Wits FeesMustFall Manifesto

The FeesMustFall movement defines itself, both philosophically and politically as a Black Consciousness movement, which seeks to understand the black condition in the university space from the place of blackness. By black we mean

  1. the historical and political identification of being black, those who have been- due to this identification- exist in the zone of the non-human and who have become the being of absolute negation, thus those who have been historically susceptible to being called (and defined as) Negro, Kaffir, Bitch (as in Black woman), Primitive and “sho good eating” Savage and
  2. those who share a mutual knowledge of their suffering and struggle, and seek to annihilate the world which makes their existence an ontological and material impossibility.

By invoking Blackness as the primary level of abstraction or theorisation of our struggle means that we understand the experiences (in all the ways in which it is manifested through gender, sexuality, disability) of black people and their participation in the operation of the institution as a form of subjugation, domination, exclusion and exploitation. The relationship that the institution has with black people is one which is necessarily antagonistic. Within the milieu of the university’s social body, black people are treated as absent bodies. That is from: academic and financial exclusion before entering and whilst in the peripheries of the institution; the nature of the pedagogical mode of the curriculum, which is sourced from a Eurocentric canon; the ‘workers’ who are not first of all treated as wage-labour, rather as fungible and socially dead black bodies.

We seek not to understand the outsourcing issue from only the position of class; rather we use blackness as our mode of abstraction and analysis. More so, the workers are first of all, neither Indian nor White, but they are black, this is what pits us to theorise their subjugation and exploitation from the place of blackness. Due to the neoliberal nature of contemporary racial capitalism the outsourced workers have no prima facie relationality with the capitalist class as per the crude logics of Marxist analysis of class struggle. The nexus of the relationship gives them no political currency under the discourse of trade union economism. For this reason ‘We’ the majority of the black students, for whom the workers are not only employees of the university (in actual fact not recognised as employees), but are our mothers and fathers, it is therefore incumbent upon us to champion the ‘workers’ struggle. Our ‘quasi kin’ relationship with them is not only sentimental, rather it is political, experiential and ontological. It is important to distance ourselves from the progressives’ narratives of creating a false class binary between black students and black workers, which creates an illusion that there is material value for the black student in being in the institution. In the progressives’ attempts to distance us from our communities and fulfil their narcissistic project of always determining and defining the nature and parameters of the black struggle, they constantly remind us of the so-called privilege they afforded us.

In solidarity with the decolonising movements all over the country that is from the DUT, UKZN and TUT, which for long have been unrecognised, the Rhodes Must Fall, Transform Wits, Black student movement, Open Stellenbosch, Potchefstroom (which has been heavily muted). The colonial symbols elaborate that 1994 was not the emergence of democracy but rather the suspension of people’s power and true emancipation. We call for the removal of symbols of oppression and colonialism which includes names of buildings, institutions, statues and any other Western symbol that celebrates colonial power relations in South Africa. This is an attempt to destroy the ways in which white supremacy continues to annihilate the possibility of black power. It is imperative upon us to seriously understand the nature of the epistemic violence imputed through symbols of power and hegemony such as the statues and names of buildings. As cultural and historical artefacts statues play a role in the building of an archive of memory, which help us constitute as a people. Thus with the continued presence of symbols, which still portray us as a disfigured and defeated people, without a sense of belonging or history, we strongly call for the removal of anything that has to do with the history of colonialism from the university spaces. Unlike the poor reading of Fanon that Adam Habib gives in the Vice Chancellor’s letter on transformation, we call for the creation of black history and a black memory renaming of the university to KgaMogale University, Senate House to Solomon Mahlangu House and the reflection of other stalwarts such as Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, Steve Bantu Biko, Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela, Thomas Sankara, Assata Shakur, amongst the many unrecognised leaders of the black struggle. This renaming is not a mere renaming of buildings but a recreation of their function, correcting the erasure of black history and reclaiming the spaces of the entire university.

The struggle of decolonisation has been reduced to a merely aesthetical or ethical struggle whereas these statues, names of buildings are symbols of power, culture and memory and constant reminders of apartheid and colonial oppression. It’s no coincidence that these struggles emerge in historically white institutions because these institutions bare the face of anti-blackness where the death of black life is a constant ritual, such as the constant exclusion of black bodies, the incidences of black face, the generalised dishonour of black people within these institutions; the intellectual dishonour of black students in academia as well as the dishonour of black workers in terms of their working conditions. The historically black institutions are not immune from these forms of colonial subjugation, in fact the racial and spatial bifurcation of higher-learning institutions in South Africa are not only remanences of slavocratic, colonial and apartheid styles of governance but a retention of the Manichean relations which underpins them. However, there is no significant epistemic and teleological bifurcation between (historically) white and black institutions, for both (re)produce a system of knowledge and create a student body which functions in (re)creating the colonial world. The project of decolonizing the university is therefore one which seeks to destroy at most or restructure at least the ontology of the university in whatever its form. Hence Frantz Fanon delineates the de-colonial moment as a necessarily violent one, in that decolonization seeks to disfigure and disorientate colonial violence and colonial existence in its entirety for the desire of not a mere post-colonial ontology but for an ontology (wrought from destruction) which is the absolute negation of the colonial world.   Therefore the white liberal definition of violence as a negative tool for protest is antithetical to the decolonial project. This is to say that rhetoric and practice of non-violence for the sake of structural preservation is antagonistic and destructive to decolonization.

We seek a radical revision of the curriculum to include black thought and intellectuals. The likes of Hegel, Marx, Kant, Butler must be read in a way that is Afrocentric, (not to say that they are Afrocentric) to say the geography of thought must be shifted from Europe and centralised in African thought. This includes the discarding of scientific modes of enquiry and analysis into black existence. It is this scientificism that informs the distributive and the non-racialist policies of the post-apartheid government. What these policies do is rather reproduce white racial capitalism than subvert it.  In this way we understand science and other discourse as particular social epistemic constructs for the rationalisation of Western modernity. The curriculum alienates black students from their communities and deprives them of a language to articulate their own experiences in a way that is substantially reflective of blackness. This curriculum change means the complete transformation of the modes of pedagogy and the overthrow of the white academia and its agents. This means that academic staff must be reflective of the black organic intellectual.

This movement seeks to fight against anti-black practices of the institution in all its forms.  We seek to rectify the structural violence which has led to the academic and financial exclusion of black students, the exploitation of black workers and the generalized intellectual dishonour of black academics. This leads us to the desire and the agency to end the life of the University of The Witwatersrand as we know it!