The ridiculous rules of UCT residences

Jake Gordin on how students' lives are governed by shoe Nazis and pajama police

Why? Because I Said So

In my 18 years of life, I have done much. As the old-fashioned romantic autobiographies begin ... I've laughed, loved, lost, explored, read, watched, learnt, and sometimes understood.

But there are still three things about humanity I still find completely incomprehensible. One is the weird compulsion of devoutly religious people to have 17 kids. Second is the inability of teenage girls to have some decent taste in music, and number three: I cannot get to grips with the rules that some people come up with.

Yes, rules. The absolute bane of an adolescent's happiness. But stick with me. There's more to my hatred of rules than the simple teenage motto of ‘Stick it to the Man'.

Some rules do make sense. If you're talking about legal rules, ones such as 'do not rape' are pretty good. If you're talking about rules concerning, say, the disposing of chemical waste, ones such as 'do not dump mercury cyanide into a village's only supply of water' are worth following.

But just as yin goes with yang, just as the three-day chocolate binge is attended by painful dental surgery, just as the giddy high of new love is often followed by a homunculus nine months later - so with the sensible rules come the ridiculous ones.

Bizarre rule-making manifests in various forms: there're your bizarre religious ones such as in Orthodox Judaism, which has the mandatory strapping of cow skin to your head and arm every prayer service. Then there are your weird legal ones, such as the law in the US state of Virginia which makes it illegal for kids to go trick-or-treating on Halloween. That's right; it's a state felony for kids to ask grown-ups for sweets on a certain day of the year. You may as well throw a dog in jail for licking its balls.

Then there are rules made by institutions, like the UCT Residences. UCT is notoriously bad at certain things. One of these is practicing humility, as the t-shirts saying 'Top of Africa' will tell you. It's not too good at admin either. In my first week here I met a girl who received notification that she'd been accepted into medicine - a week after the academic year had started.

But this isn't the worst of it. What UCT is really incompetent at is making sensible rules. Or more specifically, the Department of Student Affairs is just ridiculous in their rule making. It is prohibited, for example, to wear pyjamas in the dining hall. It is prohibited to wear slippers in the dining hall. One is not allowed to bring visitors who are not from the res into the dining hall. And I'm not talking about having a visitor eat food they didn't pay for; they're not allowed to sit down in the building!

Not a single person has explained to me why pyjamas violate health and safety protocols. No-one, including the manager of my residence's dining hall, can explain to me why I can't have a visitor accompany me. What, exactly, are you worried might happen if these rules were broken? It's not as if the reasons given for the rule are unconvincing. There simply aren't any reasons provided at all. Believe me, I've asked. And all I've come away with is the response that "it's not allowed because that's the rule".

This is when the Man gets a prod. I've snuck visitors into the dining hall, worn pyjamas in there countless times (granted, I wear pyjamas all day every day). Do you know what happens? Nothing that would resemble anything that would have warranted the imposition of the rules in the first place. (I have though been booted from the place on several occasions for violating them.)

You're probably thinking 'ooh, he wore pyjamas, what a rebel'. And you're right to be sarcastic. It is absolutely pathetic that wearing pyjamas constitutes defiance of authority.

Petty rules apply to residences in general; in some it's prohibited to walk around barefoot. A friend of mine, Lily, (who made a cameo appearance in my first article) was caught with no shoes on and was fined 20 bucks. She was fined for walking around the res barefoot. Moreover, most female residences have cluster meetings. Those living in the same corridor or area have to meet once a month with some self-important student who's in charge of a cluster. If you miss a meeting - and I kid you not - you are fined R50.

R50 for missing a meeting? Why should anyone have to go to cluster meetings? If what you're discussing is so important then you'll find a way to let everybody know what you've decided. And the barefoot ban? Where is the logic behind that one? And other students fined her. Who are they, shoe Nazis? It's gotten to the point where female residences are just fancy-looking prisons.

Probably the most irritating rule though is the prohibition on keeping fridges in storage. Over the holidays students have to vacate their rooms. But they are allowed to place large boxes full of their belongings in a storage area until their return - as well as appliances such as kettles, heaters, fans, and so on. Just not small fridges.

Some of you may have not lived in res, but a fridge is a pretty essential item. It is in the nature of fridges however that they are not exactly easy to lug around, let alone carry home for the holidays.

A short while back I had the following conversation with a receptionist:

- Hi, can I keep my fridge in storage?

- No, you cannot.

- Why not?

- Read the rule book: you were supposed to do that when you moved in.

- I've read it. It doesn't say why I can't keep a fridge in storage.

- Because that's UCT protocol. I don't know why, I'm not UCT.

It is at moment's like these that you want to stick it to the Man. In the face. With a sledgehammer. 

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