An Eastern-Cape-born student activist has become a poster child for sending up authority and challenging the status quo.
First University of Cape Town (UCT) fourth-year student Chumani Maxwele made national headlines when he was accused of “raising his middle finger” to President Jacob Zuma’s security detail in 2010‚ an act for which Mr Maxwele was arrested and “roughed up”.
A furore followed that incident‚ with former police minister Nathi Mthethwa issuing an apology as the South African Human Rights Commission rued the authorities’ handling of the saga.
Five years later‚ Mr Maxwele hit the headlines again. Clad in a bright pink mine worker’s hardhat‚ Mr Maxwele defaced Cecil John Rhodes’ statue on the campus by pouring human waste from a portable toilet on it. His singular act lit the flame that sparked the #Rhodesmustfall movement at the university last month. The statue has since been relegated to a storeroom on campus‚ pending a final decision on where its permanent home will be.
Mr Maxwele’s actions opened the floodgates of debate about transformation at the university and elsewhere.
The 30-year-old‚ in his fourth year of political science studies‚ says his act symbolised his feelings of shame about how black people are treated at UCT.
“If you are black at UCT‚ you do not exist. It is that simple‚” says Mthatha-born Mr Maxwele.
“We have been alienated culturally … you have black professors‚ for example‚ from Ghana who are ridiculed by rich‚ white students because they have heavy accents.
“This is what many black academics and students go through at UCT‚” says Mr Maxwele‚ a follower of Steve Biko and subscriber to Afro-Caribbean philosopher and revolutionary Frantz Fanon’s teachings.
But Mr Maxwele is wary of taking credit for the events that followed his transgressive act.
He also shies away from talking about his personal life.
“We should forget about personalities. The #Rhodesmustfall campaign is leaderless … it has a flat structure.
“It is the students who should take credit. What they did was powerful: they told white power to sit down‚” Mr Maxwele says.
He is clear on one thing‚ though: the quest to rid UCT of its colonial trappings is gathering pace.
– Bekezela Phakathi, RDM News Wire, BDLive