Jessica Bokete and Kate Middleton | Photos by Siyabulela Mausi
15 April saw aggrieved Oppidan students, some of whom are affiliated with the Black Student Movement (BSM), meeting on the Drostdy lawns to mobilise to the various dining halls on campus, in order to receive food. This was done in an effort to express their frustration with management at a lack of support for Oppidan students struggling with a lack of food. This following the list of demands they sent to management which were met with no response.
“[Vice-Chancellor Mabizela] promised students that he would get back to them in the first week of second term with a solution. It has been 3 weeks already and we have not heard from the Vice Chancellor,” says Sanele Ntshingana, leader of the BSM’s dialogue and political task team. Ntshingana further states that the issue of food has been a pressing matter at the University as it is primarily affects working class black students.
The students met at the Drostdy lawns at 12pm in order to receive lunch from the dining halls. They mobilised to Hobson and Courtenay-Latimer dining halls in order to receive food. Dr. Mabizela made an appearance at Courteney-Latimer Dining Hall during this event, but did not speak to any of the Oppidan students.
The protests have received mixed responses from students and dining hall staff alike. According to Ntshingana, some of the staff were hesitant to serve the students and preferred to leave the kitchen to allow the students to serve themselves, while others were sympathetic to the movement and served the students. Further issues have arisen from the Oppidan students taking meals that were booked for other students. There has been much upset over this matter as many students see this as stealing from another as they have paid for their food through the residence system.
The students then moved to the Drostdy lawns again in order to hand over their list of demands and list of students who require food from the university. It was confirmed that this is the actions of the Black Student Movement. The BSM plans to arrange a meeting and present its demands to the Vice-Chancellor. One of these demands include the University providing a sustainable action plan for the Oppidan food issue. Additionally, they want the University to provide solutions which will be achieved in specific time frames.
Later that day a group of approximately 20 students met on the Drostdy lawns at 5pm, to receive dinner. Before moving towards any dining halls, the group sat and made plans for the coming week. The students said that the university’s administration is “criminalising” them and their actions and calling what they are doing illegal. The group agreed that a statement must be made to respond to this criminalisation.
However, the students are determined to not let this action by the university deter them in their movement. They are resolute in the fact that their cause is a worthy one and that the administration is not doing enough for hungry Oppidan students and that they must therefore take matters into their own hands.
The group also wanted to address the matter of the prioritisation of first year Oppidan students above others. The administration has said that they will be putting a plan into action in order to aid the first year students explicitly and then the second years and above.
There was no security present at the dining hall despite the threat of disciplinary actions being taken against the Oppidan students taking food. The students entered the Drostdy dining Hall singing and clapping and were allowed a serving of food each from the dining hall staff. The other students of the Drostdy dining hall allowed the students to get and eat their meals.
Dr Mabizela, amongst other staff members, arrived to the dining hall to speak to the Oppidan students. The students told Mabizela plainly that there has been a miscommunication and that they have not harmed anyone or been violent in any way – this following a statement from management regarding allegations of disruptive, violent behaviour.
The discussion became heated as students voiced their grievances with the staff members. Mabizela pleaded with the students to stop taking food from other students and said that the university is in the process of creating means for the Oppidan students to receive food. Director of Student Affairs Colleen Vassiliou, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Chrissie Boughey and Rhodes University Media Relations Officer Catherine Deiner.
Dr Mabizela and Dr Vassiliou spoke to students outside of the dining hall to attempt to persuade the group leaders to stop taking food from the dining halls. The students then asked what plans were being made by the administration for the students to eat to which Mabizela responded: “We are making plans for all of you,” and that he is working with the SRC to find a means to help hungry Oppidan students.
The students then brought up the allegations of them having thrown-away food and were disrespectful and verbally abused the dining hall staff who served them food earlier today. The students were outraged at such allegations and demanded to have proof provided in order to rectify such issues from within. “It’s lying! It is disrespectful to us,” one of the students said to Dr Mabizela. The students demanded to know why they would throw away food if they are hungry, stating that these allegations are unfounded and based on lies. The movement then released a statement in response to these allegations stating that the original, false statement must be retracted and an apology issued.
Plans are in the process of being made for Monday 18 April.