Responding to The Class of ’79

By Sarah Rose de Villiers

Janice Warman’s new book, The Class of 79, tells the story of three Rhodes students who challenged the apartheid system and risked their lives in pursuit of a better South Africa. But what was the result? How much has this country changed, or not changed, since the days of segregation, violence and censorship? Artbeat posed these questions to some of the attendees of Warman’s book launch at the Eastern Star Gallery on Tuesday, 3 March.

Ayandela Qoza, 28

Ayandela Qoza

Ayandela Qoza, 28

“For us black people, we feel like we have to vote ANC, but after these elections I feel like I made the wrong decision. I know I’m not supposed to say it, but I feel like I must start looking at other parties now.”

Irene Riffel

Irene Riffel

Irene Riffel, 54

“I’m now doing a Masters in History… and one of the books that I read for my research was The Class of 79, and I actually requested the library to buy it, so it’s in the library at Rhodes.”

“I was also studying in the eighties, in Cape Town. There were a lot of events that took place, which I knew about, but also didn’t know about. Even though we were in the thick of it in the University of the Western Cape, it was so much worse in the actual communities than we ever got to know about. The detentions, the killings, the torture, the bloodshed.”

“[South Africa is now] a much, much better place… it’s a freer place. I can say what I want. I can go where I want. I can do what I want. I think it’s just the aspect of ‘you’ve got the choice to do what you want’.”

Paddy Donnelly

Paddy Donnelly

Paddy Donnelly, 58

“There’s a lot of promise.” “I was here [at Rhodes] in the class below Janice. My memories go back to a time of incredible repression; stuff that wasn’t allowed to be spoken about and very few people actually spoke up against it.”

“The University was kind of liberal, but actually very impotent. Since then, we’ve had a number of VCs but, I mean, just last week with Sizwe [Mabizela]’s manifesto, there’s a whole lot of optimism and trying to sort out WiFi for the town. Trying to organise with civic organisations more than political organisations – that’s a move into a kind of future.”

“People have to switch off of big politics, party politics, into real politics – which happens on a town basis – and civic action.”

Thembani Onceya

Thembani Onceya

Thembani Onceya, 25

“The government is now taking us back to the times of apartheid.”

“If you look into their policies – the Protection of Information Bill, which actually prevents people from accessing information. They’re also violating the rights of South African citizens to share information, because they take away the freedom of whistle blowers. They limit the extent of our freedom of expression.”

“So those are the situations that make me think, ‘Are these people taking us back to those times of apartheid?‘”

Lastly, we asked Janice what she thought about South Africa as it is today:  

Janice Warman

Janice Warman

Janice Warman, 56

“I would say, South Africa today is in a far better position than it was in 1979 because apartheid has been abolished – that’s the wrong word – because apartheid has ended. However, we are at a crucial time in the country’s development and I think it is time for people to stand up and make their voices heard against corruption and other problems in government.”

If your voice could be heard, what would you want to say?

Photos: Amanda Horsfield

Illustrations: Sarah Rose de Villiers

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