In Turf, Hands Perform in Dirt

by Thulasizwe Somdyala

In Turf, Hands Perform in Dirt

The weak hearted become Babylon puppets, making it hard for real hustlers. – Common

When i heard Wits students had put their tools down to pressure a system that is not representing Black needs, elation vibrated through my pores. This was similar to the effects given by the Black Consciousness taking place in other former white universities. i relay “Ek se mfwethu, Wits is on strike for fees” with enthusiasm to a friend studying at the University of Limpopo (Turf). His response was whatever about it, “We been striking here, it’s nothing new.” i respond, “Yeah, but it is Wits.”

A story often told in Sunday school growing up was The Parable of the Prodigal Son. i would be in constant deliberation with it. There were levels i was not in touch with that the story was reaching that i really wanted to understand. To summarise, one son takes his inheritance from his father and squanders it off on worldly pleasures. The oldest son stays home and helps develop his father’s legacy. The younger son seeks to return home, chewed by the ills of life, with the drive of telling his father, ”Father, i have sinned against heaven and against you. i am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.”

Kanti when he arrives back home, his father was having none of that. He brought out the best robe and killed the fattened calf to celebrate his son’s return. Meanwhile the eldest son returns home from the fields welcomed by the festivities. He asks one of the workers, “Ek se, zikhiphani?” “Your brother has come, ”the worker replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound. ”The father noticing the unease in his eldest son’s eyes heads outside and asks, “Yintoni ingxaki?”

“Look! All these years i’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so i could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”

“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything i have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Having been at Wits, my elation was reminiscent of that of the father. The homies have come back home i felt, reason i told my friend, “but it is Wits.” Kodwa the parable itself has always been unfinished to me. It does not shed light on the story of the eldest son. What he had to give up on to continue his father’s work. How the two separated brothers were to reconcile their differences from the eldest’s perspective to continue building together. This article seeks to hear the story from the field (Turf).  The voice of the former Black universities marginalised that have been spearheading the campaign of free quality education for years before now.

Turfloop Testimony

The current generation is aware of the University of Limpopo (Turfloop) through the SABC soapie, Skeem Saam. Yet the varsity has a rich history of Black Consciousness and bred one of the farmers who would help seed fruit that would ripe as the 1976 June 16 uprising.  In 1968, South Afrikan Student Organisation (SASO) was formed to represent the voice of Black students across South Afrika. A voice that was vacuumed to obscurity under the National Union of South Afrikan Students (NUSAS); a liberal thinking body dominated by white students. SASO was constituted by the philosophy of Black Consciousness, to alleviate the inferiority complex that made Blacks watch from the sidelines a game they should be playing. In 1969 Steve Biko was elected the first President of the organisation at its inaugural congress held at Turfloop. In the same year Onkgopotse Tiro enrolled in his first year at Turfloop, studying Humanities. In his final year, 1972, he was elected President of the SRC. At the university’s graduation ceremony, he delivered a rattling speech that tackled Bantu Education.

A White member of the Administration has been given the meat contract to supply the University – a Black University. Those who amorphously support the policy may say that there are no Black people to supply it. My answer to them is: why are they not able to supply the University? What is the cause? Is it not conveniently done that they are not in a position to supply these commodities? – Tiro (1972)

Directly confronting the Administration afforded a seat in the front row. Meanwhile the parents of the graduates were seated where they couldn’t see their children graduate. The speech was christened the Turfloop Testimony and had him barred readmission into the university. This decision was met with Black students across universities holding strikes in solidarity to Tiro’s unwarranted expulsion.

Following his expulsion he received a post to teach History at Morris Isaacson High School in Soweto. Through the classroom he would conscientise pupils; awakening them to how History was distorted in the history books that they were prescribed under the system. The knowledge Tiro sowed would produce Tsietsi Mashinini; one of the students who spearheaded June 16.



i met with Given, Secretary of the SRC 2015, at Turf. A fourth year law student, born and bred in Mankweng. i could not meet with him Tuesday (06-11-2015) because he had to go to the police station. They had arrested students charged with threatening a store owner at Turf. The store owner fired workers for protesting to end outsourcing, therefore, it seems students were intending on fighting violence with violence. But the charges were dismissed and we finally got to chat.

Realest: The fees protests have been going on, but really took momentum across the country this year. They had not gained mainstream traction until its close proximity to whiteness gave it mainstream appeal. i would like to argue that because the struggle interlinked Black people, bringing them to a common interest, was what fueled momentum. It was like yo, we see we are suffering the same thing. So i would like to know from your perspective, how do you see the White and Black university divides?

