home Student Opinion EFF for Colonialism? To boycott or not to boycott graduation ceremonies?

EFF for Colonialism? To boycott or not to boycott graduation ceremonies?

by Pastor Cole Skosana and Athi Mongezeleli Joja

date: 10 April 2016

Caption: Athi Joja asks if one can say 'decolonisation' but still celebrate colonial graduation ceremonies. Photo: Alon Skuy/The Times
Pastor Xola Skosana and Athi Mongezeleli Joja ask if one can say ‘decolonisation’ but still celebrate colonial graduation ceremonies. Photo: Alon Skuy/The Times

Recently the South African media went ablaze on the graduation of the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema with a BA degree from UNISA. EFF peddled the graduation as something big and to be celebrated. Big questions are being asked whether adorning the medieval garb and bowing to the ghosts of the colonial academy is consistent with the revolutionary call for decolonization. In South Africa last year we witnessed the birth of a powerful university student movement calling itself the Rhodes Must Fall Movement (RMF) as it targeted and forcefully challenged, among others, colonial symbols. To this end it gained both national and international traction. This has raised the question, can one say “Rhodes Must Fall” and at the same time also bow to the charms of the colonial graduation ceremony?

EFF leaders seem to eat their cake and want to have it too. They as usual playing for both sides in the contest – they can’t have it both ways! This ideological flip flopping on the “Fanonian” movement raises the question whether EFF is really interested in decolonization or is it using decolonization, only in word, so as to stabilize the colonial project? It is one thing to work to attain a university degree and yet another to submit to the colonial symbols such as graduation ceremonies at the height of the struggle of the decolonization movement that targets colonial symbols.

As we struggle to decolonize everything, including language, we must not bow before the Queen of England. Only servants of the British Crown are found celebrating being knighted.

Here are two instructive opinions – the first is “Boycott Graduation” by Pastor Xola Skosana followed by “Making Colonial Education Fashionable Juju-Style” by Athi Mongezeleli Joja – which weigh in and gives penetrating insight on the question of graduation ceremonies:


I have recently completed a masters degree at the university of Stellenbosch, but I will not give them the pleasure of capping me. I will graduate in absentia.
In 1994 I protested my first undergrad graduation ceremony when whites refused to host the ceremony in Khayelitsha, having hosted previous ones in Kenilworth and Bontehuiwel respectively.
The policy was that it was the prerogative of the graduating class to choose the venue where they wished to host their ceremony. The few Black students in my class made a compelling arguement for this event to be held in honor of mothers who raise children in hellish conditions in the townships of South Africa.

After a series of meetings by both back and white students a unanimous decision was taken to the authorities. They turned it down on the bases that white parents will feel unsafe in Khayelitsha.
This presented Black students with the opportunity to boycott what for many of us would have been our very first graduation. We told our parents who were prepared to sacrifice their last cent, and travel from the Eastern Cape to witness their children graduate, to stand down and not come. This would have been the first time ever in some families.
Of the rest of the class, only two of us graduated in absentia. The rest sold out. This remains one of my proudest contributions to the revolution, believing in something so deep that we were prepared to give up our privilege.

Today I sent my email to the university of Stellenbosch and told them that I will graduate in absentia. I gave them my physical address and told them to expedite the delivery of my degree.
I challenge black students at all white Universities that remain colonized spaces of white power and privilege to do an act of revolution and boycott their graduation in 2016.
They made your life hell and now they want to celebrate how you survived their onslaught. Do not be part of their hypocrisy.
Let white people dance by themselves for the music they have made. Go home, call your community and have your graduation there. Tell them you have survived.
Whites own institutions and control the production of knowledge, and they manipulate the flow of ideas by certification.

There is more hell waiting for you after graduation anyway!
(Pastor) Xola Skosana
10 March 2016”


There’s something fundamentally wrong with this statement: “Making education fashionable.” It’s a statement available to liberals and vulgar nationalists, but it is certainly not available to revolutionaries. Why? It might sound like people are petty by raising such issues, but in a backward society like SA, any slogan like black foreign nationals steal from “us” blacks and thus must be killed has immediate merit to our people. We are put to war against each other, whilst a white foreigner loots and has been looting for centuries in the job market, through dispossession and civil strife. We must also remember that education – the colonial education that we get at university – still creates the same buffer it created in the 19th century. Educated niggers are actually dangerous, they are generally cogs in the neocolonial machine. I say this without any uncritical valorization of the poor or that by mere experience one’s fate is cast in stone. No.

