Oxford scholar Ntokozo Qwabe, who made headlines for allegedly reducing waitress Ashleigh Schultz to tears, says that the incident happened very differently to how the media is portraying it.
Qwabe, who is a co-founder of the Rhodes Must Fall movement in Oxford, came into the spotlight after posting about the incident on Facebook, where he specifically refers to his group of friends leaving the waitress “shaking” and “crying”.
They take a pen & slip in a note where the gratuity/tip amount is supposed to be entered. The note reads in bold: “WE WILL GIVE TIP WHEN YOU RETURN THE LAND”. The waitress comes to us with a card machine for the bill to be sorted out. She sees the note & starts shaking. She leaves us & bursts into typical white tears (like why are you crying when all we’ve done is make a kind request? lol!). Anyways, so this white woman goes to her colleagues who are furious. She exits to cry at the back & a white male colleague of hers reluctantly comes out to address us & to annoy us more with his own white tears telling us that he finds our act “racist”.
According to Qwabe the first point of contention were reports that he was at the centre of the incident, adding that it was transgender activist Wandile Dlamini who wrote the message on the slip – but not out of spite.
“It was not a moment of spitefulness, or dickness… the act was not about the waitress,” he said.
Qwabe added that there were no literal tears from the waitress – nor any other person involved.
He said that the term “white tears” referred to when a person is “challenged to think about a question and they start getting uncomfortable”.
“It is not literal tears. A lot of people now think that what we did was make all these people cry. No we didn’t,” he said.
“Neither the waitress, nor the manager, nor anyone actually cried, so it’s just not true that there was this waitress who was bullied and cried.”
South Africans reacted to the incident by condemning Qwabe, with two separate online fund-raisers launched to give the waitress the tip she was refused by the group. Petitions were also launched to get the scholar expelled from Oxford.
Ultimately, the petitions failed, with Oxford saying that it encouraged debate – even when it’s controversial; but the fund-raisers were a staggering success, with R150,000 raised for Schultz – an amount which Qwabe calls “hysterical”.
“We could never have thought that it could get to those kinds of hysterical levels. It was a protest action, not directed at Ashleigh – and quite frankly, Ashleigh’s feelings are quite irrelevant to us.”
Qwabe said that, while he didn’t write the message, he fully supported it, and added that he would not stay silent on issues of inequality in the country.