Last month Ntokozo Qwabe made the news after he wrote of his happiness at making a waitress shed ‘white tears’ when his friend refused to tip until she ‘returned the land’. Since then, a crowdfunder was set up to raise money to compensate the waitress for the incident, while Qwabe — who is a key figure in Oxford’s Rhodes Must Fall movement — has made several comments that suggest he feels little remorse over the debacle.
Now back in Oxford, the postgraduate student has offered his ‘final say’ on the incident after being greeted with a host of death threats on return. Qwabe says the Senior Dean of his college has had to meet with him to discuss his safety, while he may also have to appear before the South African Human Rights Commission after he was reported for ‘hate speech’:
‘On return to Oxford, I was summoned to the office of the Senior Dean at my college – in order to discuss my “health and safety within the college, and Oxford more generally” – following a flow of death threats and safety hazards directed at violating my bodily integrity. These death threats have intensified after Oxford rejected a petition signed by thousands to have me expelled from the university, and a plethora of expulsion requests lodged with the university Proctors.
A counter-petition to keep me at Oxford was started but I advised that it be closed down within a few hours because I did not want to participate in the back and forth squabbles. Many people have since indicated their intention to lodge cases of hate speech against me at the South African Human Rights Commission. Various online platforms have been opened to plot my “expulsion”/ “fall”.’
With Qwabe unable to use his main Facebook account now it has been permanently disabled, he has issued a lengthly statement to the Daily Vox. So, what has Qwabe learnt from the whole experience? Unrepentant, the Oxford student says all this has shown him that a black man does not have ‘freedom of speech’:
‘The censorship has been as alarming. So too is the absence of condemnation from those who have repeatedly accused me -and others in the student movement I am part of – of being anti-free speech. Yet again, we have been reminded that there is, in reality, no freedom of speech in a black body – just what (white) people in power allow. ‘
Although Qwabe says there is no way he can be ‘racist’ as some of his best friends are white, he has returned to the topic of how ‘whiteness repeatedly violates us’:
‘Even here at Oxford, I cringe when attempts are made to batch us all into the “excessively privileged” category – ignoring our variant race, class and other positionalities. But then I remember that this is exactly how whiteness repeatedly violates us. It renders our pain invisible by taking us from the dungeons it has created for us, clothing us in fancy suits, admitting us to its institutions, and hiding that underneath all that, we have nothing.
We enter these institutions willingly, hoping for a better future. In the end, we serve the ends of whiteness by allowing it to hide the scars we bring with us to these spaces. The scars of not only ourselves but the broken communities from which we originate. This is why once we are there, we are not supposed to talk about black pain. We are not supposed to talk about our reality as landless, dispossessed and marginalised. We are supposed to be “good blacks”. It is exactly this facade that we are challenging.’
Mr S is intrigued to see whether the South African Human Rights Commission agree with him on this.