Our campuses are tumbling into turmoil. As I watch this gruelling, emotional documentary movie on rape culture by student reporters from Activate, (the newspaper once known as Rhodeo), really heavy-looking ous in riot gear
are pulling away the barricades from Hiddingh nearby.
Arts students are wearily sticking to their non-violent protest against high fees and forcing society to the brink over priorities of corruption or free education.
You can see where I am going, that is a confused place – precisely where Disrupt executive producer Mitchell Parker, writer-director Michael Dorfling and cinematographers Sarah Knight and Chloe Osmond and all the supporters and contributors to this openly pro-protest student movie find themselves today.
Let’s sweep aside the clouds of teargas, the emotional tears of this rent in society, and try and be rational, calm, and collected.
Not that possible. What is possible is to see it, to feel it, to absorb it, and then think about it in context. I think judges, journalists, and those of us on the outside should first see it and then check our preconceptions to see if they are not just a touch irrelevant, even a little stupid.
Rape is a line and we all know it. It is the line of violence. But rape culture is a new concept to us and to see it being so cleverly tracked through real live action is pretty phenomenal. This is fine work from these young adults.
The issues being raised, as Parker stated in the after-discussion, was that it took a group of queers to finally get Rhodes to wake up.
As a journalist in Grahamstown for 19 years it was deeply satisfying to see the campus shaken from it’s schmoozy pro-government slumber to get militant about an evil, insidious issue which has been around forever, and is clearly getting worse.
In Disrupt, rape culture, reported in papers in a distant, not-understood manner, is opened up slowly and then finally, spewed out, in a fury of rape accusations and cops and VCs on the thin blue and purple line, with part-naked bodies pushing back in an outburst of rage which cannot be denied.
Something is really wrong at Rhodes.
It’s really hard to sit here in Cape Town and watch on screen horror as my friends and associates on both sides clash so acrimoniously on screen.
I have taken part in the silence protests, forerunners to this years wildcat revolt. Yes, it was a vigilante-styled outing, but nobody was maimed or died. Yes, it was unjust – but there was a lack of justice buried in the bureaucracy too.
There is the VC Sizwe Mabisela, a wonderful human, looking distressed and hopelessly, pathetically, trying to assert an authority which had, in that moment when he haplessly gives a going-nowhere woman student a push, literally fallen.
And you watch this impressive movie, concepts and precepts sway. You are on the other side, in student shoes. And it looks different. The heart sinks.
On the exterior, everyone’s doing their duty, but nothing is being done about the monster.
Rape culture are perhaps the fangs, but the need to transform the rest of the entire institution so that leaders learn to listen to their constituents, make fuller judgments of the issues, open their minds to allow for genuine internal reflection, and change.
We are nowhere near where we should be. And now the issue, and that non-racial uprising against rape culture in April are already under threat of being overtaken by this week’s round two of fees must fall.
It would be a great pity if this community-based yet global issue becomes assimilated and marginalised by the “bigger” national fight for free education.
I doubt it will happen at Rhodes. If anything, the student activists and the academics shown in Disrupt won’t be going away. They showed real emotional guts, unity and clarity across the boundaries, as opposed to the heavily ideological, contested message coming out in today’s fees struggle.
It can all change. It will all change. But I hope two presently, seemingly disconnected forces, the anti-rape culture strugglers and Rhodes management, will find each despite all this competing noise and brinkmanship.
Because it’s time to stop wringing hands and tearing the sackcloth.
It’s time to forge a new Rhodes culture.
The University needs to recognise the intellectual strength of this movement and start to meld it into a culture of the future.
At the moment on campuses, there’s so much smoke and mirrors, propaganda, venal politics and agent provocateurs and destructive forces, and competing messages coming out that it’s hard to find a clear path.
But there is absolutely no confusion about rape culture.
It has to go.
Disrupt is on at the Cape Town Fringe today at 17.30. Booking and details here.