Making education fashionable is a careless statement which implies that the current reason people are not educated is because they’ve abandoned the project of assimilation – it is all out of vogue. We are retreating “back” to the ecosystem, so to speak. Second part is, it implies current education is not a result of an orchestrated political system managed by the ANC, privatizing public eminities for the exclusive benefit and privilege of the affording classes. The injunction “make education fashionable” seems to take the political problem out as the real cause and thereby making our people responsible for their own ignorance and illiteracy. Or for that matter, their own hatred of the schooling system, as solely indicative of their hatred of knowledge and inversely, their love for quick solution and money. It actually agrees with white narratives that our people are lazy. It all boils down to the a single and unfortunate point that our people are to be blamed for being excluded.

To make something fashionable, is good sometimes like being a revolutionary. To be a revolutionary is to think and act beyond the strictures of colonial areas of permissibly. It is to be vigilant constantly of the traps and false benefits of coloniality and its make-me-feel-good performative ruses. We have been pragmatic enough. Such that even our ancestors choice to assimilate through education was a pragmatic step – to ruffle the feathers from within. Only revolution is our way out of this quandary. So to make something fashionable about what in its standard essence is systematically created to exclude, is wrong, evasive and that cannot be made fashionable. If by fashionable we mean to popularize it, to make our people love it – only sadists would say shit like that. Such a sentiment parallels the same strategy of capitalism, which is to create a false agency of the poor whilst precluding all possibilities of access. Or giving false impression about what it can do, whilst it’s objective is to create animosity amongst people – divide them by making them fight for entry in deliberately narrowed gates to a paper heaven. Religion as Marx and others knew put the burden of our suffering into our own hands as opposed to those of the enemy by excluding the masses from decent and dignified living. It did so in ways that arrested us to the mercy of God, not our own existential aptitude and agency. Religion, colonial religion especially, forbids any act of self induced agency – the colonized needs divine intervention to be free. But how could satan, even if repented, enter heaven? It is said we must take unto ourselves the responsibility of being loved by God (all those who have some semblance of missionary theological tutelage know what the term ukuthandaza means). My point is not about discouraging educated black people. It is not about discouraging those who are graduating this week. In fact we must be happy for all of them. Celebrate their endurance in the cathedrals of white heaven. However mine is to say, comrades those outside of the prestigious knighting ritual, look wryly from the outside with envy and deep feelings of inferiority. It is this libidinal explosion that ignites in them the deep desire to storm the Bastille. And if they do so, they are doing so because they are lazy to go to school, look for jobs, lazy and ultimately they vindicate white racists and black petit bourgeoisie. They are black proper.

What then is or can be fashionable about being educated if education itself discourages us from seeing, that is, seeing properly the chain of events and structure that reproduces the literary blindness that comes with our certificates? We can’t look inside out and say, chaps get on with the groove, be fashionable – wear a purapura (graduation gown or try harder you will get in. That is what we hear on television all the time – never stop knocking on doors or that someone knocked all doors until someone opened. We don’t ask why are the doors closed, when in actual fact they were supposed to be opened as per the Freedom Charter of the ANC and now it’s left wing, EFF.

We need to think a bit. Yes, encourage the group that is knighted, but also without lying to them. Tell them that there are more challenges out/inside the school fields – that in actual fact the entire South Africa is a huge certified plantation with a succession of hired black presidents as official overseers. This is what slavery means to me – to be trapped in its structural logic, despite all the shifts and changes in its policy and strategic choices. We must constantly bring our people closer to the nightmare in which they are living. We must say loud and clear: this is Mandalay! We must stop talking about the world of milk and honey that does not exist for the black child and family. There’s nothing fashionable about education if our people have no equal access to it and more so if those who enter come out with a paper that will not give them decent jobs or change their minds about the status quo. Our education graduates philistines. We must decolonize everything, in and outside the university. We must decolonize the world. But before we do that we must know what decolonization is. We, as black people, must not assume that having access, as menial as it is, to a colonial university as students, insourced workers and teachers that we are decolonizing. Decolonizing needs a little sense of intellectual skepticism. We must train our senses to see through the veil of performative acts of arrested decolonization. This is what is meant by epistemic decolonization – to shift our “world” understanding of what we know. We are still those we have been waiting for!


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