In classic Rhodent style, last week’s Rhodes University Presidential Grazzle did not go smoothly, with the presidential debate cancelled before it even began due to the audience’s disregard for freedom of speech. Trouble began after it was announced that the event, which took place at the Barrat lecture theatre on August 9, would begin with presentations from candidates who had been unable to present the previous night.
Matthew Vermaak, who is the only white candidate running this year, received a sour reception before he even began his speech. He is running for the portfolio of Projects Manager. Despite the micro aggression he pushed on until he won some of the audience over by pledging to play a role in transforming Rhodes University and dedicating himself to causes such as the sanitary pad drive and Give5. After his speech he was accused of trans-erasure because he did not include trans-woman in his speech. The audience was not happy about this attack, as they thought it ignorant to assume that just because he could not as of yet cater for a minority meant he was trans-phobic. Then he was accused of white privilege and of failing to acknowledge this by continuing to run for the SRC. With all the criticism that he received based on his race, gender and class privilege he responded by using his campaign money after the Grazzle to buy sanitary pads and donated them to female residences. During the debate he warmed the audience by saying that all things could be fixed in one year.
Malivilwe Mhlaba was contesting the position for Environmental councillor. He highlighted the issues facing the university, such as clean water. Mhlaba said that he would work towards ensuring access to clean water but acknowledged that he cannot accomplish such a feat in one year. Mhlaba also said that he was open to ideas from students about environmental projects and that he would support any brought to his attention.
Stephen B. Dorbor Jr was contesting for the Environmental Councillor position. He said that he has a passion for the environment. Dorbor said that he would engage with the environmental representative, the Oppidans, and the community of Grahamstown. Seeing the environment from a global scale he said that “the environment is not about Rhodes, is not about Grahamstown, it’s about everyone”. He spoke about recycling to ensure profit and he said that environmental protection accumulated by little acts of awareness such as turning off lights.
Tafadzwa Nyamugafata was running for the position of Treasurer. She said that her campaign was based on three pillars: social responsibility, transparency, and integrity. She said “I will remain accountable not only to the SRC but also to the students.” Nyamugafata was asked how she would prioritise student societies that focused on transformation, how she would ensure that no student was financially excluded, and whether she would ensure that the two retreats for the SCR would no longer take place to save money. She responded by saying that societies would have to substantiate their causes in order to be funded. In response to the question about financial exclusion, Nyamugafata said that at this point not all students could be funded but she called for people to fight the system. To the question of the retreat she said that she could not respond without first researching the reasons behind it.
She was the last to present before the actual debate began. The first candidate to present for the Presidency was Hope Mashozhera, who is currently the Academic Councillor for the SRC. Before he began his presentation, the audience started to chant “Wemalala Wo, UHope Usengozini” (Hope is in danger). The IEB said that if he was not allowed to speak the debate would have to be cancelled as that violated his rights and nullified the process. Hope Mashozhera stood up to the crowd and refused to step down. Many people intervened and he stood his ground. The debate was therefore cancelled. The students were dissatisfied with this and stated that they would lay a case against the IEB because it violated their rights to a Presidential debate.
When the student body began to disperse some female’s attacked Hope Mashozhera, attempting to fight him. Then the candidates took to the SRC to declare that they were laying a case against the IEB. They said that they refused to run with a candidate such as Hope and they also accused him of physical violence against women at the Presidential Grazzle. This was followed by two days’ worth of debate on the SRC page where Siyamthanda Nyulu (Presidential Candidate) was accused of hacking into the present SRC’s Facebook group and leaking their private messages to the student body for weeks. As we stand, many people have vouched to hit the no vote button.
The level of hypocrisy that surrounds this election where activists turned politicians now want to be part of the SRC that they have spent months trampling on, has left many turned on their heads. Voting by Oppidans has already begun; however, it remains to be seen whether or not “Hope” really is in danger.
Written by: Nokwanda Dlamini