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09/02/2018 16:04 SAST | Updated 09/02/2018 16:53 SAST

Tuks Residences: A Failure Of Our Democracy

We need to rely on our engagement with one another beyond the transformation policies set before us.

Getty Images/ Gallo Images
The University of Pretoria.

South Africa is home to one of the world's worst socially constructed ideas: that of racial classifications as a measure of human worth in society. More than two decades after the advent of democracy, apartheid has once again reared its ugly head.

The University of Pretoria's Student Representative Council (SRC) has barred two student residences, Sonop and De Goede Hoop, from participating in all university social activities. This is due to their failure to meet the university's transformation agenda, which mandates that one-third of residence populations must be made up by black students.

This decision by the abovementioned residences present consequences for the university community and the nation at large, particularly in a post-apartheid context. The racial project, as lead by our democratic government, has not been without its fair share of challenges, the biggest one being how to transform and destroy a socially constructed concept such as racism and create new concepts to meet the demands of the diverse status quo.

AFP/ GETTY IMAGES
AFP/ GETTY IMAGES

The incident has direct implications on social cohesion in our country, because racial systems historically and currently have an impact on a "level of everyday experience and interaction" (Whitehead; 2011); and we need to rely on our engagement with one another beyond the transformation policies set before us.

Allan Boesak at the George Botha Memorial Lecture in 2011 pointed out that in contrast to us being the world's worst model of a pigmentocracy, we managed to establish the United Democratic Front, the renowned movement for non-racialism. This action by these UP residences is a slap in the face of our historical milestones, where "in the midst of one of the darkest moments in our history, we had the audacity to imagine a different country" (Boesak; 2011).

Having said that, this incident also exposes the brutal reality that as a country we are able to unite in the good – as seen in our sporting events, most notably the Rugby World Cup of 1995 and the Soccer World Cup of 2010, and also during trying times like the passing of Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathadra.

But we seem unable to sustain those moments, which results in us continuously failing to uphold our democracy.

When the white students of Sonop and De Goede Hoop argue that they have a right to gather as a white minority community by excluding nonwhites, what they are in fact saying is that others (nonwhites) have to negotiate their access into that space.

The other consequence by these residences, is the unmasking of our short-lived euphoric attitudes in relation to our philosophy of ubuntu. Ubuntu is an ideology that is seen to embody humanity, community and compassion. With this understanding comes the responsibility to demand the restoration of one's humanity if one has been dehumanised, as professor Mogobe Ramose explains.

Consequently, when the white students of Sonop and De Goede Hoop argue that they have a right to gather as a white minority community by excluding nonwhites, what they are in fact saying is that others (nonwhites) have to negotiate their access into that space.

One does not need to attend a history lecture to understand why that position is problematic. These students ignore the fact that it was that same minority group that monopolised power for centuries and denied nonwhites the licence to belong to those same residences, let alone universities.

AFP via Getty Images
A photo taken on March 27, 2017 shows a view of The Good Hope residence in Pretoria. A private South African dormitory housing white-only Afrikaans-speaking students attending the University of Pretoria.

This onesided expectation, in which the previously disadvantaged are expected to practise ubuntu, is what breeds the arrogance some white South Africans have – they were not compelled to practise justice, compassion or a sense of community; they are only expected to receive it.

The protection of minority rights in our Bill of Rights creates a paradox in how we uphold our responsibilities as a democracy. The minority received constitutional protection that would not affect their status in a post-apartheid South Africa.

This paradox reveals that the "compromises which the political representatives of the conquered peoples made were philosophically and materially inconsistent with their people's understanding of historical justice" (Ramose; 2001), thus rendering South Africa's understanding of ubuntu illegitimate.

The phrase "South Africa has a long way to go" has been worn out, and the students at Tuks residences should be held to account.