For one to respond to the question, “what must rise if fees do fall?”, we need to understand a few things concerning #FeesMustFall as a movement.
It must be said that #FeesMustFall has been a fragmented struggle for too long, since 2015. By fragmented, I mean that the way the movement has been carrying itself from its inception has been in slices.
You would find #WitsFeesMustFall, #UCTFeesMustFall, #TUTFeesMustFall and so forth. All these institutions call for free decolonised education, as well as a variety of other demands specific to their campuses, and responded to by their vice chancellors. For example, the memorandum of TUT students to their vice chancellor was very different from the one of Wits, seemingly because they are from different environments. Both groups, however, demand free decolonised education and reject paying fees.
For a long time, #FeesMustFall was effective without structured top-down leadership. Because it has always pushed its struggle on a flat structure, it is often difficult to understand the character of this movement and the principles it stands for as a whole. However, it is safe to say the movement seems to be dominated by ideas of Black Consciousness, Pan Africanism and Black Feminism in most historically disadvantaged universities (TUT, UL, Fort Hare) across the country, while at universities like UCT, Wits and Stellenbosch there is an addition of intersectionality. The intersection of Black Feminism and queer politics has been mostly welcomed in the movement as well.
Of course, #FeesMustFall goes beyond fees. It speaks to the content of what one is given as education at universities, as well as the unequal socio-economic conditions black and white students have to face. For example, access to education for a white child is an entirely different concept than access for a black South African student. I am not playing the race card, but it is safe to catalogue this scenario for these are true realities where we study.
For example, for a black student to get into a university, luck has to be on your side. During January registrations, you will visit a number of financial support offices to apply for Edu-loans or NSFAS loans. Sometimes you will not receive NSFAS funding, even if you qualify, because NSFAS will have insufficient funds for that academic year.
If you’re lucky and do receive NSFAS funding, you will have to provide papers again explaining how poor you are, year in and year out. Each year you have to pray that the following year you will be included in the system again. If luck is not on your side, the following year you will lose your NSFAS assistance and will have to struggle again, trying to find alternative ways to fund your education.
NSFAS is not a solution to inequalities facing people of this country. Rather, it is an extension that seeks to create more inequalities. While those who are privileged go to a workplace and start their life, those who were NSFAS beneficiaries have to start paying off their NSFAS loan. Of course, this is a different case for those who are privileged. The truth is that access to education for blacks is always a struggle. The commodification of education makes it a struggle, as it rejects the poor. This is the biggest cause of continued inequality and poverty in our country.
The #FeesMustFall movement is calling for a reformed pedagogy that will address the South African experiences and help to heal the emotional and psychological scars left by apartheid and colonialism. This includes legitimising African modes of thought and theory and presenting South African students with an African centered education that seek to recognise our own indigenous history. It also speaks to practical changes which must be made in historically white universities for the education space to be transformed for all. For instance, #WitsFeesMustFall submitted their “transformation memorandum”, which highlighted four main concerns: a lack of black African staff; a lack of student representation in decision-making structures of the university; limited academic development; and poor African and global south scholarships.
The reasoning is that colonised education is so misleading that by virtue of simply being trained in a colonised institution, by the time you leave the institution your mind will be captured and when you go back to the community, you will deliver its mandate through developing selfish tendencies. So long as the university culture is very white, elitist, patriarchal and heteronormative, black bodies must strive for a space that does not oppose black success.
Back to the question of what must rise. Afrocentric education must rise to advance the interests of Africans since Eurocentrism does not serve our interests culturally, socially and economically, nor does it resolve the issues of Africa. Fee-free education must rise. Black students should never have to access education by means of luck. Education must be a social benefit for everyone and must never be a commodity to be received by only those who meet the financial requirements. The call for complete democracy and freedoms for all must rise, equality and equal opportunities for all must rise, and that starts with every child receiving free, quality, decolonised, Afrocentric education.
Surely, this is my opinion. Nonetheless, #FeesMustFall is just a component of a greater idea of the Fallist movement, which is a movement dominated by young people who are determined to bring about change in this country. These are young people who want to define freedom and democracy on their own terms.
I dare say that the decade 2015 to 2025 will be a decade of groundbreaking changes in our country.