(Photo Credit: Thando Sipuye)
The #FeesMustFall movement, with its call for ‘Free De-colonial Education’, is portrayed as senseless hooliganism, and thus perceived as a potential threat, not only to universities and education in South Africa, but also, a threat to the State itself.
The ANC government understands that #FeesMustFall is loaded with revolutionary potential, and deals with the students as any neo-colonialist regime responds to perceived threat to its legitimacy.
Aware of historical revolutions, especially in the Afrikan continent, the government locates #FeesMustFall within the ambit of treason, mutiny, and hallucinatory imaginations of third-force conspiracies and allegations.
All socio-economic and political revolutions in the process of history-making are led and championed by young people – including young students who face and understand their contemporary struggles and oppressions through personal study of revolutionary literature, as well as their own individual personal experiences.
Black youth and students have always ushered in new ideas, new dispensations and revolutions throughout world history.
Most of the traditional Afrikan liberation movements and the guerrilla armies that waged wars against the white supremacist colonialist regimes in Afrika were largely composed of young Black people and students who sacrificed their lives for the ideas of freedom they believed in.
After independence in many Afrikan States, young people and students were, once again, jointly at the forefront of agitation, protest and revolts against the new neo-colonial regimes who continued to function as appendages of their former white oppressors.
Besides continuing to function as extensions of white supremacy, the new neo-colonial regimes were administrated by former liberation fighters, mostly men, who became arrogant, power-hungry elites – shutting their ears to cries and aspirations of the people.
In the former French colonies of Algeria and Tunisia the student movements continued with radical and militant action following the violent repression of the revolutionary movements between 1947 and 1950, years of bloody massacres, violent riots, political assassinations and incarcerations.
In Cote d’Ivorie (Ivory Coast), the young graduates returning home from French universities formed youth wing branches of their movement all over the country and began to attack the government’s economic policies as being conservative, accusing president Houphouet-Boigny of being a puppet of French neo-colonial and business interests.
This student action in Cote d’Ivorie and rumours of anti-government conspiracies resulted in the State building up a 6000-strong and well-armed militia to guard against a civil or student uprising or an army coup. In this violent way, Houphouet-Boigny contained the student protest of 1968.
Again in Cote d’Ivorie, the youth and students were at the centre of the conflict and crisis that gripped the country after October 2010 national elections. University spaces became sites and spaces of struggle as tension increased between pro-Gbagbo and pro-Outtara supporters.
Here, a number of universities, such as those in the cities of Abijan, Daloa and Korhogo, were forced to shut down indefinitely, while others were transformed into extemporized military training zones and camps.
In Kenya, student protest action began before Kenya even became an independent nation, in 1961, when students protested against being addressed by a white colonial officer. And again in 1965, when the USA bombed villages in Uganda, Kenyan students took to the streets with riots and protests which were characterised as ‘violent’.
These protests continued right through the 1970’s to the 1980’s against the British hangings of Afrikan people in the then Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Kenyan government’s banning of Oginga Odianga from addressing students and the mysterious deaths of prominent political leaders, Josiah Mwangi Kariuki and Robert Ouko.
In Senegal, throughout most of the 1970’s and 1980’s the University of Dakar earned the reputation of being a hotbed of revolutionary politics due to student agitation, acute revolutionary articulation and protests.
In Uganda, students at Makerere University were largely influenced by anti-colonial and Pan-Afrikanist revolutions taking place on the continent in the 1960’s. The same Makerere University students eventually planned the initial rebellion that finally led to the ousting of Idi Amin.
In Ethiopia, it was the political actions and relentless campaigns of the Ethiopian student movement which led to the coup and overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1975. It was the students that revolted and rendered Universities ungovernable who cultivated an atmosphere and ground for the takeover of State power by the armed forces (Dergue) led by Mengistu Haile Miriam.
The same Ethiopian student movement, as well as the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party, later led the revolution against Mengistu’s ruthless and repressive Dergue regime military junta, resulting in the takeover by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in May 1991.
In South Africa, after the banning of the ANC and the PAC in 1960, the young students formed the South African Student Origination (SASO) in 1968 which developed and advanced the philosophy of Black Consciousness.
It was most of these ‘nameless’ and ‘unknown’ Black youth and students that eventually brought apartheid to a standstill, through protests, stay-aways and boycotts, causing numerous states of emergencies in ghettos throughout the country in the 70’s and 80’s.
Many of them were detained, imprisoned, banned, kidnapped, tortured and killed. They were regarded as criminals, terrorists and inciters by the white supremacist apartheid State. Many fled to exile and never returned. Some died at home.
More recently, young people and students were central in leading radical protests that shaped and led to both the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions (Arab Spring) that resulted in the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi and President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
In all the above stated cases, governments hounded up student movements ruthlessly, using maximum force of violence through their security forces – rubber bullets, live ammunition, threats, infiltration, torture and arrests; and also employing division, mistrust and demagogy within student and youth ranks to demonize, criminalize, frustrate, isolate and eliminate the ‘trouble-makers’ and ‘rebel-rousers’.
It is against this historical background, among other factors, that we must read and locate the rehearsed violent reactions and responses of the ANC-led government towards Black students calling for #FeesMusFall and #FreeDecolonizedEducation.
When the Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, and the Acting National Police Commissioner, Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane, talk about a mythical “third force” that has taken over the student movement, and stating that “student’s actions amount to an attack on the State”, they are constructing a pretext for the justification of State violence against students.
Portraying the students as criminals by incarcerating them and casting them as being “infiltrated by people who have different objectives to the students and are planning to provoke another Marikana”, the government forging an alibi for its violence and repression.
As such, through its fourth arm, the media, the South African government have cunningly convinced the whole public in their narrow blanket condemnation of student ‘violence & destruction of property’.
Yet, dololo condemnation of institutional violence – epistemic violence waged on students by the racist Eurocentric educational system – destruction of identities, personalities and minds of Afrikan children.
White properties – buildings, bins, cars, windows, doors, chairs, computers, overhead projectors and the like – remain much more important ‘property’ than Black minds or Black lives in this country of double-standards and disguised hypocrisy.
So, the perpetual violence against Black students and Black people in general, is not only institutionalized; it is normalized. The epistemic war against Black minds is not only acceptable; it is protected by police, bullets, stunt grenades and the colonial law/judicial system.
Black students are part of the broader society, and their struggles are not isolated from the general and daily struggles of their communities which manifest as so-called service delivery protests and labour dispute strikes.
And the government responds in the same manner in all Black community struggles. It assembles its police. It instils fear in the people. It shoots. It imprisons. It silences. It kills.
The oligarchy realizes that the student movement could catalyse a total revolution in this country if student protests could spill over to ghettos, villages, townships and cities. For this reason, #FeesMustFall currently poses the greatest threat to national security in South Africa, as defined by the government.
So, it must be crushed and ridiculed.
The #FeesMustFall movement is not merely about the issue of high tertiary fees and fee increments in universities, but speaks to broader issues of content of curricular, episteme, socio-economic inequalities, structural racism, neo-colonialism and the perpetual land dispossession of Black people.
#FeesMustFall is a critique of the whole current socio-economic and political order under the ANC regime; it exposes the bloated arrogance and implicit complicity of the current government in the continued oppression of Black people and repression of their aspirations.
As extensions of the neo-colonial South African State, Universities inflict the most dangerous form of violence on Black youth and students, epistemic violence – soft, silent and invisible. But it destroys Black minds. It manifests itself as generational self-hatred and low self-esteem in the Black community.
Universities continue to produce Eurocentric knowledge, ideas and narratives that portray Afrikans as mere backward consumers of foreign ideas; a race of people who never produced any constructive ideas or innovations, a people who never contributed anything worthwhile in the fields of the sciences and technology.
This is epistemic violence – a complete dehumanization of Black students and falsification of history and reality.
It is an attack on Afrikan minds/consciousness. Black people and students are expected to endure this violence, for how long? This is the most dangerous and sophisticated kind of violence.
Then the Universities collaborate with the State and Police to repress and suppress the students through incarcerations, rubber bullets, stunt grenades, pepper-sprays, threats, kidnaps and arrests.
We’ve seen students brutalized by armed police and so-called private securities who are ordered and deployed to university campuses to protect white property, not bodies and minds of Black students.
Another legitimized and justified State violence.
Yet, regardless of all this, students are resolute that they are not backing down and are willing to ‘die’ for their cause. With many interdicted, suspended indefinitely, expelled, imprisoned and excluded, students have nothing to lose.
The most critical question is whether or not the #FeesMustFall movement realizes and understands the potential threat it poses to the current government; in simple terms, are the students ready to do the necessary community work that is required to wage a total revolution? Perhaps, with more focused and planned organizing.
Time and history will tell.
By Thando Sipuye
Thando Sipuye is an executive member of The Ankh Foundation and the Africentrik Study Group at the University of Sobukwe (Fort Hare). He is currently a postgraduate History Masters Candidate at the Govan Mbeki Research & Development Centre under the South African Research Chairs Initiative at the University of Sobukwe. He writes in his personal capacity.