The Fees Must Fall movement is seemingly struggling to get off the ground in 2017.
In the past month, three universities have started protests, with the call for free education at the centre of their concerns. Students at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) have also been protesting for the demilitarisation of their campuses as well as financial exclusions, University of Cape Town (UCT) students have demanded that President Jacob Zuma release the fees commission report on free higher education, and students at the University of Free State (UFS) started protesting after the institution announced an 8 percent fee hike.
Despite this, the movement has still not gained momentum, with only a small number of students showing interest in protesting. The planned UCT shutdown was allegedly a flop, with only five students attempting to bring all activities at the institution to a standstill.
— Magcwanini (@Ntombiyesizwe) October 12, 2017
Y'all so who were the 5 students who tried to shutdown UCT on Tuesday?😂— Blossom♥️ (@shonasauce_) October 4, 2017
5 students are disrupting classes at uct... only 5. Is this a joke or what?— Aashiq (@UncleSalie) October 3, 2017
5 students are currently disrupting classes at UCT's Upper Campus. pic.twitter.com/YOv7AMaPwo— VERNAC NEWS (@VernacNews) October 3, 2017
University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) lecturer Vishwas Satgar told HuffPost that the issues relating to the decline of the movement were threefold. "The movement is unable to claim its victories because of internal fracturing and ideological differences," Satgar said.
The second issue he highlighted was the movement's association with violence. Satgar said the link between the movement and violence "undermines the legitimacy of the struggle".
"That is a big challenge for the movement, compared to the protests in 2015, which were non-violent and relatively united," he explained.
Satgar also said student politics was now infused with politics at a national level. He makes an example of the Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command, who might be used as an "instrument" for the national structure.
However, Satgar believes that the movement has not totally died down. He said free education is still a very important and topical issue, and that the mounting confusion has been caused by the change in leadership.
"It is a shifting space; how the continuity goes brings a set of challenges," he said.
University of KwaZulu-Natal SRC president Kwanele Mbatha explained that although students at the institution were not protesting, the fight for free education was not over.
"We can never stand and look while other places [universities] fight... we have to make sure our voices are heard," he said.
He said that students at the institution were not protesting because management "was able to understand issues on the ground".
"So far, we have not seen it to be justifiable to destabilise the university... the institution has made sure that our students are not victims of financial exclusion," he said.
Mbatha said that even if the official fees commission report states that free education is not feasible, the student leadership will not be hasty in declaring a shutdown.
"Our duty as student leadership is to go and negotiate with the university," he said.