A student’s life is difficult enough for those who can afford to be at UCKAR. You arrive at university and are thrust into a rigorous academic programme, while having to find and establish social support networks, and formulating some sort of identity for yourself in the context of a highly impersonal (and often dehumanising) system. For those who can’t afford to be here, the struggle is far worse. Not only do you have to deal with the usual challenges faced by students, but added burdens as well – finding affordable accommodation; getting sufficient nourishment to focus and scrape through the academic programme; playing catch-up with students who have had a superior education at better schools; feeling guilty because the cost of sending you to university may be pl
acing too much strain on your family; and the daily reminders of racial, gender, and class oppression that erode your dignity at every turn.
Poor students face an unfair and very damaging dilemma: do you stay at UCKAR and fight these obstacles in the hope that you might get a degree that will help you lift your family out of poverty or do you pack it up, head back to the township or village and work in a low-wage job to alleviate the extreme poverty on which many of our families live on the brink? Added to that, colonial symbolism and a white, heteropatriarchal institutional culture dominates every brick and blade of grass at UCKAR. Daily reminders of humiliation, oppression, and indignity alienate and dishearten even half-woke students. Then you have to fill out forms showing that you actually are one of the ‘deserving poor’.
Many students have dropped out for less, many suffer mental breakdowns or resort to abusing various substances in order to cope. We have grown up under the myth that some invisible rainbow ensures that South Africa is progressing toward the goal of freedom, equality and prosperity. When the dream we were sold comes tumbling down on us it’s easy for us to give up – “These are rich white people’s things.”
Some of us refuse to accept our lot though. When I arrived at UCKAR, I joined the fight to get the University to support Oppidan students who cannot afford the nourishment to excel academically. I faced severe financial and social challenges that Asinamali members sympathised with and were prepared to tackle. After a tiring but brave battle with management, Asinamali got management to establish an ‘Oppi Meal Fund’. There are still issues in making sure the fund covers students but the fund’s existence was caused by the action of Asinamali.
This year Asinamali will continue fighting for students, particularly poor and working class students who face gender and racial oppression. We know that the oppression faced by students is a reflection of the structural and cultural oppression of South African society. We believe it is our duty and the duty of all students who want a fairer, more equal society to fight this oppression. It has been a challenge for us. Every year students and members of Asinamali leave the University, taking with them the cultural and organisational memory of the formation. There is still much work to be done in creating a space where students can unite, strategize and attack the structures that reproduce mass unemployment, poverty and inequality.
I believe that Asinamali can and must unite students behind a vision and programme that will work to transform daily life at UCKAR. For Asinamali, it is crucially important that as many students as possible are able to participate in and feel welcome by Asinamali. For us, a commitment to improving the lives of all students is more important than any ideological purity. While we understand and welcome students with various political affiliations, we believe that student formations aligned to political parties risk being swallowed into the power-games of their parent organisations. For us, Asinamali is a truly independent, open, and democratic institution. Asinamali works to represent the interests of UCKAR students because its sole and primary concern is that of UCKAR students, rather than the machinations of political parties.
This year Asinamali wants to engage with issues at UCKAR at a higher level (and don’t worry, our plans do not include confronting the police or security forces):
- We are organising a fortnightly Asinamali Film Festival, showcasing films and documentaries that speak to the experiences and sentiments of students as well as other oppressed people around the world.
- We also would like to organise an ‘alternative curriculum’, where students are able to shape their own curriculum and learn about things that are important to them in a way that does not stifle their creativity or energy.
- We want to invite genuine activists and revolutionaries to share and discuss their experiences with Asinamali members.
- We want to continue working with, through, and against institutions so that students have a more humane and enriching experience at UCKAR.
- We want to engage with the struggles, aspirations and demands of the wider Grahamstown community.
- We want to continue building our relationship with local organisations such as the Young Women’s Forum and the Unemployed People’s Movement.
- We also want to chill out and enjoy one another’s company outside of the context of struggle and strife (look out for the Asinamali Social at the end of term).
Our wish-list is ambitious, but we have faith that the students of UCKAR will recognise the chance to build a truly collective space where learning, loving and living the kind of world we want to create, becomes real. Asinamali has issued a call to all students to join, shape and influence Asinamali, UCKAR, and Grahamstown. I have heeded that call because it is necessary, and because I believe my problems were caused by collective processes and can only be defeated by a collective response. I urge all students to join Asinamali, participate in the programmes and contribute to truly transforming UCKAR.
To join Asinamali email your name, student number, and contact details to firstname.lastname@example.org
You can find the Asinamali Manifesto and other information regarding Asinamali programmes and communication on the following social media:
Facebook: Asinamali UCKAR
By Christopher Morris
Christopher Morris is a third year Politics and Philosophy Major.