As told to: “the privilege in the air is suffocating my soul”

Former Wits student, currently doing her postgraduate degree at Stellenbosch University, Anelisa* shares her views on #FeesMustFall and the issue of identity.  Anelisa*, 23 year old former Wits student, doing her honours in Psychology at Stellenbosch University.

The #FeesMustFall movement in the past year has really helped shaped my identity as a black African. I remember when the movement began, we were scheduled to write a really important test and I had been studying so hard for it because, I wanted to cum laude & potentially get a bursary to study further. But, the test got cancelled. There I was sitting at my assigned desk, watching everyone celebrate the fact that we were not going to write that day – I was heartbroken.

Any student can relate with these feelings, I hope: when you have spent weeks preparing for a test, it literally takes a mental, physical and perhaps emotional toll on you. I was angry at the movement for disrupting the opportunity I had to show the university I was worth funding.

This anger built up into rage for all the people who were taking part in the protest. I refused to join them, not because I had the resources to study at Wits, but because I hated the fact they were inconveniencing my education. I have been on NSFAS and a few external bursaries since starting university. I spent every day of my undergraduate experience studying more hours than I can imagine, working part-time to sustain myself and my family. I have never had a ‘social’ life as people call it, because I believed that every moment spent outside would reduce the amount of study time I had. I was a dedicated Wits student.

During the 2015 protests, I developed depression: I couldn’t sleep, eat or even find joy in opening a book to read. I thought the protests would never end and I would never get my degree. I was selfish. I did not think about all those students who never got the opportunity I had to be at such a great institution due to lack of funding whether through NSFAS or personal finances. I lost a couple of good friends, because to them I was a ‘cultural sell-out’ just because I refused to participate in the movement.

Another reason I did not participate was because the movement became a racial war. I am not one for racial discrimination and prejudice.  Some black students felt entitled to their anger, and some white students just did not care. I was stuck in the middle – me, the poor black person.

This year I have had a change of heart due to the fact that I am at Stellenbosch University and the privilege in the air is suffocating my soul. I have never been so inspired by my fellow black students to join the movement, because of the oppression we encounter here. Since the protests have begun I have felt unsafe among the white community, because of the disturbing stares they give me or the subtle racist comments my friends make. It is really sad and frightening. I think the problem with Stellies is that the majority of white students can afford fees, so they do not see any benefit of joining the movement.

Also, I think many white students refuse to join because of the rude racial remarks some black protesting students throw at them – which are vulgar, I must add. Another problem has to do with the old people who run the university – they do not give two shits about #FeesMustFall, based on their poor efforts to suspend classes and to engage with the protesting students in a civil dialogue.

I just wish all students, irrespective of whether you can afford a colonialist education or not, could join the movement! If this means losing a few selfish friends or having the world call you “barbaric” so be it! Fees should be and will be affordable!

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