Collapsing spaces of protest

“[T]his broken lexicon will take time to repair like old tapestries in Vatican.” Robo the Technician, HipGnostiks

Within the first days into March, there was a video of a white student from the University of the Free State, picking up trash and disposing it back to the dustbin student leaders of EFFSC emptied. The white student was later identified as Eckhard Binding. In the present piece, I want to make a few observations and draw connections between Eckhard’s actions and the politics of broader society.

As the title of this piece holds true, Eckhard entered and collapsed a space of protest, no questions asked whatsoever, and did what he thought was right. The video was taken during a student-worker protest, and its main objectives and subsequent demonstrations were nothing of concern to him. This is not different from white people protecting animals from violence, while oblivious to the daily violence (direct and indirect) they consciously and unconsciously exert on black people, evoking memory of the past, so much that there has been no changes in the material conditions of black people. Hence, 94 changed fokol.

Furthermore, Eckhard exposes Frantz Fanon’s lament about Reason. Fanon writes in Black Skin, White Masks, that when Reason entered the room, he was not there. When he was in the room, reason was no longer there (Fanon, 1952:90) This passage basically highlights the fact of Blackness, that black people cannot be in any space and engage in anything reasonable. The white gaze observes black bodies like a physicist observes objects; predicts and rearranges movements and patterns to satisfy his own wishes of command and hegemony. For some strange reason, white people think they are always right and on the side of law. This begs the question: What is it about blackness that makes it a fugitive of the same law that excludes it?

Eckhard entered a space of protest and collapsed it. It is wrong to litter, no matter what the reason may be. Speaking to TimesLIVE, Eckhard attests to this: “I wasn’t raised to remain silent. It’s my best and my worst quality.” He later adds that it wasn’t for fame, he felt like he had to make a difference and so does anyone else. Aime Cesaire once mentioned that white people are “duped in good faith of a collective hypocrisy that cleverly misinterprets problems” (Cesaire, 1955). Hence the whole narrative of the story is about Eckhard being ‘victimised’ for doing what’s right and not him disrupting a space of protest, concerns of which he did not see as deserving of any agency. Moreover and as an attempt to answer the question I posed above about blackness being a fugitive of the same law that excludes it, it is important that the history of subjection and violence against black people be considered. Lewis Gordon once wrote that to be black in an anti-black world is to be without a face (Gordon, 1995:90). Black people are thus mere bodies and defined outside the rubrics of what it means to be human. Perhaps this is what Fred Moten meant when he said blackness is “an irreparable disturbance of ontology’s time and space” (Moten, 2013). The world already has a script for the black body to perform, but the latter does not fit within any of those boxes, standards and moral codes. Blackness is a gallery of failed attempts at being human; recognised and included.

In conclusion, the nature of black people’s subjection is structural and embedded in institutions that have power and influence. These institutions are the ones that influence our thoughts, actions and interrelations. In South Africa, for example, black people have never challenged subjection at the structural and institutional level. What they have been doing is protest consequences of structuralised and institutionalised subjection or oppression: denied access to clean water, denied access to formal education, lack of housing, discrimination in workspaces etc

Ndumiso Mdayi (@mbira_tafari) is a hydrology student and a member of Black Space (@1BlackSpace).

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