Activation of Student Politics and Activism Through #FeesMustFall Campaign in South African Universities

Activation of Student Politics and Activism Through #FeesMustFall Campaign in South African Universities

Ndwakhulu Stephen Tshishonga (University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9388-1.ch010
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This chapter critically analyses the FeesMustFall (FMF) campaign led by tertiary students between 2015 and 2017 academic years and its impact in (de)activating student politics and activism at South African universities. Students through their various formations and movements went on a rampage. Considering the decline of students' activism compounded by the dominance of mainstream political parties on campuses, this chapter argues that the 2015-2017 FMF campaign revived the student movement and was fundamental in activating student politics and activism. The chapter argues that despite the sporadic activities led by students, the student movement's activism is in decline. Since this is qualitative study, data from secondary sources (books, accredited journals) were utilized, supplemented by empirical data from selected interviews with individual students and student movements involved in the FMF campaign.
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Background: Profile Of Student Politics And Activism

Student activism in Africa, including South Africa is attached to youth-student struggles pertaining to the broader socio-economic and political struggles as well as governance of higher education institutions (Garwe, 2017; Klemencic, Luescher & Mugume, 2016). Societal challenges and predicaments are interwoven with those encountered by both youth and students; hence the students’ solidarity with workers’ struggles. Institutions forged during colonialism and the apartheid era served to subject indigenous people to inferior education (Deepen, 2004). Thus, decades of colonialism and apartheid have had devastating effects on the minds of the colonised and as such, left fragmented and dysfunctional institutions, including institutions of higher learning. Precolonial formal higher education could be traced to Northern Africa, currently known as Arabic Africa (Lulat, 2003). By tracing the history of higher education in Africa, Lulat (2003) refuted the notion that the African development of higher education was linked to European colonialism. The formation of student politics was an integral component of ‘Africans’ agitation for independence and for increased higher education’ (Oanda, 2016, p. 63). In Africa, the oldest universities according to Teferra & Altbach (2003, p. 4), existed in Egypt’s Al-Azhhar, Ethiopia and the Kingdom of Timbuktu. Due to the dominance of colonialism and apartheid, almost all African universities ended up adopting the Western model of an academic organisation and scholarship (Lulat, 2003). For Connell (2016, p. 2) South-based universities’ role was governed by the enduring logics of coloniality. Such academic formations served to transmit racial discrimination and colonial oppressive knowledge systems foreign to Africans (Qunta, 2016). Despite the historical reality that Africa is politically free, her freedom has not fully transformed universities into academic institutions autonomous to discharge their responsibilities of upskilling and educating the people.

Key Terms in this Chapter

#FeesMustFall Campaign: Is a nation-wide campaign started and led by South African university students staged to demand for free: quality and decolonized higher education.

Student Activism: Entails a variety of oppositional and radical forms of public expression of student power such as negotiation and protests, the aim being to voice their grievances and express their preferences to university management or the department of education.

Student Politics: These are politics which involve issues and challenges that affect student welfare, academic and student governance.

Student Representation: Implies the formal structures and processes of elected or appointed student representatives who through democratic election have the authority to speak or act on behalf of the collective student body in higher education governance structures.

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