Two weeks ago, a video was posted online titled Luister (Listen in English) in which students at the University of Stellenbosch spoke about racist and discriminatory events that they have been subjected to. A few days ago a rally was held at the university, hosted by the Open Stellenbosch movement. The movement has gained traction in the last few weeks with the release of Luister. The movement started out as a call for transformation with regards to the language policy at the university as students felt that it would be easier to receive their education in English rather than Afrikaans.
Open Stellenbosch describes itself on its Facebook page as a “collective of students and staff working to purge the oppressive remnants of apartheid in pursuit of a truly African university”. So what started out as a call for transformation in the language policy has opened up a new can of worms at the university with students highlighting issues of race and discrimination based on the colour of their skin.
However, the University of Stellenbosch hosts students from all over the country and the world of different races and religions.
Mikail Baker, a Muslim student of colour on at the university says that you “cannot fight racism with racism” and open Stellenbosch cannot call for transformation if they are basing their anger and frustration towards something on race.
“The reality is that these things do happen, but it (Luister) is not an objective study of what’s going on at the university, it is an experience of a few students,” Baker explained.
“There are people that come and go from this university without every experiencing any form of discrimination, so I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen”.
Tashriq Pandy, chairperson of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) Stellenbosch says that transformation does happen on campus, but acknowledges that it takes some time. Pandy referred to an incident where the only halal food store in the Nielsie building on campus was closing and he approached the university about getting a new tender in to provide halal food to Muslim students and the university complied.
“If you are willing to engage with university management then they will be able to accommodate you,” Pandy added.
“I think what Luister and open Stellenbosch is doing is putting pressure on the university to transform faster.”
Speaking on behalf of the MSA though, Pandy says that they support transformation, but want to remain neutral in outright expressing their support for Open Stellenbosch as they are not yet aware of what their clear objectives are.
“There is a lot of stuff that we are unsure of with regards to the main aims of Open Stellenbosch besides transformation because this video went viral quickly, I also want to know if they have backers from maybe a political organisation,” Pandy explained.
With regards to incidents of discrimination based on religion, Pandy says that issues that Muslim might face on campus are not just unique to Stellenbosch.
Hijabs on campus
As a result of global Islamophobia, Muslims are subjected to increased security checks. However Anika Adaniya, a Muslim girl who wears a hijab on campus says that she has never been subjected to any form of discrimination. She says some people might not know how to approach her, but that is because they have no understanding of what Islam entails and what wearing the hijab means for girls of the Muslim faith. Adaniya too doesn’t quite know what Open Stellenbosch is trying to achieve though.
“In the beginning I thought that open Stellenbosch initially wanted to change the language policy however when you watch videos like Luister it becomes something more of black against white, so I don’t know where race has come into open Stellenbosch,” Adaniya continued.
Asma Isaacs another Muslim girl wearing a head scarf says that she has lived with Afrikaner white girls and once you educate them about Islam it is easier for them to engage with you.
“They respected my religion as I respected theirs,” says Isaacs.
“We just show them what Islam is about instead of just expecting people to know what Islam is about.”
Most students agreed that if you engage with the university on your issues an effective solution will be reached without it resulting in mass protests. A task team has been formed to address these issues raised by the students in the Luister video as well as to aid in the transformation process at the university. VOC (Umarah Hartley)