#FeesMustFall Campaign and the Quest for Accessible, Quality, and Decolonized Higher Education in South Africa

#FeesMustFall Campaign and the Quest for Accessible, Quality, and Decolonized Higher Education in South Africa

Ndwakhulu Stephen Tshishonga (University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8461-2.ch007
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This chapter is framed within the broader context of the transformative agenda of higher education sector in post-apartheid South Africa. The #FeesMustFall campaign started late October 2015 and the entire 2016 and has grown to become one of the biggest movements ever witnessed in the history of South African student politics. Similarly to the struggle waged by 1976 youth against the dominance of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction, FMF challenges the current government and universities to provide free, quality, and decolonized higher education. The slow pace of transformation, inaccessibility institutions due to fee increment, and Eurocentric curriculum, among others prompted the students to demand accessible financial inclusion and education relevant to their needs and reality. The chapter makes use of qualitative approach with both secondary and primary data extracted from books, accredited articles, and empirical data from selected participants.
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Formal education in Africa and particularly in South Africa has a protracted history dating to the colonial and apartheid period. Castell (2001, p. 212) asserts that universities in particular are rooted in a colonial past. Unfortunately, formal education in most African countries was introduced during colonial times and was an instrument used by colonisers to train low-level clerical staff (Nshemererwe, 2016, p. 9). Similarly, education in South Africa has colonial-apartheid baggage with social, economic and political implications. Higher education is recognised as a major resource, especially for national development and knowledge production, however, it was also noticed that its structure and capacity was dented by apartheid’s inheritance (ANC, 1994). Education in general and higher education in particular was pursued and encouraged for a domestication agenda as opposed to developing analytical and independent African thinkers and scholars. In essence, colonial education, borrowing from the Brazilian scholar, Freire (1993), highlighted that ‘banking’ education was designed to domesticate rather than ‘problem-posing’ aimed at liberating students. Freire further argues that the education system became a weapon of oppression and those who ran it were the oppressors. However, the attainment of independence saw the exodus of Africans to overseas universities and colleges to acquire education and training. The hunger for knowledge was prompted by these African scholars to assume leadership positions in government and educational institutions in post-colonial period. The crisis in education is fueled by the disconnection between education and employment coupled by a lack of resources for young people to acquire technical and vocational training demanded by the work force (World Bank Group, 2018). Honwana (2013, p. 39) argues that educational systems in Africa are unable to provide youth with the tools they need to compete in a labour market which requires high levels of specialised technical skills. However, in the African continent, the quest for accessible and quality education was reiterated by policy articulations and numerous struggles waged by students across the continent (Luyat, 2003). Despite the commitments shown by African governments through policy promulgated and signatories geared towards improving education sectors at all levels, Africa’s education remains poor compared to their counterparts in the world. More than two decades of democratic governance as part of redress has seen the opening up of previously only white institutions (English and Afrikaans) such as Pretoria, Stellenbosch, Free State, Rand Afrikaanse (now University of Johannesburg) for black students for the first time.

Education remains one of the contested sectors and obstacles for South Africa’s integrated development. With its central role in developing a skilled and competent work force, higher education is challenged to offer relevant and competitive education. The so called decolonised education has resulted in restructuring dynamics which forms this type of education. For many students around the globe, higher education is recognised as an engine of national economic growth, a provider of the opportunities and prosperity given to Teferra and Altbach (2003) individuals (Johnstone, 2003). These students strongly believe that higher education which is free could be an instrument of social justice, excessively reducing the stigma attached to the poor standards of living, while increasing growth externalities for all irrespective of ones’ economic status (Wangenga-Ouma, 2012). With that being said, the following study intends to examine the history of the FeesMustFall movement, the implications associated with the campaign as well as the stand in which the government took in response to the demands of furious students who ultimately fuelled most of the universities with violence.

Key Terms in this Chapter

National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS): It is a financial scheme for needy tertiary students established through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme Act of 1999 which provide students with bursaries and loans to cover tuition fees, accommodation and food allowances.

FeesMustFall: It is a campaign or movement initiated between 2015 and 2016 led by South African tertiary students demanding free, quality, and decolonized education. This campaign was triggered by increasing tuition fees for 2016 as well as incomplete higher education sector.

Decolonized Education: It is the education system with curriculum that is not influenced by Western knowledge systems and curriculum, language, cultural background.

Higher Education: It is an education that is provided mainly for universities, college, or post-schooling students at institutions of higher learning, be they public or private.

1976 Student Revolt: It is known to be the revolution waged by both the secondary and tertiary students fighting against the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction and broadly the discriminatory and exploitative apartheid regime.

Eurocentric Curriculum: It is an educational curriculum that is dominated by Eurocentric or Western knowledge systems.

Quality Education: It is an education in which its curriculum is of great quality and designed to impart relevant skills, knowledge enabling students to gain academic competencies for socio-economic survival.

Ikusasa Student Financial Programme: It is a funding model for poor and middle-income students proposed by government that advocate for the contributions from donors, private, and public sectors.

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