On Rhodes must Fall - and why you should treat your waiter or waitress well

01 May 2016 - 11:47 By Bruce Gorton

How you treat waiters is to a large extent a good judge of your character.

Ntokozo Qwabe is proud that he reduced a waiter to "typical white tears". Photo taken from his Facebook page.
Ntokozo Qwabe is proud that he reduced a waiter to "typical white tears". Photo taken from his Facebook page.
Image: GroundUp

Thus it is fair to say that Ntokozo Qwabe, one of the leaders of the Rhodes Must Fall movement at Oxford University is less a man, more a venereal disease.

  • Rhodes Must Fall leader tells waiter: ‘We will give tip when you return the land’Ntokozo Qwabe‚ one of the leaders of the Rhodes Must Fall movement at Oxford University has bragged on Facebook about the way his friends treated a waiter. They wrote on the bill‚ ""WE WILL GIVE TIP WHEN YOU RETURN THE LAND". The waiter is a white woman. 

Qwabe felt quite proud of himself when he reduced a waitress to tears – by writing “we will tip when you return the land” on the bill.

I used to wait tables. I was rubbish at it, but I did it, and I know exactly how much hard work is involved.

Any customer service job involves dealing with difficult people, and waiting tables or tending bar adds the stress of occasionally dealing with drunk difficult people.

It is high-stress hard work and the people who are good at it should never be sold short, theirs is a genuine skill.

All of this to say if Qwabe had pulled that on me; he would spend the rest of his life eating through a straw. And it would be worth the prison sentence.

Of course one wonders if Qwabe would have done the same thing, had he been dealing with a waiter rather than a waitress.

The fact is however that this does illustrate something important that is missed in power-dynamics driven social justice, and why it utterly and completely fails on every conceivable level. 

That waitress was socio-economically subservient to Qwabe. He was eating at the restaurant, she was his worker, and he gloated about not paying her.

His economic privilege could further be expressed by the fact that he is known primarily for being a protester at Oxford University, one of the top universities in the world, and all we know about her is that she waits tables in South Africa.

And yet power-dynamics driven social justice would hold him arbitrarily to be “Punching up” because he is black and she is white.

It fails and it fails hard, because it is not a theory of social justice, it is an excuse to look the other way over hypocrisy.

Qwabe is not all black people, and his actions are not a blow against all white people, he is a singular scumbag.

There are white people who do similar things, people who leave religious tracts disguised as money, people who feel righteous in not tipping, people who use racial slurs. It is often easier to treat those who treat others badly as individuals, when they share your skin tone.

And that is the singular signature of injustice – the fact that sometimes somebody is just bad, whatever their skin colour, gender, sexual identity or whatever.

Qwabe is not rendered “Not bad” by virtue of the fact that he has a dark skin tone, because he is not “black people”. He is a singularly unpleasant person.

Power dynamics can’t deal with this; it has to render people down into classes, devaluing their individual quirks and natures.

There are absolutely horrible people who have had every disadvantage in life, and their horribleness does not excuse those disadvantages.

But those disadvantages don’t particularly change their horribleness.

The trouble is, when you are part of a disadvantaged group one is often taken as a representative sample, while when you are in the dominant group even clear majorities become #notall.

We need to break away from this, and see people like Qwabe for what they are – not an expression of black anger, or even an example of how black people can be racially prejudiced too.

He is Qwabe, that guy who gloats about being a dick to waitresses.

Rhodes Must Fall has since then bleated out tweets in support of Qwabe, which quite frankly I think spells the death knell for them.


Because first of all, they're supposed to be a student movement and waiting tables is a very traditional student job - I'm sure students who do it just love the thought of getting political lectures instead of the tips they need to pay for things like their studies.

And second. Rhodes Must Fall want to take the mantle of champions for the working class, then they need to respect the work being done - and they have demonstrated that they absolutely don't. How you treat your waiter is who you are - because it is who you are when you're the boss.

And it must be noted here, that for all the bleating Rhodes Must Fall has tweeted about "conservative whites" - when it came time for action? When it came time for something to be done?

It began with a guy called Sihle Ngobese, the spokesman for Western Cape social development MEC Albert Fritz, giving the waitress R50. That has snowballed into a GoFundMe campaign that has raised thousands from people of all races and many nationalities.

A campaign that shows something that is important to remember - while some people may be horrible, the vast majority, black, white or whatever will not stand for it.

And because of this, the actions of those who take pride in hurting others will always be opposed by those who see each other's humanity.

That is wonderfully human - and that is how humanity wins. Often we are only enemies so long as we allow those who would do us harm to fool us into thinking we are, when you push through the lies we are human.

So go out this next month, go out and tip your waitress or waiter well, greet their service with a smile, be who you would like to work for not just for one woman working at Obz, but for all of those who serve you.

Kindness is the most revolutionary thing that we as a species can pull off, as it frees ourselves from those that would divide and dominate us with lies.

So be free.