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27/03/2018 05:10 SAST | Updated 27/03/2018 05:10 SAST

What Lies Ahead For The #FeesMustFall Movement?

Universities as products of society resemble all of South Africa's atrocities.

South African students protest at Parliament on October 21, 2015 in Cape Town.
Nardus Engelbrecht/ Gallo Images/ Getty Images
South African students protest at Parliament on October 21, 2015 in Cape Town.

Black liberation, institutional reconstruction, the treatment of women, language at historically Afrikaans universities and teaching epistemologies were bound to be focal points for this year's #FeesMustFall movement.

Black students did not leave their homes with the intention of protesting, but the conditions they found themselves in at university led to their resistance. Black South Africans go through everyday experiences of oppression and to make matters worse, universities as products of society resemble all of South Africa's atrocities.

In 2015, students had a number of concerns, expressed under the banner of the #FeesMustFall movement and aimed at wide-ranging institutional transformation. The focus has been on a singular facet of the movement, the fees. It is a response to the concern raised around access to higher education for students from poor and working-class backgrounds, who will gain free education for their first year at varsity through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

Cornel van Heerden/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Wits University students block and barricade entrances to the institution during a #FeesMustFall protest on September 19, 2016 in Johannesburg.

The theme of fees and free education became dominant in the movement because it was about access, which often tends to be at the forefront of pressing national issues. However, this narrow agenda does not reflect the yearning for substantive transformation and as a result, students will continue their resistance to fight for institutional and societal transformation.

Writer and activist Sisonke Msimang dubs the movement "the death of compromise in South Africa". She notes: "In the conventional model of democratic politics, you put forward an idea, debate it and then work to build support for your view." Instead, "radicalism and intransigence are increasingly replacing compromise as the go-to instincts of the body politic". The Fallist approach comes into existence because we can no longer accept circumstances as they are or, as Frantz Fanon puts it, "we revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe".

Let us recap from 2007, when white students from Free State University urinated on food and forced black staff to consume it, and 2014, when white students from the University of Pretoria painted their faces black, padded their buttocks and dressed up in domestic workers' attire for a 21st birthday party.

Universities have not yet dismantled colonial structures, especially the historically white institutions.

It was also reported that at Pretoria University, student residences were separated in terms of race. Not so long ago, the Open Stellenbosch movement emerged from the University of Stellenbosch, challenging the use of the Afrikaans language as a means of communication in classes, residences and in staff meetings at the university.

Universities have not yet dismantled colonial structures, especially the historically white institutions.

Last year, the South African Reconciliation Barometer reported that white South Africans indicate higher levels of denial of past injustices and lower levels of support for redress. Black students continue demanding to be treated fairly and with respect. #FeesMustFall came as a result of the failure to address inequality and the lack of a decolonisation project.

Such a project would address the university culture that tends to under-represent black people and lags in urgently addressing social transformation. It would then pave the way for an array of black professors to be employed at higher education institutions. Africa Check reported in 2015 that only 303 of the 4,034 university professors were black; just 7.5 percent.

This university culture, without a doubt, stems from the day South Africa was captured by colonists. The history of higher education in the country dates back to 1829, when the South African College was created. It enrolled English and Afrikaner students.

The two ethnic groups had power struggles among each other to the point that Victoria College (now known as Stellenbosch University) was established in 1865 to teach only Afrikaner students and eventually, perpetuate their ideology. Black students started to access higher education after the creation of Fort Hare University in 1916.

At the beginning stages of the university, black students were segregated. As a result, they responded with protests and demonstrations. It is from such efforts that the institution became a black university. #FeesMustFall, therefore, embeds the same spirit, as some institutions continue to traumatise black students.

We need to take into account an Afrocentric education system similar to the route that Uganda and Kenya took after independence.

What we have right now are universities that aim for international recognition, therefore adopting Western policies, syllabuses and content. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'oin "Decolonising The Mind: The Politics of Language", expresses how tertiary education on the African continent is instituted from European universities. Black students are disintegrated from their points of references, history and the environment.

We learn of Africa through Western writers that have continuously devalued the African continent and its people into the idea that we are simply a group of tribes. It remains integral that we visit Professor Mahmood Mamdani's question on "how to teach Africa in a post-apartheid academy". To respond to the question, we need to take into account an Afrocentric education system similar to the route that Uganda and Kenya took after independence.

These countries understood the role that education played during oppression. As a result, nation-building for the independent societies included decolonising the education system. Universities are spaces where masculinity and heteronomy triumph, another aspect that needs urgent transformation.

Nardus Engelbrecht/ Gallo Images/ Getty Images
Protesting students in the #FeesMustFallMovement.

Women have to prove their capabilities because the workplace already has its perceptions about gender roles and authority. Usually, the heads of departments and deans are men, while women work as the junior staff. Black women are subjected to more than one kind of prejudice, and violence against queer people tends to be the norm.

Women and members of the LGBTQIA+ are silenced and alienated. Even in the #FeesMustFall movement, they are reduced to merely expanding the number of students during protest action. The regression of such a system requires the normalisation of intersectionality.

#FeesMustFall needs to drive a transformation agenda and impact on the ongoing national debate on the redistribution of land, as well as access to all other socioeconomic resources for the majority of South Africans.

Siphokuhle Mkancu is a communications and advocacy intern at The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. He holds a BTech in Media, Communication and Culture from the Nelson Mandela University

This article was first published on the IJR Newsletter and has been edited for HuffPost.