Student Struggles in South Africa, 2015-2016

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 14:30
Oral Presentation
David EVERATT, Wits School of Governance, South Africa
For the last two years (2015/16), South African universities have been the site of violent struggle between students and the higher education system – its funding base, content, pedagogy, ‘whiteliness’, the racial profile of staff, students’ own living conditions and debt-ridden future and more. Identified as #feesmustfall, in 2015 the movement had a clear focus, internal unity and won public support, forced government to concede a 0% fee increase, and obliged universities to ‘in-source’ workers. In 2016, they won greater financial concessions from government - but lost most public support as students broke into smaller ‘#fallist’ blocs, turned to violence, disruption, arson, racism and an overarching tactic of ‘decolonisation’ by either shutting down the tertiary system – or burning it down. Political parties and other external players found the large, legitimate student movement irresistible, and #feesmustfall became its own site of struggle. Victimhood replaced agency, and racial essentialism became the dominant narrative with predictable loss of politics or tactics, severely damaging the important theoretical work done by student leaders in creating the theoretical base for the movement.