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Can Rhodes University’s Transformation Stand the Test of Time?

Rhodes University Student Vuyolwethu Toli during Conference day 1 intermission Photo: Thandi Bombi

Rhodes University Student Vuyolwethu Toli during Conference day 1 intermission
Photo: Thandi Bombi

Four weeks after what could have been a disaster, when overwrought students fought to get to a venue large enough to accommodate them all during an emergency student body meeting, a conference aimed at exploring the relationship between the higher education curriculum and the geographical and psycho-social place, is held and the masses have disappeared. Thandi Bombi Reports here.

The student body disseminated. While the strong and fit ran ahead to look for alternate exits the smaller ones pushed their way through the main entrance. Among the front runners was the Black Student Movement (BSM). All personal boundaries were forgotten, a hand in the face was just another’s struggle to push their way to the bigger venue to deal with issues with the system.

On 19 March 2015, an emergency student forum was held to take up issues that had started as a result of the #RhodesMustFall, #RhodesSoWhite campaign. For the first time in a long time, the student body was given a platform to speak and address issues they had with the University.

The system in question had booked a venue that was too small for the entire student body, it had started the meeting off by introducing the “two most important” parties in attendance, Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela,  and the Student Representative Council without regard to the students who had come out in their numbers for a united cause.

This system had forgotten what it was all about and now the students had to run to be first in line to remind them.

Name tags of those in attendance at the Curriculum transformation conference

Name tags of those in attendance at the Curriculum transformation conference                                                                                                      photo: ThandiBombi

A month later, on 17 and 18 April 2015, a conference focusing on the issues within the current curriculum and possible changes that could be made to transform and create a more inclusive higher learning environment was held at Rhodes University and the number of eager students had reduced majorly.

While a large number of representatives from BSM and other concerned students attended and contributed to the discussions on transformation, the once promising number of students ready to fight for transformation at Rhodes University had fallen.

The student body meeting, which lasted over three hours had inspired a sense of hope in the students, “This is what we need,” said Honours student, Kay Mosiane, “For a long time we have had issues but we didn’t have the platform to express them, we need more of these meetings, we need a platform where we can communicate, if you are trying to bring about change and it does not work- tell us, if you have tried to help us with our problems and it’s a lengthy process- tell us. We need to communicate with one another about what is happening.”

At the top of the list of issues raised in the student body meeting were the name change, the vacation accommodation fees and the social injustices that come with being black.The curriculum transformation conference aimed to be another platform to keep these discussions going.

“Rhodes University is going through turmoil with transformation,” said second year student Siseko Khumalo, “although this conference was planned before these transformation issues were raised, we are planning on using this as a platform to combat Rhodes Must Fall, Curriculum change and all other aspects of transformation.”

This however was not motivation enough to attract the masses. What had started over a month ago as an attempt at a confrontational revolution by a united student body had now fizzled out and left the front runners in the initial race to transformation still raising the difficult topics that needed to be consulted as a way forward.

It is without a doubt that curriculum transformation could be one of the major contributors to a diverse, inclusive and transformed Rhodes University, so the question is if most of the students are losing interest only a month in, who will be there to ensure that the transformation actually takes place and that the struggle for transformation still continues?

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