By: Katherine Florian, SAEP Impact Centre
A hum of voices permeated the walls of SAEP’s office in Mowbray on 8 July 2015 as the last few attendees of the “SAEP talks RMF” event filtered through the doors. Three of SAEP’s Tertiary Support Programme students, Azi Mqatazana, Babalwa Mpongoshe, and Khululwa Mbinda comprised a panel – chaired by SAEP board member Shiela Yabo – to discuss the messages of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, which sparked international attention earlier this year.
Azi, Babalwa, and Khululwa drew on their own experiences of university life to delve into the themes underlying the protests, and interacted with audience members about a range of issues they and many black students face on university campuses in South Africa.
The discussion, which was live-tweeted, generated much debate as panellists and audience members waded through issues such as language, whiteness and black pain, university culture, and the gaps between expectations at school and university demands.
Participants dissected the issues that Rhodes Must Fall highlighted, emphasising that the movement was about far more than a statue’s removal, and while at times the discussion grew heated, it generated eye-opening insights.
“How do we democratise consciousness?” asked one audience member, “How do we take Rhodes Must Fall out of the academic ivory tower?”
These are good questions, and perhaps to answer them, we can look at how far-reaching social change occurs. Rallies and mass demonstrations capture the attention of an audience, and they’re an important part of promoting awareness and garnering support; however, meaningful change occurs in much smaller spaces.
The Rhodes Must Fall movement prompted people around the world to start talking about issues of transformation, decolonisation, and racism. “It’s not just about sitting in a panel discussion and thinking we’ll get things done,” noted another audience member, and that’s true. But dialogue breeds action, and as long as individuals keep having the hard conversations like the ones that Rhodes Must Fall inspired, change is just around the corner.