City Press

Students question #RhodesMustFall
Biénne Huisman
2016-02-21 15:00

The burning of paintings and the racist exclusion of students from a dining hall at the University of Cape Town has started to rattle the legitimacy of the #RhodesMustFall campaign.

Some students in residences affected by the destructive protests this week said they wanted to get on with their studies. They said they had withdrawn their support for the #RhodesMustFall campaign and feared for their lives. They were too afraid to let City Press identify them.

Students said that members of the #RhodesMustFall movement took over the food service in Fuller Hall’s dining room.

They barred white, coloured and Indian students from entering the hall, and served black students only.

The meal was chicken, rice and cauliflower with gravy. After that, they removed paintings from the dining room’s walls and set them alight in the parking lot.

Ivy-covered Fuller Hall houses 229 women students and shares a dining room with nearby Smuts Hall, where 230 male students live.

City Press spoke to a male resident of Smuts Hall and a female resident of Fuller Hall. They were both allowed to eat on Tuesday night, but they asked not to be named for fear of intimidation.

The woman student, dressed in a Fuller Hall house committee T-shirt, said she feared for her life.

The 22-year-old third-year BA social sciences student said: “I have a lot to worry about; home, my studies. I mean I need really good grades to be accepted for honours. I can’t risk participating in this violence.”

She said she had supported the #RhodesMustFall movement until Tuesday.

“They are taking something that was pure and good and turning it into a fight: black against white. It’s that narrative, these generalisations which I don’t like.

“I have white friends, coloured friends and Indian friends. It was terrible to eat while they were watching from outside. Then Rhodes Must Fall took down the paintings in the dining room, at least 22 paintings, some dating from the 1930s…

“I used to support the #RhodesMustFall movement and Shackville [a campaign to support students looking for accommodation], but on Tuesday that changed.”

She has had her own room at Fuller Hall for three years. She said her studies were funded by the university’s financial aid programme. Her parents, a retired policeman and teacher from Eshowe, KwaZulu-Natal, contributed R18 000 a year.

She has applied to have this revised as her mother retired last year due to ill health, and now both her parents cannot afford to pay for her studies or those of her two brothers.

One brother studied civil engineering at UCT, but left in 2013 after he failed. He is set to resume his engineering studies this year at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

However, like many students at UCT, he has nowhere to stay.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have a huge comfortable room, but can’t let him sleep here at Fuller Hall because of the rules. It’s very stressful. One can’t really focus on studies when your brother is homeless.”

The 19-year-old male Smuts Hall resident, a first-year student from Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal, matriculated with seven distinctions and an 89% average last year. He said his admission and application for financial aid through the university had been simple, but he was disturbed by the Rhodes Must Fall developments.

“At around 6.45pm, when I got to the dining room, there was a whole bunch of people at the doors, keeping some students out and saying: ‘No black child will go hungry.’ I was let in.

“We all stood in line … I had mixed feelings because I was hungry, but I felt bad for my friends outside, the Indian, white and coloured people.

“Before it got violent, I empathised with the protesters. But I don’t agree with the burning of paintings and they were ripping our stuff off the walls; announcements and textbook adverts, and so on.”