Given: One thing we have noticed as black disadvantaged universities across South Afrika. When Wits does something it becomes nationwide. When Wits joined the protest it was televised everywhere. Mcebo Dlamini, nationwide. Media coverage in the country only covers those universities where whites are still predominate. It means somewhere, somehow, Black universities are still suppressed. If you check the conditions of the universities. You can see most of the sponsors and funders, go to Wits. But what is offered Wits or here at Turf, it is more or less the same.

So for example, we know Wits is rich in research and UCT. But in terms of other, like undergraduate, there is not much difference. But they get funding more than the disadvantaged universities. i was checking the question paper of UCT Civil Procedure. It is the same with the one i wrote years back. i’m not saying everything was the same but the content of that question paper, i’ve seen it, i’ve done it before. So in terms of syllabus there is no much difference. The difference is one; UCT has more capacity to hire more experienced professors and lecturers- those with a qualification and practical experience. The problem with the disadvantage universities because of lack of funds, they cannot hire many experienced lecturers and professors. Most of the people come to Turf, they graduate with their PhD’s and leave. The only people who are left are those without an option. The ones who have been there, no longer see a salary of Turf suits their qualification or experience- why most of them leave. But if the university had funding like Wits, i don’t think we would have had a problem. So i can say there is still inequality in the higher institutions of learning. There are those which are more taken care of and they are taken seriously. Like there were many protest here at University of Limpopo, more especially at TUT. But when Wits came in you could even here it in… parliament. There was a protest there at UJ i think, early this year, second semester. But there was no media coverage ‘cause it was not a white supremacy university.

R: So we know the media in South Afrika is owned by white people. i can see how white media would not jeopardise their white interests. Could the problem be us who are not mobilised to tell their own story, from their own perspective?

G: The problem is there are those blacks we have, those blacks who are white. They think a story of Wits sells more than a story of TUT. That’s why, they take Wits more seriously. Like i just heard that at UP, registration will be free for those who are using NFSAS. It’s not something… at Turf it’s been happening for years. Now to UP it seems like a success.

R: Is it not than the awakening in the Black students at these White universities, we know the media is white so they will share what is pressing where they predominate. Is it not on us than to create our own outlets, where our own stories are told and interests put first?

G: i am going to be honest with you. Look at all the local media outlets. They are not taken seriously. Even by Blacks themselves. But check e-TV, the ratings of eNCA. It gains momentum if something is posted on eNCA and News24. Within one hour it will be known country wide. But if you use Capricorn FM Twitter account, it will not reach the country fast. Because even the people in Polokwane do not care about Capricorn FM. But they can check their things most on News24.

R: i see you, we divided and ruled. Is that the problem, we not taking ourselves seriously?

G: You know, the divide and rule; money and power, will always divide blacks. For example, we differ politically even if all of us we are fighting for a common issue. Most the political parties have a common issue but we will never agree or applaud each other cause of the political divide. In the institution of higher learning more especially media, politics takes cause. They play a major role in student politics and media. You can see some other things are televised and some other things are not televised. Not that they would not want to televise it but they would not want to popularise it. Remember televising, example, something that is done by COPE. You actually showing people that COPE is still alive, whereas some would have thought it was dead. It is a psychological warfare. Dealing with the mass… they believe so easily. Once they see you more often, they learn to love you, or to like you- your ideas. They start to research you; what you trying to do. But if you are invisible, how are they going to talk about you, how are they going to research you.

R: i see you. Like there are mechanisms that could be used to better our situation but we do not own the resources. i mean Limpopo is mineral rich, produces i think 75% of the fruit and veg we consume in this country but there isn’t access for the black child to it. How do we foster a consciousness that makes sure someone at Wits and Turf are working towards one project?

G: Lack of resources will always be a stumbling block to the success of a Black student. i will give you an example of a company ZZ2, they produce vegetables. It is the biggest company in Afrika in terms of its field. It produces i think 75% of tomatoes in South Afrika but in terms of social contribution, it does not produce anything to the society. There are a lot of farms in Limpopo which produce and are profitable but they are still owned by whites. Check Tzaneen, it is rich in terms of tourists, but a lot of things there are owned by whites. And these businesses do not contribute in assisting the students in being educated. If ZZ2 were a sympathetic company, they would take some of the agricultural students, pay everything and even absorb them into their workforce. But i have never heard of a student being funded by ZZ2. That’s why they say business people in Limpopo are greedy. For example, universities like Wits have funders; they get donors from the private sector. But University of Limpopo, there is no one who says i am going to fund, so we depend only on government spending and NFSAS.

R: When will that cycle break? What initiatives can be put in place?

G: It needs government’s intervention on that one, by amending the constitution. Because the thing of protesting, marching, it will not change the situation until the constitution is changed. Any policy which is inconsistent with the constitution is invalid.

