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Kosmopolis Institute Publications Day 21: Singing Bhajans at Bloemfontein

Day 21: Singing Bhajans at Bloemfontein

“Hey, I have heard that Indians are very secretive. For example, if somebody is a surgeon by profession then he will secretly transfer his degree to his son even if the latter has not studied medical science”, said Mlamuli Siphamamdla Ntombela, a student of the Qwaqwa Campus of the University of Free State. Before he spoke his last word, we had burst into a loud laughter. With this came to an end an interactive session that had started more than an hour before on the Saturday morning.

Ntombela was one of 25 (approximately) students from the Qwaqwa Campus who were present during the session. Prof. Caroline Suransky who moderated the session, had begun with a brief description of “who, what and how” of the 2011 International Winter School. After that some of the students of the campus shared their problems with us that ranged from lack of financial support from the parents to that of career counseling at the campus. Most of the students come from the rural areas and are the first ones from their families to come to a university campus. We also learnt that failure and drop-out rate were very high. So, successful completion of education is still a distant dream for many of these students.

Towards the end of the session, students asked many important questions about India, Indonesia and Uganda to which our friends from the respective countries made an effort to respond. Thus, an interesting and informative discussion followed around problems of homophobia in Uganda, economic viability of paddy-cultivation in Indonesia and increasing number of the teenaged sex-workers in the urban India. Students were also eager to know about the education system and job opportunities that were available in countries like India and Indonesia.

Before this formal interactive session with the students, we had the opportunity to listen to the welcoming words of the Principal of the Qwaqwa campus and enjoyed breakfast at its cafeteria. We had many photo sessions with the students.

After the interactive session, we got the opportunity to explore the length and breadth of the campus and each of us was accompanied by a Qwaqwa student who was playing guide. Ntombela took me around. It is a sprawling campus though much smaller than the Bloemfontein main campus. We went to the central library, computer lab and girls’ hostel. I wanted to see some books on the African literature but we could not locate them. Later on, he informed me that literature was not taught at this campus. Computer lab was almost empty as it was Saturday morning.

As we moved ahead, we came across many workers who were busy in the construction work. Ntombela happily informed me that new hostels would be built at that empty land to accommodate more students. A significant number of them stay in the neighbouring areas as the campus does not have enough hostels. Due to construction works, we could not visit any boys’ hostel. So, he took us to a girls’ hostel that was quite well-kept. Ntombela seemed to be very popular among the students as everywhere we went, he had acquaintances who waved at him. The Qwaqwa is a predominantly black campus as opposed to the Bloemfontein campus where the Afrikaner clerks/faculties/students seem to be in majority. It reminds me the caste-composition of the education institutions in India. Those of the urban areas are predominantly swarna (upper caste) in nature and representation of the Dalits, Scheduled Castes/Tribes, Other Backward Castes and Pasmanda Muslims in these institutions of excellence is almost negligible. This is not to deny that there is no difference between these two contexts but how about seeing the difference as the shades of sameness.

I have a feeling that the Qwaqwa campus is not part of the civil society but of the political society of South Africa. Many students’ organizations are active in this campus. To name some of them: South African Democratic Students Movement (SADESMO), Students Christian Fellowship (SCF), SASCO, Pan-African Students Movement of Azania (PASMA), etc. They work for the academic, financial and psychological betterment of the students. It seems that students here are under a lot of stress and pressure. I have come across a small booklet “Get Success @ UFS Qwaqwa Campus. Published in 2010 by the Student Development and Success department of the UFS, it runs into 16 pages and deals with different problems that students face while in the campus. It counsels them on the following issues: information technology, overall health and stress management, finances, strategies to work through the syllabus, etc. The booklet informs that only 2% of the South African population enjoys the higher studies. It reproduces a table that is based on the research conducted by All media and Product Survey (AMPS) in 2008, to show how a higher education degree ‘significantly improves a student’s future earning potential.

Degree / Income

Some high school learning / R 2,165

Matric / R 4,694

Artisan certificate / R 8,556

Technikon diploma/certificate / R 9,734

University degree / R 13,290

(This average is based on the income of people with undergraduate and/or post graduate qualifications)

We are back to Bloemfontein. All the participants of the Winter School are busy in finalizing their project-works. Today is the first day of the month of Ramzan and four participants are observing fast: Amber, Augus and Dewi from Indonesia and Frank from Netherlands. As I jot down these lines, Augus who happens to be my roomie, is asleep as he had to wake up in the last part of the night to eat sehri/sahoor. He must be dreaming of his country Indonesia that he misses a lot. A week ago, I with Vinita and Renske visited a Hindu temple that is situated at a distance of around 7 km from the UFS. We sang their Bhajans and met some Indian Indians and South African Indians. It was an interesting experience for me as despite growing up and living in India, I had never been to the sanctum sanctorum of a temple and a part of the Bhajan reciting devotees.

Arshad Amanullah

New Delhi