I wrote my last blog about a month ago concerning the protests taking place at the University of Cape Town and other universities across South Africa. When I wrote that blog, I was in the second week of not having classes and UCT being shutdown. Now as I sit here in a cafe writing, I have not had face to face lectures for approximately a month and a half.
And a lot has happened in that month’s time:
- UCT management tried to restart classes without reaching any real resolution causing more protests.
- Private security was brought onto campus making numerous students feel unsafe.
- Violence broke out in the night and the concept of “black lives as disposable” was only strengthened in the actions of the night.
- UCT shut down again and tried to make some effort in reaching a resolution, but came to no solution.
- UCT declared that the year would finish but all face to face lectures were suspended and the year would be finished through a blended learning system – meaning that exams were approaching fast and assignments were due online.
- Students and workers still protested and on October 26th, they peacefully marched to Parliament in solidarity only to have police brutality cast upon them through stun grenades, rubber bullets, and manhandling.
Since the occurrence of these events, I have been through many different emotions and experiences – and if I were to write all of them, I would be writing a novel, but here are key pieces for me along this journey:
1) The first time UCT tried to open, I didn’t have classes on that Monday. Due to that, I decided to march with a section of the protesters in hopes to shut down the campus so that the issue would be addressed rather than ignored. This was an exhausting and humbling experience. Protesting is no easy thing especially as people passionately fought for justice while being ignored or threatened by the presence of the private security. After this day, UCT tried to have class once again – and that Tuesday I did have class, but I decided not to go due to the circumstances. I choose to email my professor and express that I could not pretend nothing was happening outside of my classroom window when private security was all over campus and students were protesting and standing up for justice. I chose not to go because deciding to partake in my classes felt like supporting the current injustice and furthermore living into the privilege of ignoring the problems of marginalized communities. Eventually as that week progressed, classes shut down for the rest of the week and then the next as well.
2) The second time UCT tried to open brought forth different emotions. At that point I had not had school for a month and though I filled that time with important conversations, quality time, and other learning moments – it was a long season in which I didn’t really know what my purpose was as it was no longer that of being a student. To add to that, when UCT reopened school for a second time – UCT took a tactic that demobilized the students. They cancelled all face to face lectures, moved the exam schedule back two weeks, and embarked on a learning system called “blended learning” that was different depending on the faculty, but essentially dealt with online learning. This system was clouded with so much injustice as it just perpetuated the education gap of rich vs poor that this protest is fighting against, because it is only the wealthy that have access to wifi, computers, and things needed to do class online. More than that – at this point, it wasn’t a quality education – a month was being crammed into a two week time period and then came exams. The SRC, or the Student’s Representative Council (the student advocates in communication with management during this time) declared that school should shut down for the rest of the year and resume earlier in the next term and with that time off, it should be used to seek out a resolution. Though this isn’t what anyone wants, protesters included, it is what makes the most sense. UCT management retaliated by releasing the exam schedule to finish off this year. Therefore, my feelings were unsettled because I felt torn – at this point I had to choose between school and the cause – and I was demobilized and uneasy. In this state of mind, I had a conversation with my kitchen mate and she expressed that at this point it was important for me to remember my role. As an international student, I have immersed myself in the culture and chosen not to be ignorant about what was going around me as well as have taken part in it. Now, since I will be flying out soon, it is my time to do the work to get the credits that I came here for.
3) Most recently, on October 26th I joined a peaceful march to parliament. It was powerful to see and be a part of – I would look in front of me and behind me and see numerous people – students and workers alike. I would hear songs of apartheid freedom songs. We walked together in solidarity to show how so many people stood behind a free decolonized education. When we got to parliament, it became very chill and people stood, sat, and just relaxed outside of Parliament. During that time, a friend I was with became dehydrated and we left to get some water and get her health back up. We played a role of being one of the bodies marching and showing support for the movement and it felt good as well as powerful to be a part of. Not even an hour after we left, violence broke out. And it wasn’t violence instigated from the protester’s side – but the police. The police threw a stun grenade into the group of protesters making fear and violence begin. Rubber bullets were shot, more stun grenades were released, people running were targeted, students were manhandled, and what was a peaceful and legal protest turned into a battle and crime scene.
Trauma. Pain. Anger. Sadness. Hope. Relief. Irritation. Uncertainty. Hurt. Fear. Faith. Empathy. Unbelief. Love. Hate. Shock. Restlessness. Paralyzed. Gratitude.
These are the emotions that are capturing my current state of being in all that has gone on. Emotions that root from how black bodies are seen as disposable and how people have been abused due to their race. Emotions from the journey of this academic semester and the looming uncertainty of how it will unfold as exams are very likely to be disrupted. Emotions from the injustice and being an ally in this fight for justice. Emotions that come from the fact that I fly out soon making this no longer my immediate issue. Emotions that come from missing some of my education, yet knowing that I have been experientially educated more than any other experience really could. Emotions that come from the fight for free decolonized education in South Africa.
So with all of this – now I just don’t know. I just feel like I sit in my trauma and unrest of situation at hand. I still believe in the fight for decolonized free education, yet at the same time, am still trying to do my work in order to receive the credits that I came here for. To continue forth with schooling seems unjust, yet to not continue forward at this point also feels wrong…putting me in this state of trauma and unrest.
When someone studies abroad – there is no guarantee what their experience will look like. The only guarantee is that they will come back changed either drastically or even a small amount from the person they were when their journey began. I had no idea I would be caught up in this radical and progressive time and that those characteristics would rub off on me. I knew I would come back changed – and I have in so many ways.
Though the experiences I have gained through my study abroad placement are not ideal and have made this ending time uneasy in terms of my emotions as well as other’s emotions- they are all still important in this journey of self and worldly growth… and for that I am grateful – not that injustice exists, but the change it has birthed in me.