Rhodes’s double edged sword

After reading Larissa Klazinga’s article on the SAJR site I went on a bit of a twitter rant. Someone wise asked me to channel my response into something more constructive like a blog post.

I was overcome by emotions as I recalled a time when I sat in front of her, Vivian de Klerk and Roger Adams in tears.They had called me in after I challenged their request for me not to speak at the Truth Commission that was being held at Rhodes that year. They said my issue did not meet the requirements for the commission. Let me start from the beginning so as to explain what led to the events of that day.

At the beginning of 2011 the SRC at Rhodes under the leadership of Allan Magubane, Mohammed Shabangu and It was Masechaba Mpete came under scrutiny. A student had written to the Grocotts Mail complaining that he had had religion forced down his throat and as an atheist this offended him. He said as a student who had a right to no religion he was upset by this propaganda. The University responded with an apology written by the Director of Communications and Marketing, Mr Lebogang Hashatse.

A few weeks later the annual Dean of Student’s concert was held at the Monument. A satirical piece was shown by one of the lecturers at the Drama department. It portrayed Jesus Christ as a naughty boy who used his magical powers to mess with people’s heads. If I remember correctly he was disrespectful to his mother Mary and used foul language. Christian students and staff members were offended by the piece and most felt it was most disappointing because the event was supposed to be inclusive for all as it was held by the Dean of Students (DoS) division. The matter went from the Christians @ Rhodes (C@R) committee, the SRC to the DoS and possibly as far as the Vice Chancellor but the apology never came. Instead a note from Viv was put on the University website. Those who were offended were told to understand that academic freedom had been exercised and that the lecturer had shown that play internationally. It was said that those who did not like it should have exercised the right to walk out. Case closed.

When the commission came up I was ready and willing to represent the Christians at Rhodes who were offended by the University’s response. My argument was simple. “If we were offended we should have walked out. If that student was offended by a Christian pamphlet he should have thrown it away”. I took offence to the University’s decision to apologise to one group and not to another. I decided this was worth discussing at the commission.

Now the day before I sat crying in Viv’s office Larissa had called me in saying she just needed to discuss how the commission would go as was the process with all those who would speak. That wasn’t her reason. When I arrived Viv was there and they were telling me that the requirement was that you had to feel you were discriminated against by an individual at the university. Larissa said my issue would trivialise the other issues that would be discussed. Issues such as sexual harassment, rape and other forms of assault. I nodded understanding that those issues were very important and I left. As I explained what happened to Prof Peter Rose, who was a part of C@R, I realised I had very nicely been told that religious differences weren’t that big a deal and it was not necessary to discuss this. We emailed Larissa and asked for a second meeting.

This time Prof Rose came with me. I do not remember what Larissa said to me but I remember that she intimidated me so much and said something that offended me to the point of tears. At that point Prof Rose asked for her to leave the meeting. Viv handed me tissues and Adams sat there silently. She left and they granted me the opportunity to speak. Following the commission Larissa apologised but to this day I was unable to laugh with her comfortably. In that moment, in that instance she did not support my cause and sought to silence me. She who had been appointed to speak on behalf of students and protect our interests. I remember after the commission I wrote some sorry excuse for a blog post because at the time I wasn’t comfortable writing about my experience. In the same way she had been afraid to speak about hers because she still wanted to keep her job, I still wanted a degree and I was skating on thin ice academically I didn’t want to piss anyone off.

Today I want to simply point out that Rhodes University is a well-oiled machine and it’s defence force had no holes in it. I had two experiences one which I have mentioned and another which involved two residences that complained about one warden yet as far as I know that very same warden is now a hall warden too. I know of people who have faced issues of racism and other forms of discrimination yet unless these are in line with what the University deems worth noting, nothing will ever come of your complaint. Larissa was a Lieutenant-General in that defence force. She stood side by side with the very people she says she onve respected but have now turned on her. She led some of their movements and supported others. Side-by-side they stood, united they were and today divided she has fallen and yet they still stand.

