Trotsky would have been proud. I started my own little revolution during my time at the University of Stellenbosch. Okay, most of it was unintentional and more like the Oasis song ‘I started a revolution from my bed’. It all started when I became a tutorial lecturer in Political Science at the University of Stellenbosch.
I didn’t want to be the standard lecturer. I wanted to teach and engage. So I made two simple rules that my students must follow. Firstly, they didn’t have to come to class if they wanted a degree. I would just give them whatever mark they wanted if that was their intention. For those who wanted to study – be careful, I will challenge you and try and get you outside your comfort zone. The intention was to get them interested in learning and not focus on the end goal. The second rule was even easier to follow – it better be Liverpool I see if you wear any clothing that highlights some commitment to a sport or team. Anything else and you are out of there. And I am not joking, many students were thrown out of class for breaking this cardinal rule. Hey, even us revolutionaries needs to draw the line somewhere. Come on, Pope John Paul II was a Liverpool supporter as well – so I wasn’t that much of a revolutionary.
Anyway, here I was at the Bastion of Apartheid, the University of Stellenbosch. Banished from most of the more popular anti-Apartheid movement meetings on campus because I questioned how committed they were – see The (student) spy amongst us for more detail. Just like old Trotsky, I was fighting my own fight. The problem was that I wasn’t much of a Trot, I just had as many hang-ups when I was young.
I had my first taste at starting a revolution when I went on my yearly rant against the Student Representative Council (SRC). They were a pretty useless bunch. No power and no backbone. They were very much in line with any university system of voting – whoever is the prettiest and made the most populist promises will win – for a student this meant the one promising the biggest party will be gauranteed the popular vote. I used one of my classes to point out that voting should at least reflect some or other relevancy (this was before reality TV shows). And that the SRC was irrelevant. They pandered to the Nationalist government who controlled the University of Stellenbosch. They never spoke out against any of the injustices of the university rules or questioned the political alliances of the ruling mob at the university. One student piped up to say that her sister was on the SRC and worked really hard. My response was to say that I am sure she worked really hard. But that is different from working on something relevant. Planning the next big party did not translate into something relevant. And that I was sure that the Apartheid government worked really hard at oppressing people. But it didn’t make them right. Hum, she didn’t like this and decided to go for the ‘I-want-a-degree’ option and left my class. And I ranted on about what we needed was for students to take responsibility and show their unhappiness with the system. And in any way they felt was the most relevant – just as long as they show they didn’t believe or support a political structure that had none of their interests at heart. It was a mistake to let them decide what the ‘appropriate action’ should be. A big mistake.
I meant for them to have a protest vote. Maybe a placard ot two. I actually expected them to do nothing. Go out for a few drinks after class and talk about the revolution like good Trots. And then go home and do nothing. Like good Trots. But no. They had other ideas. Unlike Trots they decided to do something together in unity. (Trots usually split into two groups when two gather). I didn’t realize that the revolution started while I was in bed.
I took my normal route to the office and quickly realized that they went completely overboard. Every road sign and wall were sprayed in anti-SRC or anti-establishment slogans. Graffiti everywhere. Not a protester in sight, but their handywork were everywhere. Oh, yes. I was in trouble. People knew it was me behind this protest almost immediately. How? Well, the bloody students sprayed a path that started at the SRC offices and that ended at the entrance to my class. Like Hansel and Gretel leaving little breadcrumbs for everyone to follow. Right to my doorstep. I could feel a headache similar to the Trotsky ice-pick coming my way.
I got to class and my revolutionaries were waiting for me. All smiles and high fives. They were so chuffed with themselves. I sat down and stared at my desk. Where do I start? Do I give them the ‘we’ll fight them on the beaches speech’? Or do I just walk away and go have a drink? After a long pause I looked up and said, “Okay people, rule number three. What happens in the class, stay in the class”.