R: i heard there was a protest within the university where the shop owners were told their food was too expensive. Locks were then placed at shops doors so no one could access it and the keys where with the people speaking on behalf of the students…

G: The prices of the cafeterias are too expensive in such a way that at Shoprite, OMO 2kg is R38, on campus it is R68. You can imagine the stress to students; they do not have money yet have to buy expensive things. You get a 2l of cool drink, not even at the garage but on campus it is R27. So prices had to be reduced. One of the questions was, can them (shop owners) buy those groceries. They said they can’t, so why were we expected to buy that. They were just capitalising on the student.

R: Is that not the political will we need where action is taken rather than deliberation? If something is not operating for you within your own space than it should not operate.

G: The thing is you have to exhaust all internal remedies, like trying to meet them half way. By the time the students protested, it was because they were tired of negotiating and not dissolving.

R: Awe. When i first got to Turf, i really liked the positioning of where it was. It is right in the middle of where people are. i see the surrounding areas around Turf being modern villages, so it shows we can bring services right to the people. We used to seeing universities within the cities or towns. But how do you see us developing places around the school? ‘Cause when you walk outside the school and go into the Pick ‘n Pay you find low quality goods inside different from the Pick ‘n Pay you will find in town. But it is a Pick ‘n Pay. Whenever something is in close proximity to Blackness the quality becomes eroded even though the products are being delivered by the same company. So now here, we in a situation where we have a knowledge centre right by the people- how do we take knowledge and affect the quality people receive? i do not know why that Pick ‘n Pay is still operating there…

G: It’s really the white supremacy…

R: Yea but there is a Black majority…

G: And where there is a Black majority, everything will be second hand.

R: Is that how we view ourselves now?

G: Nah we are viewed…

R: But we continue to engage in the system that sees us as such.

G: The thing is we do not believe that Apartheid is still effective, especially in the villages. They think it is democracy because the conditions have changed a little bit. So they think it is something that is good. It is like taking someone from the village to the locations, they will think “Eyo i have arrived,” i am in a suburb.

R: i hear you but there are many of us who have moved from the villages into the cities and realised what we can have. But when we come back to the village, we think it is OK to allow our people to live in conditions like these.

G: The problem with us Blacks is we do not want to give back into the community. We do not want to serve the community. We grow up in such communities but once we developed we go and do not come back to say how do we correct these conditions. And make sure that our sisters and brothers, who are still on the way, they do not experience the conditions we have experienced. That is the problem with us Blacks; we do not give back to our communities. It is only a few. You will find that out of ten there are maybe two who are trying to give back. And once we are developed, we view our communities as if it is an embarrassment. For you as a doctor to stay in the villages, you think the place no longer suits you anymore…

R: Instead of going back and developing it into what you want it to be…

G: Yes. In a location like Turf, it could be in good conditions like Polokwane if the people plan to do it. But because they want it to remain like that, it will always be like that. We tend to lose our home for a house. Remember a home is where you from, your origin, we have lost that to houses. We view the western culture as the most enjoyable culture; the issue of flamboyancy, the luxurious life. Even when you go to primary, they dreaming of living a western culture. That is the main problem we are facing. Moving forward, the best possible way is to change the system itself. If you deal with the system, there you can conscientise the people. The system plays a major role in suppressing and in making sure that there is no dominance in Blacks. So we need to change the system.

Coming Home

The challenge to every Black graduate in this country lies in the fact that the guilt of all wrongful actions in South Africa, restriction without trial, repugnant legislation, expulsions from schools, rests on all those who do not actively dissociate themselves from and work for the eradication of the system breeding such evils. To those who wholeheartedly support the policy of apartheid i say: Do you think that the White minority can willingly commit political suicide by creating numerous states which might turn out to be hostile in the future? We Black graduates, by virtue of our age and academic standing are being called upon to bear greater responsibilities in the liberation of our people. Our so-called leaders have become the bolts of the same machine which is crushing us as a nation. We have to go back to them and educate them. Times are changing and we should change with them. The magic story of human achievement gives irrefutable proof that as soon as nationalism is awakened among the intelligentsia, it becomes the vanguard in the struggle against alien rule. Of what use will be your education if not linked with the entire continent of Africa; it is meaningless. – Tiro 1972

Humans are out of touch with their ancient history because Afrika is out of touch with their history. Returning back home is returning back to humanity. Afrika develop home.

The Realest


The “i” small cap is a conscious imagery of not being bigger than the group.. The Cartesian principle is “I think therefore I am.” In Afrika we say, ”i am because we are and since we are, therefore i am.”