My first encounter with anything associated with the notorious #RhodesMustFall campaign was when I was assigned as a photographer to cover a student body meeting. The only item on the agenda: #RhodesMustFall. I laughed so hard my stomach hurt.
I was sure it was some joke the SRC had come up with to brighten the mood on campus. My first thought was: "Is the Vice-Chancellor in trouble?" To me, he is representative of Rhodes University, and I thought that this was a bunch of students opposing his appointment. The following day my friend explained that it was in fact Cecil John Rhodes who had to fall. I had never heard of him, but after doing some research I was able to connect the dots: he was a coloniser and this university is named after him. At the student body meeting, I was among those who could not enter Eden Grove Red because it was too full. I was very surprised by the turnout because
I had not anticipated that this was such a big issue. I only really went to learn what happens at a student body meeting. After hearing what everyone had to say about their experiences and the reasons the name should change, I was in shock. I never knew such issues existed at this university. I have never experienced incidents like those mentioned.
The stories they told were incredibly upsetting. I understood their anger. I left the meeting more educated by what I had heard in those three hours than I had been in a lecture three hours earlier. I was also surprised and glad to know that students have enough power to make their grievances heard. The meeting sparked a new interest in me and so I began following the story on the SRC Facebook page. I spoke to a lot of people about their feelings about the name-change idea. The issue has divided this institution right down the middle.
It's been interesting to see the action unfold. Vandalising random statues seems to be a new trend: the reason behind it, no one can explain. The Black Student Movement seems to have taken the lead role: where and when they emerged, even they cannot seem to explain, but it seems they are representing the views of the students. This is a whole new world for me, the adult world.
I have learnt a lot about Rhodes University in the past few weeks from the students themselves and I believe I will learn a whole lot more in the weeks to come. First-year student Andisiwe Barnabas was unaware of the significance behind #RhodesMustFall until a friend explained the historical context.