by Simon Howell
Politics is not necessarily about states. Indeed, the “politics of politics”, to me, seems to allude more to the power structures that affect the structural and systematic mechanisms known as “governance”, than traditional articulations of the state. For this reason, I thought it might be useful to focus on one area of politics that is becoming ever more disturbing: the politics of Rhodes. It seems to me that Rhodes’ overarching political stance has moved from what, at one time, might have been conceived of as a “liberal institution” to what I would now characterise as a sanitised and sterilised pseudo-nanny state.
How do I get to this conclusion? After all, Rhodes is “where leaders learn”. The short answer can be found by looking around you, literally. Rhodes has meticulously sought to control the student population through a number of visible, and not so visible, mechanisms; cameras, curfews and guards, for instance. While all of these are encased and mythologized within the ever burgeoning security discourse that concerns South Africa, I can’t help but wondering whether the University has ever done its homework. Thinking about it, what other university seeks to control when its students can drink? I recognise that harm can and does result from drinking, but that still begs the question of whether the University qua institution has sovereignty over this domain. Moreover, is it not a contradiction to attempt to embrace individuality while simultaneously constructing that individuality within a predefined structure– one which constitutes the paradigmatic student?
Pragmatically, policies such as these seem extremely altruistic, but at the same time, somewhat naïve. In the case of the new drinking curfew, the police can barely enforce the law on one road in Grahamstown. By restricting access to this one, and importantly, centralised area students will now go home to carry on their festivities. Problematically though, digs are spread across the whole town, which means students will now be walking, cycling, and driving (likely under the influence) around the whole town. If the police can’t control and ensure the safety of one street, how are they going to do this across the whole town? Which, as it happens, will be the direct result of trying to enforce a curfew on those who may not feel like being told to go home.
This may be “where leaders learn” but the question still remains as to which leaders these are, and who are they attempting to lead. The “leaders” that Rhodes is churning out are a product of a specific discourse; one which I think contradicts, or at least brings into question, the notion of the “individual”. If that is so, then this entire new regime is inherently problematic: breeding conformity, sterilising the environment, extending the “Rhodes bubble”: all of these things are not what leadership is about.
There is a fine line between security and conformity, at least at a pragmatic level, and I recognise that. What I also recognise is that, in many instances, Rhodes has now crossed that boundary, perhaps even poll-vaulted it. Individuality and real leadership, these things require work and dedication. You cannot force people to be “leaders” (whatever that means), by controlling their environment, by spamming them, and by making them feel guilty. Instead, they should be held accountable for their actions, without any form of institutional baby-sitting.