Black Disabled South African College Student, Kanyisa Ntombini, Talks About Student Protests On Campuses & Moore!
(Leroy Moore’s Note: As you know Krip-Hop Nation have been connecting with musicians/activists with disabilities around the world for years especially in Africa and Krip-Hop Nation will be touring South Africa in November-December 10th. Leroy has been following the protests on college campuses in South Africa especially at University of Cape Town with disabled activist, Kanyisa Ntombini who have been organizing Black disabled poor students around disability justice issue on that campus. Kanyisa recorded an update for Krip-Hop Nation & Poor Magazine. Below is the transription of that audio update)
Hello, my name is Kanyisa Ntombini. I am 22 years old. I currently live in Cape Town. Here, I'm studying at the University of Cape Town, and I'm doing Electrical Engineering. I'm originally from the Eastern Cape, in an area called Transkei. So Transkei is a former apartheid homeland. Apartheid was the white, colonial rule that we had in South Africa before we got our liberation in 1994. So the area that I live in was designated for Black people. It's a very small area, and it was chosen specifically by the white South Africans because it didn't have, it was very, very dry, not much vegetation, very much useless piece of land. And this homeland, this apartheid homeland didn't have any access to health care, education, transport, just very much poverty-stricken. So when the new government came in, which was a Black majority government, nothing really changed. During the transition between the white government and the Black government, the Black government, which was led by the African National Congress at the time, agreed to a lot of political and economic deals that put Black South Africans at a disadvantage. So even though we have a majority Black rule, the majority of the land still is owned by the white people, which form a very small minority of the population. And about 70% of the economy is owned by white people. So right now, I grew up in this little homeland with barely any access to health care and education, and it was very difficult for me growing up in that environment and trying to get an education. When I moved to Cape Town, it was hard in the university because none of the lecturers, tutors, and heads of departments in my field wanted to help me. Instead, I got an email at the beginning of the year saying that I had been excluded from the academic program in the University of Cape Town because I had failed too many courses. Meanwhile, the previous year, I had emailed my tutors, my heads of departments, basically everyone and sent maybe more than 50 emails asking for help, asking for things like note takers because I can't see well on the board, for the lectures to be recorded, just access to mental health care as well, since I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. No one had been willing to help me. Instead, I was just sent an email saying I need to go, leave campus.
I had also noticed that other Black, disabled students had also experienced the same thing. They were also failing, and they had been asking for help, and no one was giving them help. So I decided to bring those disabled students together at the beginning of the year and to have a sit-in outside the main administration building at the University of Cape Town where we speak about experiences on campus and to tell university management what kind of access we want on campus. We also had a memorandum of demands asking for certain accessibility changes on campus.
UCT management was there. They received the memorandum. They took pictures of us because there was a lot of news agencies there, and they put them up on their website. They never talked to us afterwards, and they never did any of the things that we had asked. A few months later, we had another sit-in at the disability unit with the same document. UCT management came in, sat with us, listened to us, but did not engage with us. At the same time as this activism had been happening, there was a national right protest in the country by students in their universities saying that they want free, decolonized education in South Africa. So basically, wanted first not to pay any fees, and also for the curriculum to change so that it's not racist, transphobic, ableist, queerphobic. And for also the curriculum to focus more on African issues rather than international issues that are not really relevant to our daily lives here in South Africa.
The response from the South African government has been of heavy brutality. There's just been a lot of police on our campuses, basically acting violent towards protestors. There's also been a lot of private security as well on campus. And it's just made the environment at the university extremely unstable. At the moment, we're not having classes because of all this violence. The police on one university campus called the University of KwaZulu-Natal also raped a student. They were actually going into their residences and looking for protestors and just causing havoc and a lot of trauma to people. In the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, there has been a report of a worker that died because of clashes with the police. In some campuses, the police have also been using live ammunition on students that are not armed.
So as Black and Black disabled activists, we have found that we are extremely scared because that's why we haven't been able to do more activism because we're scared that if we protest against the ableism on campus, then the police will come in and attack us. We're also scared that certain of our leaders will be picked off and become excluded, which has been what has been happening in the other campuses. In each of the university campuses, they've just been choosing the main leaders and expelling them from campus just to make people scared. So that has really affected us a lot, and we haven't been able to do any activism. The climate right now is just tense. Black people, Black students are very scared at the moment. At the same time, we also want our campuses to change, but the violence that we're facing is just inhumane. We've been treated as animals and not as people who are trying to get an education so that they can make their country better. They're calling us hooligans and just as if we are just a bunch of students trying to destabilize the country when we're actually trying to improve the country by calling upon for a free education.
So yeah, the mood in South Africa's really depressing. I won't lie. The lives of disabled people in South Africa--well, disabled Black people--is really, really hard. As I mentioned before, because of the way that apartheid--which was the former white government--used to work is that most of the economy is controlled by the white people. So the majority of Black South Africans live in villages that are very much under-resourced and poverty-stricken, with high rates of HIV and unemployment, and also townships. So townships are sort of like an apartheid structure where, in the main town, all the white people live. And then outside the town, the majority of Black people will be put into these small housing projects where there's a huge amount of overcrowding, issues with water and sanitation, high levels of crime, poverty, just horrible things. So the majority of disabled people live in those conditions where they don't have access to health care. The education system in South Africa is very bad, especially in high school. It's bad for able-bodied students, but it's a disaster for disabled students. And also, South Africa is a huge mining country, and most of the mines in South Africa, because of the economy, they are still owned by companies outside South Africa, in the West. So you'll find that there are terrible working conditions where miners are exposed to a lot of dangerous health situations where they end up getting sick. As soon as a miner is sick, they get sent home. So there a lot of miners with Silicosis and also tough health issues who are sent home to die with no compensation, no health care, sent into these poverty-stricken areas for Black people. So there's also that element as well with disability issues in South Africa.
So yeah, the only thing I can say is the situation in South Africa is terrible. The government puts out this image as if something is going forward, when the lives of Black, disabled people are very horrible in this country. So we would like international organizations to just put pressure on our government to change their policies. I think the most important thing at the moment is for fees to fall. Fees Must Fall has to happen. Free education to all South Africans. The education needs to be anti-racist, anti-ableism, anti-transphobia, anti-queerphobia. That's the kind of education where I want it to be centered on African problems and providing African solutions and for them to stop militarizing our campuses. We want to be able to walk around freely on our campuses and not to have police and private security on our campus. So that's the main thing that we would like: International organizations to support us. Yeah.
But yeah, I'm genuinely excited that Krip-Hop is coming to South Africa because the only Black disability activism that ever happens in South Africa is usually very much focusing on, centered on poverty porn, and it's never showing disabled Black people in a position of strength and in a position of power. So a lot of Black--myself included--Black disabled people are very excited for Krip-Hop Nation to come to South Africa and also just to start having the conversations around the lives of Black disabled people in South Africa and to just highlight the conditions that Black disabled people live under. So I'm very excited to meet Leroy Moore and just the rest of the team and to just engage with disability activists around the world.
Pic: PIC Kanyi Disability Justice with a mic and paper in their hands outside of the UCT Bremner Building at University of Cape Town, South Africa"