A documentary film by journalism students that questions “systematic white privilege” and transformation at Rhodes University‚ struck a chord when it premiered at the 10th annual RUTV documentary film festival.
Although several hard-hitting documentaries were flighted at the festival – including ones on xenophobia and gangsterism – the 24-minute #RHODESSOWHITE film drew the biggest applause at a packed Rhodes theatre.
The film‚ which has been posted online with the other festival offerings‚ was a collaboration by final-year TV graduates Campbell Easton‚ Nikho Mageza and Jenna Lillie and includes interviews with students and lecturers on campus transformation.
According to Easton‚ documentary research began when students started protesting the slow pace of campus change earlier this year.
“I started the initial research in March when campus was seeing tons of student activism aimed at challenging the narratives and assumptions a lot of students had about Rhodes.
“At the beginning of the year if you looked at the social media around Rhodes‚ the biggest issue was the lack of parking.
“But within a few short months everybody was trying to talk about social justice and transformation.”
Ongoing issues tackled by groups like the Black Student Movement over the past six months‚ included renaming Rhodes‚ staff transformation‚ holiday accommodation for poor residence students and high fees.
Easton said there was no shortage of students prepared to talk.
“We’re constantly being fed narratives that transformation is going well‚ that we just need to sit back and let the process take place.
“I hear constantly ‘there is a framework for dealing with this’‚ ‘the committee is meeting’‚ but in my four years at Rhodes the only black lecturers I’ve ever had‚ have been for isiXhosa and African literature.
“As a white student‚ I can’t speak much to transformation beyond that‚ but I think the anger that we’ve seen on campus‚ the graffiti‚ the occupations and the protests speak for themselves.”
Although Lillie said she did not think transformation would happen overnight‚ she felt more importance should be placed on feedback and experiences of students and not economic or political implications affecting the university.
“I think students and select lecturers and staff members have helped make this process more prominent and faster than it probably would have gone without them.”
According to Mageza‚ there are not enough black lecturers at Rhodes.
“We are in the Journalism Department and there are only three black lecturers in our department.
“Our one character‚ Athi‚ says she hears of black lecturers but she has not been taught by one. I know this is a serious concern on our campus to transform the staff. Our staff needs to represent our South African demographic.”
Lillie agreed the majority of lecturers were white.
“I strongly feel there is a disparity in power relations‚ where white lecturers automatically hold more social capital and respect while black lecturers have to work hard to get to that point.
“Like one of our characters‚ Lihle‚ said: black people are always playing the catch-up game.”