By Mads Olivarius Maibom

 

Okay, I admit that it is not that small at all. It is more like a little village, isolated on the crest of the mountain in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town. But I promise that you will feel that it is a very special place if you ever come to the upper campus of the University of Cape Town. It is the oldest university in South Africa and ranked to be the best in Africa. It used to be an only whites university in the apartheid era and in the turbulent time before the transformation into a democratic society in the end of the 1980’s there were frequent clashes between student protesters and police on the campus grounds. The students were on the liberal frontlines in the fight against the separation and discrimination based on race and it was unheard of that the police had to break down protests on an all white university.

 

Even though it is two decades since the first interim constitution of the Republic of South Africa was signed, the demographics of the society is not the same as it is on university campus. In a strange way the massive overrepresentation of white students compared to black students is a constant reminder of a time not to long ago where everything was different.

 

In a society that is as unequal the South African (the highest Gini coefficient in Africa, pre-tax) you are often reminded that if you have a little, you have a lot more than most. The University of Cape Town is not an education of or for the people. By attending you are part of an academic and financial elite within the country and conversations about the problematic ivory tower is not uncommon in the many debates on campus. Even the location of the university suggests it, as it is elevated on the mountain in respect to the rest of the city.

 

Does that make University of Cape Town an elitist, superior institution that tries to maintain the old regime of “whites on top and blacks at the bottom”? No it does not. It just takes a long time to wash away the socio-economic unevenness of the past and many of the students take an active role in the process. Compared to Denmark, where I come from, the students are engaging in charity work on a much larger scale than I’m used to see. Living in South Africa the huge difference between rich and poor is in your face all the time, and it can be quite overwhelming to go from a large township to the little village on the side of the mountain. But there is hope for change when you engage with the students of this place. They are ready to help form their country towards more equity, dignity and freedom as they have done before in the, not so distant past. Change will come.