WARNING: The following contains graphic imagery
Students all over the world are known as the game changers of society. We are the ones who make a fuss about things that matter to us and we have enough youthful spirit combined with radical ideas to make a big change in our communities. In South Africa, a student movement is rearing its head again to attack the forces at bay. These students are trying their hardest to stay in university but, as is the case in many developing countries, they cannot afford to stay in school. This is what prompted the creation of the movement in October 2015: #FeesMustFall.
Although South Africa has one of the leading economies in Africa, there is still mass unemployment and household income can get as low as R54 344 (4877.09 CAD) per year. It is because of this that children are encouraged and even forced to go to university, since there is a misnomer that if you have a university degree, you can automatically get a job.
Many learners all over South Africa are applying to universities around the country, in particular the two big universities: the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) and the University of Cape Town (UCT). These universities raise their tuition every year to keep up with inflation as well as to pay for other expenses. This is hard within the context of South Africa because often amount earned by the payee of the university tuition doesn’t go up enough to be able to afford to finish the degree. Even with grants received from the government or bursaries given by companies, it is not enough in order to pay the tuition. The fact that a job is not guaranteed at the end of the degree coupled with this created a boiling pot of discontent of discontent amongst students. This boiling pot burst open on October 12th 2015 when WITS released a statement saying it would be raising the 2016 tuition by 10.5% despite the6% inflation rate of 2015.
Although there were a number of reasons for this, it was unsustainable for students to pay, as many could not afford that and the grants from the government were not updated to afford this type of increase. The WITS students erupted in protests against this and officially started protesting on October 12th 2015. They shut down the university and on October 17th, WITS staff announced they would suspend the raised tuition and negotiate a settlement. It was around this time that the #FeesMustFall movement reached the other universities in the country, particularly UCT and Rhodes University. UCT students began barricading the roads to the campus in an effort to get the safe suspension of the raised tuition (which was 10.3%) that WITS did students got.
This movement was led by many members of a previous movement in the UCT: #RhodesMustFall and so had the clout within the media to stir up more coverage. Arguably this was a factor that allowed the #FeesMustFall movement to grow so rapidly.
On October 21st 2015, approximately 5000 students marched on South African Parliament in Cape Town to call attention to their plight. This was because the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, as well as the Minister of Higher Educaltion, Blade Nzimande, were there. It was at this march that things went south, as the students broke into parliament to stage a sit in. These students where then forced out by riot police who used tasers, stun grenades, riot shields and coloured gas and some were arrested. The movement had become country wide at this point, with almost all universities in the county staging some sort of protest.
It was only on October 23rd that the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, announced that there would be no increase of university fees in 2016. While this was a win for the students, it did not address the fact that the universities will have to raise their fees in coming years, at least to battle inflation. It was due to this that the professors at some of the universities had their pay raise cut to below inflation, so that funds lost from the lack of tuition could be replenished. And with a new movement arising fighting the growth of tuition, #FeesMustFallReloaded, how will the universities be able to keep afloat?
Although university tuition is relatively high at U of T, we must always remember that we do not have the same devastating problems as some people do, some students do, in other parts of the world. However, it is because of this that we don’t have some of the hard won victories like #FeesMustFall. The question is, should we?
Never forget your power as a student, and never forget that we have the power to shape our futures!
WITS UNIVERSITY SUSPENDS 10.5 PERCENT FEE HIKE”. Eye Witness News. 17 October 2015.
Masego Rahlaga. “‘NO PUNISHMENT PLANNED’ FOR PROTESTING WITS STUDENTS”. Eye Witness News. 17 October 2015.
Christian, Imraan. “Imraan Christian’s Firsthand Account of the #FeesMustFall Protest at UCT”. 10and5.com