A collected volume of chapters called Writing and Rioting: Diaries of the Wits Fallists is to be launched this July, containing a detailed account and analysis of the #FeesMustFall movement by PARI researcher, Hlengiwe Ndlovu. Her chapter captures the zeitgeist from October 14 to February 2016, and provides a subjective narrative on the momentous students’ and workers’ struggle.
In their collective introduction, the ‘fallists’ define #FeesMustFall as “an attempt from below to disrupt this unequal, racialized social and economic order” that questioned the idea of the university in a post-colonial society. They go on to describe the movement’s contribution as having brought the critical student movement back to the fore of politics, giving students “an opportunity to reclaim their position as protagonists of transformation in society”.
Ndlovu’s conclusion is a summary of her poetic and insightful chapter:
The #FeesMustFall movement emerged in 2015 resurfaced in 2016, this time with more police brutality and less public support. It is not yet clear on how the movement will progress in 2017 since most of the critical issues pertaining to the commoditisation of education and the decolonisation project have remained unaddressed.
In this chapter I have explained the #FeesMustFall movement journey from its evolution on the 14th of October 2015 and some reflection on what happened in 2016. I have focused on some of the major events of 2015 that have left a historic mark on student protests and student activism in South African history. I have discussed the night with our management at Solomon Mahlangu House and argued that this marked a shift in power dynamics from the university management to the students and workers. I have also discussed the march to Luthuli House and argued that this was the turning point of #FeesMustFall as a politically neutral movement. Political fractures began to expose the myths about its neutrality. I have also highlighted the events at the Union Buildings. I argued that the march itself exposed the privilege of Wits students. Above everything, it was a symbolic performance by the government to save the face of both the ANC as a movement, and the President in particular.
Finally, I have discussed the invasion of the SASCO meeting during the 2015 #FeesMustFall, and argued that it was the final blow to the movement. The events of that day were to define the future of the movement and the political landscape moving forward. It was the events of the invasion of the SASCO meeting that created the uncertainties and mistrust of the SRC that characterised the movement in 2016. #FeesMustFall remains an incomplete struggle with many contradictions.
However, the solidarity between students and workers is one of its most important achievements. Although the zero percent fee increase of 2015 did not solve the structural problem of exclusion, the struggle unearthed some important questions on transformation and decolonisation. While we were waiting for insourcing, workers salaries were increased from R2 500 (what Benita Msibi earned at the beginning of #FeesMustFall) to R6 500 per month as a minimum wage for all workers. Although there are still problems with insourcing, as not all workers will be insourced by 2017, at least some progress has been made.