If you thought the Fees Must Fall protests had quietened down, you’re mistaken. Still stoking the fires of political activism is Thando Sangqu, Wits University student and one of the brains behind Thought We Had Something Going, a documentary and an e-book anthology launching November 26.
It’s a collection of post-1994 truths, stories and fiercesome displays of verbal authenticity by young South Africans during the last couple of years. They form a bristling herald of this autumn’s unrest. We talked to Thando Sangqu about the student protests and what he has planned for Thought We Had Something Going.
Tell us how you participated in the FeesMustFall protest in October?
I, as an English student at Wits University, participated in the movement, as a protestor, when the initial protest started and convened at Senate House (Solomon House). From then on I was then active in participating in the various marches to Luthuli and Med School Campus.
Did you think the student movement was unified?
Unity is important amongst black students of whatever echelon. It’s telling of the issue that no matter where you from we all need an a quality education and there’s a need for people to recognise each other.
I fear that the people might not share the same vision going forward.
The unity established in this cross-varsity dynamic provides students with the sense of comfort that their issues and sentiments are shared. I do think, however, that ‘inner’ varsity politics do tarnish this unity slightly.
Can you give us some inside scoop on student politics… is it very ruthless?
I think student politics as we’ve seen in the Fees Must Fall movement is not ruthless. As soon as we create factions between the Student Representative Council (SRC) and the students themselves that’s where the issue will be. Students need to be represented and as we’ve seen with the student driven narratives of 2015, even the ordinary students are becoming critical leaders.
I do think that the politricks of individual varsity SRC’s may tarnish the student-driven campaign going forward. There needs to be an ownership of these concepts from the students themselves.
Have women played an important role in the movement? How?
Women have played a role at Wits as Shaeera Kalla the former SRC president was able to articulate her position. She gave light to new role players like Nompendulo Mkhatshwa and Anele Nzimande who all have actively worked to try to shape the movement to be all inclusive of women.
Do you feel positive about the direction of the #FeesMustFall campaign in the coming year? What should students be doing to keep up the momentum?
My fear with #FeesMustFall as we move to the new academic year is that political motives will be different and, unfortunately, those participating in the movement might not be doing so with the cleanest intentions. I fear that the people might not share the same vision going forward.
Tell us about the e-anthology and the events and pop-up library – what’s it all about? And what are you trying to achieve?
Thought We Had Something Going is an e-anthology of content derived from an online magazine I started in 2009 and closed in early 2014. The stories in the book are from a variety of young writers about their own youth experiences. I think the texts in the e-anthology present a written collection of what is happening in 2015 if we look in relation to youth engagement like Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall.
2015 is the year young people occupy spaces and reimagine those spaces for themselves.
On November 26, we will launch the e-Anthology online at twh.sg for people to download as a PDF. In the evening, we’ll officially open up our pop-up library and launch the e-Anthology in the space. On November 27, at 3 pm, we’ll host Director Teboho Mahlatsi in conversation.
I feel that 2015 is the year young people occupy spaces and reimagine those spaces for themselves. That is what we hoped to do as we occupy a Johannesburg coffee store Bean There, Braamfontein and create our own pop-up library.
Make sure to check out the anthology. On the roster of contributors, you’ll find: Lebohang ‘Nova’ Masango, Spoek Mathambo, Mack Magagane, Thenjiwe Stemela and more. Read an extract here.
Kid Cry Freedom by Pelonomi Moiloa
As a kid person living in post ’94 South Africa, I had these rights that claimed to brag of my freedoms. I tried not to roam Yeoville streets at ridiculous hours because it worried my parents and not because there was a national curfew. As for where I roamed, well, that was a freedom too because it was the fact that my parents wouldn’t play Taxi Taxi and not a pass or a permit that prevented me from visiting the friendly folk in Brakpan ̶ I joke, I wouldn’t want to go to Brakpan. But I went to school in Saxonwold and it was during these years that my behaviour and appearance were tamed into evading disapproving looks.
I now live across the railway tracks from Joburg CBD on the seventh floor of a yellow building in Braamfontein. Sounds float up off the street and into the small space that is my apartment and when I like, I can step onto my little balcony to bear witness to the sights that are the sources of the sounds. The sounds can often be attributed to the Gang of kids who have taken up residence in the street below.
Once, at about 10pm a member of the Gang stood in the centre of the road, alone, illuminated by the street lights, and repeatedly rapped, with dance moves and hand gestures, Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby into the recorder in his cell phone (one of the others had an mp3 player, I don’t know about the devices, okay?). Another time, there was commotion around 11 pm as the Gang helped find the skelms who had separated a young man from his Blackberry. Once the skelms were found and caught, the Gang threw in a couple of kicks and slaps as a final measure of vigilantism and then went to bed. One Sunday, they invaded a serious looking video shoot. They kept the company of both the men behind and in front of the camera, but most deliberately, the company of the video screen. The Shoot didn’t seem to mind too much.
There’s one particular little kid who always wears this red puffer jacket that reaches his mid-calf. His name is Billy and he is missing an incisor. He breakdances and crumps to music blasting from cars waiting outside the building and sometimes to a softer music only he can hear. He really thrusts his skinny frame about but I came home once to find a glue high keeping his mind from the music to hold his body static in the middle of the road.
Thrusting his open palms towards the sky, or perhaps the penthouses on the top floor, he preached about black mamas in their 4x4s.
the Gang are mostly runaways aged between 13 and 16. I don’t know whether it’s a practised lie or malnourished street life that accounts for their small size. The average age looks about ten. Billy looks about eight. Either way they feed the pigeons every now and then and swear at Reuben’s mother’s lady bits plenty (an old man they share the street with). They say they are happy and it has been grinning faces that have opened my car door for me. Those faces have also asked me to rev my engine, spin my tyres and to be allowed to wash my car for what seems like nothing but conversation in return. They have told me they are hungry but they don’t ask me for money.
As a figure with little attachment to an authority, when the authority no longer tends to you, how can you respect it and its rules, and how can the authority then rebuke? I feel as though the Gang may be exempt from all looming clouds of governance and expectation, except the ones they create for themselves.
The idea of being so free, by society’s standards, to “let go” to such an extent that I can rap alone in the middle of the street in the middle of the night, invade a shoot, play vigilante, call the street my home, the pavement my bed, be happy about it and warmly, wholeheartedly not be held accountable for the disrespect my actions show to the acceptable ‘norms’ of society – really sounds like an exciting idea.
the Gang by law shares the same rights that governed my childhood freedoms. I find myself grappling with the idea of the freedom they experience in reference to mine. I might be free of my parents’ prerequisites one day, but I will never be free of a looming authority. For me, the looming authority perhaps misled my thoughts on freedom as much as it guided, loved and nurtured me. So much so that I know what it is to be without as much as to be with.
So I would probably not trade my teachers (the government maybe), my parents and what I now have for that ‘freedom.’ Given the choice, I don’t think the Gang would want to either (my parents are pretty cool) but I figure the liberty associated with being an unauthorised child, without fear of disappointing society but disappointing its disapproving looks, is worth thinking about – for me at least.
Find Pelonomi Moiloa on Twitter @tamati_biskit
And find out more on the day at twh.sg