A CLEAR MESSAGE. Protesters in front of Huis Marais on 16 May. Photo credits: Submitted by Kyle van der Merwe

You Know What Silence Means

By Tiaan Booyens

Die Matie is an independent student newspaper. My team and I are students who work together to try to shoulder the responsibility of reporting factual, fair and accurate news to this student community. My team and I are also students from this community, and like many of our peers, we share the frustration and anger at the recent violation of a fellow student’s human dignity.

A white resident of Huis Marais Men’s Residence at Stellenbosch University (SU) entered the room of a black student in the residence and urinated on his belongings. The video of this disgusting and dehumanising act has been circulated nationally over the past few days and has become the topic of heated discourse surrounding systemic racism at SU.

As a white student at a tertiary educational institution in South Africa, I undeservedly benefit from a certain degree of privilege due to the historical racial inequalities that persist in our country. In an environment like SU, where a large majority of the student community is white, I also experience a very different version of this university town to many of my black peers and other marginalised groups.

I’m also exasperatedly aware of the fact that I have been given this platform, whilst at the same time I feel like the most unqualified person to be speaking to a student community. 

The official statements from student representative councils and societies are appearing in quick response to the situation, and to a student journalist with a lot to learn in a short amount of time, it feels like we’re running alongside professional news outlets with a lot more staff and experience than we have. My team is faced with difficult decisions and emotionally exhausting experiences in attempting to do justice to our community and the person who shared their traumatic experience with us. It’s hard to find the right words when so many people are waiting on you.

At the same time, I also know that staying silent in times of injustice means being complicit.

The South African Students Congress (SASCO) Stellenbosch organised a protest on Monday 16 May, which was attended by a crowd mostly made up of students of colour. Their mobilisation demonstrated how many students viewed what happened at Huis Marais not as an isolated event, but as a symptom of a culture that perpetuates racist acts.

Many Maties have taken to social media to share their thoughts about their peers and others who deny that the act was racially motivated. Some students have expressed disappointment in their peers who were absent from the protest—and more so at those who watched it unfold from their windows in Huis Marais. Some said that it was a privilege not shared by all to continue their Monday unaffected, whilst their peers were protesting against racism.

The United Nations Association of South Africa (UNASA) SU is amongst one of the many student representative structures spearheading the Rally Against Racism on the Rooiplein this coming Friday. 

The crowd in attendance—and the crowd absent—will speak volumes about the culture on campus.

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