Larissa did an amazing job at Rhodes and I will never take that away from her. I worked with her on the Silent Protest and her passion was something we all admired but ask many a Rhodes student and they will tell you that she was selective in her support for student issues. It is sad for me to write all this but I could not sit by and watch masses sympathise with someone who unfortunately cannot claim to be a victim of the system at Rhodes.

Rhodes alumnus @WyzeeQuee tweeted: “Larissa was the enforcer… she silenced many marginalised people on campus from speakin about their issues… now she’s crying? Boo hooo.”

Rhodes did not start silencing people in 2012 when they stopped Larissa and others from being proud Zionists from as long as I had to deal with them they have been like that. The SRC at Rhodes is deemed useless because the channels to management have been so beautifully constructed. There are roadblocks at every turn and until you have to deal with them you will never know. Like I tweeted earlier: Rhodes is where the best kept secrets are.

So yes Larissa, myself and many others believe you were discriminated against we believe it because we were there once. I hope wherever you go next you will not only show commitment to the issues you are passionate about in your personal life but that you will remember to accept that being a leader in transformation requires you to be radical in all matters and it requires you to listen before you form an opinion. It requires patience and requires heart.

As for the way Rhodes management turned on you like @WyzeeQue said:

“You create a monster, feed it. Allow it to run rampant, then you cry when it finally turns & and bites your hand? Its a monster mos.”

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6 thoughts on “Rhodes’s double edged sword

  1. Being at Rhodes for 4 years, i have had a couple of unpleasant experiences with management and I leave 1 of them here. I will never forget the day i walked into Vivian’s office in February, first thing she said as i walked through the door was “if it’s a financial problem i can’t help” and she went back to her work. I mean a whole dean of students looked at me & in a split second deduced my reason to going there was a financial problem BTW it wasn’t and when she came to the realisation no mention/ apology was made. It’s cause i’m black obviously, the only problem i could be having was of a financial nature.

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  2. It is quite sad to see her go, in terms of all she’s done in bringing transformation to sexual and gender issues. But I agree with this post, that if you weren’t with her idea of activism and justice, as well as within that inner circle of activists- there was often tense moments.

    I agree with Wyzee’s comments- she isolated alot of people who wanted to speak out at Rhodes (Prohibiting men for a long time to not take part in Silent Protest) and even women who didn’t identify with her idea of activism.

    I think also taking the issue to the Zionest movement- which already is infamously known for trolling twitter and writing sensational articles was not the wisest step. There were too many issues that made the whole situation convoluted, and I’m guessing that this will only further perpetuate the tensions between proIsrael and proPalestine.

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  3. Love this article, as a former Rhodent it’s informed me on issues I wasn’t even aware of in my short time there. is there a link on the full story of Larissa leaving?

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  4. O Larissa Klazinga. Your rhetoric sounds so much like what the German activist Martin Niemoller wrote in his famous poem:

    “When the Nazis came for the communists,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a communist.

    When they locked up the social democrats,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a social democrat.

    When they came for the trade unionists,
    I did not speak out;
    I was not a trade unionist.

    When they came for the Jews,
    I remained silent;
    I wasn’t a Jew.

    When they came for me,
    there was no one left to speak out.”

    How you could have fallen in the same trap, as a so-called activist; or should I call it self-serving narrow-activism.

    And if you think that all the radical responses to your journal article are bitter or unsympathetic. Ask yourself, what could have led to such a remorseless reaction to your cry-out?

    On the other hand, I hope, wherever you go, you never repeat the shameless arrogance you carried yourself with during your tenure at Rhodes.

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  5. Dear Shandu et al

    I wish you all the very best of luck at Rhodes and in your future careers. I look forward to watching as you do your best to stand up for what you believe in and make the world a better place. I am by no means perfect and I accept that. Thank you for taking the time to read what I wrote and for responding.

    Kind regards
    Larissa

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