Burning Tyres and Rubber Bullets: The Dystopic Policing of University Students in South Africa's Fallist Movements of 2015-2016

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Alude MAHALI, Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa
South Africa has a sordid history of institutionalized, legislated and racialized state-enforced violence, police brutality and militarization. Historically the national police functioned as agents of intimidation and guardians of white supremacy that had at the end, black targets and victims. Some 24 years after democracy, permutations of this mentality persists. 2015 and 2016 were volatile and transformative years for South Africa’s higher education institutions, catalysed in part by student protestor, Chumani Maxwele hurling faeces at the statue of Cecil John Rhodes that stood at the centre of the University of Cape Town. Maxwele’s performative act, motivated by persistent concerns around systemic violence and structural inequalities in higher education and society, set in motion the #RhodesMustFall campaign culminating in the overarching #FeesMustFall movement. Universities nationwide experienced shutdowns and unprecedented mass protest action against imminent fee increases. The term “fallism” became a way to identify the shared aims in the movements’ political philosophies, both as a literal description of the collapse of the statue and the whiteness it upholds, but also as a call to dismantle all the oppressive vestiges of colonialism that have no place in contemporary life. Worryingly, the student protesters were met by university mandated armed private security and police officers responding to protest action through uncalled-for and racialized violence. Indeed violence, vandalism, looting and hate speech were existent within the movements from its start but many of these tactics were strategic uses of violence that attempted to show how collective emancipatory civic action could fight injustice. Disturbingly both the university and the state’s response to young people and, in particular, black young people protesting was violence, fear-mongering, taunting and other forms of intimidation. This paper examines the dystopic policing of young people’s protest action and their tactical rejection of a history of policing inherited from a horrific past.