Third-year accounting student Simon Rakei was deputed by the Rhodes Must Fall movement to answer questions about events at the University of Cape Town. Sunday Times asked him . . .
How does vandalism help your cause?
There must be a very clear distinction between vandalism and reaction to violence from university management.
Is that what caused the vandalism?
Yes. Because management demolished the shack.
You were given a deadline to move it yourselves, weren't you?
Yes. So there was a request to move the shack, a deadline was given, students said they aren't going to move the shack, and as a result of that things escalated. It wasn't like, "we're going to burn paintings".
It wasn't part of a strategy?
No, it was a result of escalation due to management not being cognisant of their actions and thinking through what they were doing.
So because management wanted to move a shack that was in the road your members broke into residences, intimidated students, burned cars and paintings and firebombed the vice-chancellor's office?
Yes, it was a direct result of management's actions. And it wasn't just our members involved, so I don't know what you mean by "our members".
Students acting in your name.
You aren't going to condemn the actions of students who choose to act out their pain ...
Doesn't this kind of behaviour alienate support for your cause?
Supporters choose to support us in specific instances and choose not to support us in some instances.
So public support doesn't matter?
I don't think I need to answer that specifically. It's been clear from the beginning that we want to move colonial symbols from the university. The fact that it happened in this manner is regrettable to some extent.
Where was the leadership?
The movement doesn't function under any formalised structures.
Are you saying it's a leaderless organisation?
It's a leaderless movement. We don't have any formal structures.
So it's a mob?
It's not a mob. It's a leaderless movement. A movement doesn't have leaders. It's a mass-based movement.
So who decides on strategy?
The plenary. We have a gathering of all the people involved and decide on the way forward.
So who is the university supposed to negotiate with?
The plenary chooses representatives. They change all the time. Anyone who decides they want to be in a meeting with management puts their name up.
So how binding are agreements the university reaches with you?
When the university publishes the agreement publicly that is a form of binding themselves.
Does the fact that Rhodes Must Fall is leaderless explain the lack of discipline?
Discipline from whom?
Students who run riot like they did the other night?
You can't tell if those students were part of the movement in the first place.
So you don't accept responsibility for them?
As a movement we can't, because we don't have any official members.
You blame the lack of accommodation on "over-allocation" by the university?
What about the fact that the government directed the university to increase its intake while reducing its subsidies and halting fee increases?
I don't know why there is this attempt to distinguish the universities from government. Universities are an extension of the state and part of the state's apparatus.
Aren't they supposed to be autonomous?
They have institutional autonomy but that doesn't imply that you're not an extension or organ of the state.
They rely on state subsidies which have been reduced. Doesn't that put them in a very difficult position?
Yes, but they are also a part of government and should be putting pressure on government. So by putting pressure on universities, it's an extension of putting pressure on the state.
Is burning paintings part of your decolonisation project?
Yes it is, intrinsically.
Didn't you say it was a spontaneous reaction to provocation?
I said the removal of colonial symbols.
So removal of symbols is part of the project, not burning them?
You don't know that.
I'm asking you.
You can't tell how it's going to happen.
When will you start burning books?
I don't know how you make that link.
Many of them are by colonialists, aren't they?
But most of them would not have wanted to keep black children out of the University of Cape Town.
Can't the same be said about the paintings you burnt?
We never said we want to burn paintings.
But you did burn them. By the same logic won't you burn books as well?
The point is those paintings were put in residences where people see them every morning when they wake up. There's a distinction between that and something located far away in a library.
Would it be legitimate to burn books by white historians whose interpretations you disagreed with?
Not at this point.
At some point?
There's no telling how people react to things, unfortunately.