New SRC-chair wants to see Ubuntu in SU: Eight years at university and ready for the challenge

Lwando Nkamisa was elected to serve on the Student Representative council (SRC) with 1 285 votes, coming in the sixth position. He was then elected by his peers on the SRC as chairperson for the term 2017/2018 on Wednesday evening. Ané van Zyl found out more about the newly elected student leader. Elze Goosen took photos.

Lwando Nkamisa has been actively involved in student structures and served as DASO (Democratic Alliance Student Organisation) Stellenbosch’s chairperson for 2016/2017. As he mentioned during caucuses, he is also the admin of 23 WhatsApp groups.

Lwando was a candidate for the previous SRC term, but was disqualified one day before the votes closed.

The disqualification came after he sent an email to DASO members which allegedly contained statements which de-campaigned other candidates.

When asked about how he has changed from the last term until this one, he replied that after he was disqualified, it was a difficult time for him.

“The biggest difference between the last term and this one is that the term would have been five months before, now it will be ten months. Although I’m better off now, I didn’t wish to be disqualified.

“I used the time to focus on myself and building DASO.

“I’ve also learnt much and grown as a person, and I would say that I’m a better person than I was before.”

Lwando believes his knowledge of student issues is better now because he has spent more time on the ground and engaged with students on a personal level.

“I’ve spoken extensively to students on issues like shuttles and mental health, and I have built strategic relationships with non-positional leaders. I will continue the relationships I built with those from SASCO, EFF student command, AfriForum and others.

“I now have more networks and relationships within the municipality, for example the mayor and mayoral committee. I also have a relationship with the current premier.”

Lwando admits to feeling some pressure and a set of expectations, because “the former SRC chairperson was also a person of colour”.

“I don’t think it will influence my term, but I can sense an expectation from people. There might be a lack of trust from some, while others have a sense of pride seeing me in the position.

“I’m not here for black students or white students, but I’m here for students of Stellenbosch. That must be very clear – it’s not about race now, it’s about representing everyone.”

Lwando is proud of his team and believes they possess all the necessary skills to lead effectively.

“This is one of the finest SRC teams I’ve seen in a long time. They are all leaders in their own accord. Some of them have been prims for example, others have lead NGOs, and others have been involved in non-positional leadership.

“I think leading the SRC will be an easy job; all I have to do is sit down and make sure that everyone does their duty.”

Lwando and his opponent for the position of chairperson, Zander Prinsloo, will not let the fight get between them.

“Me and Zander sat down and agreed that the fight is not personal. The fight is about what we can offer, and what we can offer is different. Whoever the SRC chose, there would be no bad blood between the two of us. I do like the guy and I like to believe he likes me too.

“I don’t believe there will be any source of infighting. We have learnt from previous SRCs that a divided SRC is a very weak SRC.

“It is very difficult to provide services for students if you are divided. Then instead of paying attention to students, you are paying attention to infighting inside the office.”

Although some of the SRC members are young and can be seen as inexperienced, Lwando does not see it as a bad thing.

“I think this can be one of the things that can make the SRC great.

“This is my eighth year in university, and I have forgotten what it feels like to be a first year. Then we have someone like Leighton September who is currently first year. He understands what issues students in their first year face.

“I bring the perspective of a senior student; he will bring the perspective of a first year student. Some of the other SRC members like Ben, Kate and Denisha will bring the perspective of students in residence. This diversity will make us stronger.”

Lwando has an array of practical plans for the SRC, and has already begun implementing them. A plan for extended mental health support will be presented to management shortly. Lwando also believes the SRC should actively engage with students to solve problems.

“What we as the SRC need to do is what is called an integrated development plan, where we go to students and ask them what is affecting their student success. We already have an idea of some of these issues, like mental health and safety, transportation and fees, but we mustn’t pretend to know it all.

“We will build strategic plans for our term, and our budget must reflect that. Students need to know what our budget looks like so that they can comment on it.

“At times it’s not always about the problem, it’s that students don’t feel included in the decision-making process. If they have a say, they will feel taken care of.”

When questioned about comments students that certain arguments, opinions and facts are dispelled from critical discourse while other narratives are upheld, Lwando commented that we should allow people to criticise and differ from each other.

“Personally I’ve learnt a lot from people who disagree with me. Listening to someone who differs from you in thought or ideology is part of reconciliation, and that is what our university and our country needs.

“I have always been a firm believer in freedom of speech, and that everyone should have a chance to be heard, but I also think it is important to keep context in mind.

“We should not build walls against each other and judge each other before we have even listened. We should engage in honest discussions about the hard stuff, but in a meaningful and respectful way.

“At times we can talk about issues that are going to open some wounds, but we have to tread lightly. For example, when we are discussing the issue of rape, we have to take responsibility towards an individual who may have lived through such an experience.

“Some of the things we talk about are really personal to some people. It’s not just about talking about some theory, or watching a YouTube video about something – to some people it’s a lived experience.

“Given the fact that we are a very polarised campus, and it’s been happening for some time, one of my missions with the SRC is facilitating integration, regardless of race, colour, sexual orientation, creed or anything else.

“Where I come from, we believe in ubuntu and a community where no matter what race we are; what language we speak or how we love will make a difference in how we treat each other.”

One of the ways in which Lwando wants to achieve integration is through meaningful dialogue.

“When you speak to people who agree with you, you learn nothing, but when you speak to someone with a differing opinion you will learn something about why they believe what they believe.”

As Lwando studies for a Master’s degree in Agricultural Economics, he uses an example of a forest to explain his vision.

“A forest is made of different trees – no matter how high, how tall, how thick or how thin a tree is, it does not make a forest on its own. The same counts for a student community.”

Lwando is no novice when it comes to student protests, and accordingly has a firm opinion about the safety of students during protest action.

“I have played all of the different roles when it comes to protests. I’ve lead protests and I’ve been in protests myself, but I’ve also been opposed to protests and academic shut-down, not only at Stellenbosch University, but at the University of Fort Hare where I completed my undergraduate degree.

“I believe that we need to respect people’s rights, even during protest action. We should not protest in a way that will infringe on the rights of people who opt not to protest.

“What I’ve learnt with protests is that, if they are left alone, they can go radical. For example, at the library sit-in which took place last year, when management refused to address students like at other universities where people like Max Price came to speak to students.

“I was the leader of DASO at that time, and I sent an email to management warning them that things may escalate if they don’t address students, but there was no reply.

“Only after management refused to do something, students decided to do something extra like preventing access to computers. What we as the SRC have to do is prevent escalation. Issues must not escalate to a point where it gets out of control.”

Lwando does not intend for this to come over as threatening management.

“We don’t always expect management to agree with our demands or let us have our way, we only request of them to listen to us and hear why we have this issue. We want to work together to find solutions.”

More about Lwando

25-year-old, Lwando grew up in the village Nontshinga, near Centane in the Eastern Cape. He matriculated from Uviwe Senior Secondary School before completing his undergraduate studies in Agriculture Economics at the University of Fort Hare. He came to Stellenbosch University in 2016.

Growing up in a very poor, but tight knit community, Lwando was taught to make the most of whatever opportunities comes his way.

“In high school we did not have enough text books and we had to share, sometimes among ten learners. I was the leader of a study group where we helped each other, and we all passed with flying colours. We were better together.”

Some of the areas where the SRC, in cooperation with other university structures, would like to make improvements are student transportation, mental health, and financial support.

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