Market, Violence and a Movement: Decolonization and Precarious Work at the University of Cape Town

Friday, 20 July 2018: 11:00
Oral Presentation
Faisal GARBA MUHAMMED, University of Cape Town, South Africa
In April 2015 a student at the University of Cape Town staged a protest in front of a brooding statue of British imperialist Cecil John Rhodes located at the heart of the university. As part of his protest accoutrements, the student procured human faeces from a township (the urban ghettos Apartheid carved for non-whites) and emptied it on the statue, in order to, in his words, ‘’bring our shame to this white (read violent) space’’. His protest gave birth to the movement #RhodesMustFall demanding the removal of the statue and other colonial memorials on campus. The movement further demanded, among other things: the full employment of workers who were outsourced as a cost-cutting measure, and the centering of Africa and African knowledges in curricular. The first hurdle was how to define decolonization: Is it a return to a status quo ante? What will decolonization mean in an intellectual workplace dominated by precarious work? In this paper I explore aspects of the debates and tensions that animated the movement around: what exactly a decolonized university will mean relative to precarious workers among whom are janitors, contract lecturers and tutors; and the question of the militarization of the campus by the state and university management. I look at the case of precarious academics who identified with the student-worker movement but whose employment conditions were too unstable for which reason showing solidarity by boycotting classes meant a risk that permanent academic staff were relatively immune from. I conclude by showing how a joint disciplinary mechanism from the commodified university in curtailing dissent via tenure insecurity, and the militarization of campus by the state contributed to the fragmentation of a struggle for a de-comodified and open campus.