustfall at the University of the Western Cape

Photo credits: Ashraf Kendricks

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi