SAMRO-DALRO 2017 Colloquium: Summary of the main points of the discussion Fees Must Fall: Student Revolt, Decolonisation and Governance in South Africa, ed. Susan Booysen. Wits University Press, 2016. The discussants were Professor David Everatt, Head, Wits School of Governance, Professor Ashwin Desai, Sociology Department, University of Johannesburg and Sanele ka Ntshingana, MA student and activist, Rhodes University. Rev. Dr. Barney Pityana was in the chair.
Prof David Everatt
The #FMF book was written during the 2016 3FMF cycle of protest, and is an inevitably partial view of events, which were unfolding around us. The purpose was to draw together student leaders and activists - not the party political leaders, but thought-leaders such as Chikane and Mprofu-Walsh, as well as others involved in creative protest and from other sectors. They either wrote their own chapters, and/or co-authored with academics.
We also assembled a team of academics primarily from the Wits School of Governance, as well as Thad Metz from the University of Johannesburg (a philosopher) to try and offer a multi-disciplinary take on the protests.
Above all, we sought to apply critical analysis - we were not cheer-leaders for the protests, nor hostile to its causes, but very strongly asserted the right of all academics to comment on unfolding events. This was important because the student struggle changed between 2015 and 2016, descending - after winning the 0free increase % demand from government - into a cycle of self-pitying, race-bound protests that focused on the violence being done to ‘the African child’ or ‘the black body’.
Exclusivism, Africanism, racism and violence marked the protests of 2016 - in stark contrast with 2015 - as political parties emerged as student leaders, and the on-campus struggle became a proxy for broader political struggles un the country.
The student movement itself had faltered at confronting a key hurdle, namely class: most students leaders that gained a national platform came from the ‘elite’ universities, particularly
Wits and UCT; and within the movement(s), the leadership were overwhelmingly private school educated children of middle class families.
This created tension between universities - students at TUT, WSU, Fort Hare and elsewhere had been waging struggle for a decade with no coverage, until the ‘elites’ joined in. It also created deep divisions within the student movement itself, and many of the leaders of the 2014 #RMF and 20145 #FMF stepped aside or went to study abroad, clearing the field for a leadership that had no seeming interests in the academic project, but had a deep interest in the political project. The book is an attempt to capture this changing pattern of events, itself inevitably skewed by the fact that all authors were in Johannesburg, most were at Wits, and most were unhappy with the change that had occurred between 2015 and 2016. The story is still unfolding, and other authors will narrate that story.
Prof Ashwin Desai Booysen’s edited book presents a range of opinions. Here is an excerpt from the chapter by David Everatt:
By early 2016, as the academic year began, the movement faced the danger of replacing agency with a self-reinforcing victimhood in which “the African child” was the hapless victim of whiteness, white monopoly capital, and white “colonisation”. The “enemy” had shifted from an exploitative capitalist state managed by the ANC, that transferred the costs of education onto to students, to “whiteness” in all forms…The movement…increasingly offered racist tropes as it fragmented and shed broad-based support it had formerly employed (2016: 135-6). In the Chapter by Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, he ends his work with the sub-heading ‘Ambiguities’ while the chapter by Patrick Bond presents a resounding defence of the movement and celebrates its victories.
The central theme of my talk was the debate around decolonising the curriculum. While focussing on what some have called the imperialism of the humanities, I challenged the notion that we need a scorched earth policy.
The point of decolonisation of the curriculum is to develop knowledges that challenge the unequal power relations between the North and Africa. Fundamental to this quest, as Lather would have it, is to ‘produce different knowledge and . . . produce knowledge differently' (2001: 200). It is precisely how one defines ‘world leader’ and what constitutes ‘intellectual authority’ that is to be questioned. I also followed Connell’s point that part of decolonising is to democratise:
Major curriculum reform can hardly be achieved without greater democratisation of the university as an institution, and its relation to the wider society. Deep problems about knowledge formations are not going to be solved by managerial authority… I used the example of Sol Plaatje’s Native Life in South Africa, where in detailing the destruction of the African peasantry under the Land Act, he stirred up the works of English literary classics, Defoe’s Journal of Plague Year, Goldsmith’s Deserted Village and Cobbett’s Rural Rides.
I argue that this is an exemplar of how knowledge from the North and empirical detail from the South can be welded together into a powerful, pioneering analysis.
Sanele kaNtshingana Fees-must-fall needs to be located within Rhodes-Must-Fall movement, which started at the University of Cape Town in March 2015. The issues that were being raised by the Movement were issues that have been, for the longest time, raised by the historically black universities, e.g. University of Fort Hare and Walter Sisulu University. These issues however, gained a prominence, in the case of Rhodes-Must-Fall, partly because of the socio-political realms (previously white institutions) this conversation was situated in. These spaces are palatable to the media and the middle-class, hence there was so much reporting about it and less reporting about student issues in previously black universities.
Among the things students critiqued in the #MustFall movement, which I think was critical and should be emphasised is: the epistemic coloniality, International Benchmarking and Colonial Assimilation, Market Colonization and Corporatization of Academia (e.g. Declining state support for higher education because of neo-liberalism), Authoritarianism and Violence of Coloniality, Cheap Labour, Patriarchy and later on the fees. I emphasised that it is important, when we write these books on fees must fall to incorporate the marginalised perspectives coming from students who are in historically black universities as well as those in previously white universites. This should not be viewed as an affirmative action but a matter of historical accuracy. It is important to centre previously marginalized black women and queer bodies that were so central in building the Must-fall movement. In my own view, the Rhodes-must-fall movement lost momentum around August because of complexities in the movement. This is when the-fees-must-fall erupted. There were many things that made me to be ambivalent about this movement. Key among them was the lack of self-reflexivity, checking of oneâ€™s positionality in the conversation about issues we raised about fees. The conversation was led mostly by middle-class and privileged students, who isolated a lot of students who were working class. The conversations about gender on the other hand, black males in particular, were exposed to be complicit in their violence perpetuated against women and queer bodies. In conclusion, it seems in overall that the complexities about the questions of class, gender and race were difficult to resolve because of a lack of encompassing ideological stance and unity on the movement. It is thus important that when we talk of fees must fall to incorporate a variety of voices who come from different vantage points and position, in order to understand the complexity of the movement.
Rev. Dr Barney Pityana â€“ chair of colloquium
The dialogue was based on the book FEES MUST FALL edited by Prof Susan Booysen of the Wits School of Governance. Prof Booysen was not available to make the presentation. Instead the Head of the School, Prof David Barrat introduced the book. In doing so he cited the genesis of the book and explained that much of it was drawn from the experiences of academics and students at Wits as
the protests proceeded. Prof Everatt explained that while much was achieved by the protests, a lot however was left broken and needed to be rebuilt. Among those was the relationship between student formations and management, as well as the fact that divisions among students about strategy were also glaring.
Prof Ashwin Desai of the University of Johannesburg gave a very animated presentation explaining that there was much about the university that was not according to our expectations. For him it was critical that students exercise a degree of criticality as well as self examination because often the motives for taking particular actions must also be subject to examination. he gave examples about his own time at Rhodes University as well as the example of his mother.
The student representative who was very engaged in the Black Students Movement explained the dilemmas students felt and the divisions they had to contend with in embarking on the struggle. He believed that the voice of the students was not heard, especially the struggle of invisibility as a black student coming from circumstances of deprivation.
The audience, however, was much more inclined to point out that the student strikes were an elitist affair. For one thing much of what goes on at the universities like WSU and UFH are ignored, and the conditions at those universities are never taken into account. For them the reality of a skewed higher education system meant that movements like FMF concentrate attention on what are already privileged institutions.
The discussion then highlighted the discrepancies in the provision of higher education and the manner in which such replicate the injustices of apartheid. Secondly, it was felt that the student movement and their protests cannot be credible outside of the struggles of the people against poverty and alienation.