Nompendulo Mkatshwa Wits SRC President-Elect leading the protests. (Photo Credit: Marco Longari AFP)
Nompendulo Mkatshwa Wits SRC President-Elect leading the protests. (Photo Credit: Marco Longari AFP)

I take off my hat to the students at South African universities. For me, 2015 is most certainly the Year of the South African Student. From #RhodesMustFall at UCT, #Luister and #OpenStellies at Stellenbosch, #BlackStudentMovement at the University currently known as Rhodes and now #FeesMustFall which started over a week ago at Wits but has spread nationwide, South African students are taking the charge and actively pursuing the change they wish to see in their country.

October 21, 2015 will be remembered as an important day in the history of South Africa. University students in Cape Town marched to parliament to protest the over 10 percent increases in their tuition for the coming year. The scenes were electrifying. Thousands of students gathered outside parliament demanding Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande and President Jacob Zuma come out and address them on their concerns about the fees increases.

Students sitting outside SA Parliament in Cape Town waiting for Blade Nzimande and Jacob Zuma (Photo Credit: Sarah Koopman)
Students sitting outside SA Parliament in Cape Town waiting for Blade Nzimande and Jacob Zuma (Photo Credit: Sarah Koopman)
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Students stand with hands raised in peaceful protest outside SA parliament. (Photo Credit: Imraan Christian)

What happened next was similar to the horror of the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Students who were peacefully demonstrating as per their constitutional right were attacked by the South African Police and some arrested and charged with high treason though the charges were later dropped.

SA Police attacking students outside Parliament (Photo Credit: Imraan Christian)
SA Police attacking students outside Parliament (Photo Credit: Imraan Christian)
SA Police attacking students outside Parliament (Photo Credit: Imraan Christian)
SA Police attacking students outside Parliament (Photo Credit: Imraan Christian)
SA Police attacking students outside Parliament (Photo Credit: Imraan Christian)
SA Police attacking students outside Parliament (Photo Credit: Imraan Christian)

The brutality shown by the police thus far in Cape Town and other parts of the country is reminiscent of June 16, 1976 when students were attacked by Apartheid police after demonstrating for equal education and against Bantu education. How is it that the ANC government has forgotten what they fought against and forgotten their mandate?

Student outside SA PArliament asks
Student outside SA PArliament asks “1976?” (Photo Credit: Imraan Christian)

Part of the Freedom Charter, the founding principles and values of the ANC reads:

Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children; Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit

Education is the greatest equaliser and Jacob Zuma and his government need to take seriously the concerns of his people. The systemic inequality that exists in South Africa can be corrected if the collective will of the government, private sector and civil society work together not only to educate the masses but also uplift the general condition of the poor.

Yesterday students in Johannesburg from Wits, UJ and other universities marched to Luthuli House, the home of the ANC. There, under the leadership of Wits SRC Presidents, Mcebo Dlamini, Shaeera Kalla and Nompendulo Mkatshwa the students delivered a memorandum to ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe.

Aptly placed Jim Beam billboard that reads “Make History” next to Joburg students crossing the Nelson Mandela Bridge on their way to Luthuli House. (Photo Credit: Alex Storey)

What is important to note is how the youth in South Africa have become united around a cause. This #FeesMustFall movement has transcended race, class, and political ideology. Students from ALL backgrounds have been picketing, demonstrating, singing, brutalised by police and arrested.

The students have also remained resolute and have refused for political parties to attempt to co-opt their struggle. The DA’s Mmusi Maimane was booed and chased away by UCT students, EFF members were given the same treatment outside parliament and at Luthuli House the students refused to let Gwede Mantashe speaks saying he did not invite them and so they did not want to hear from him.

This is above and beyond the politicking that South African political parties are used to and they are clueless. The ANC has responded with typical feigned superiority attempting to shift blame to the university VCs. Blade Nzimande arrogantly said that if the students do not understand them, they would start their own “students must fall movement” and then he laughed.

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The ANC must realise is that it can no longer hide behind it’s revolutionary anti-Apartheid badge of honour. This is not about political power but about the issues! The students are coming to collect on the promises made 21 years ago when South Africa became independent.

And this is why the opposition has also been left out in the cold. In fact this goes to show that civil society pressure groups are more important and have greater influence than opposition parties. Under no circumstance would the DA or the EFF be able to mobilise such a number of young people for a week long (and counting) protest. Universities have literally been shut down.

Young people have seen the power and influence they yield when they come together behind a cause. Not only have they protested but they have presented solutions to their problems. This is similar to the manner in which Affirmative Repositioning movement in Namibia handled their demand for land.

They did not just demonstrate, apply for land and give the government an ultimatum as to when their demands should be made but they drafted a housing charter with solutions which they presented to government. The result, 200 000 plots to be serviced after AR leaders met with the government a week before the ultimatum expired.

The South African government must realise that the students voice will be heard. This is not the EFF who can be sanctioned for making noise in parliament. This is not the DA who Zuma can make fun off in his speeches. This is the South African youth and each day they are ignored means another day they will protest.

Students protesting at the University of Stellenbosch (Photo Credit: Nigel Zhuwaki)
Students protesting at the University of Stellenbosch (Photo Credit: Nigel Zhuwaki)

Not only can this revolution not be hijacked but the government and media can also not control the narrative. Traditional media has tried to paint the students first as poor and black and then as hooligans the power of social media has come through and superseded the voice of mass media to tell the truth the youth wish to be told.

The revolution will not only be televised but it will also be tweeted, facebooked and instagrammed and in the hands of those who lead it. I must commend Cape Argus newspaper for allowing the protesting students to co-edit today’s edition of the paper. The voice of the youth is too loud to be silenced.

It is also heartening to see that this revolution is women led. This issue is an intersectional one that goes beyond the inability to afford uni fees. Black women the most marginalised group in society and finanical exclusion from univerisity does not only affect the students but also their mothers who make incredible sacrifices in order for their children to get a better life. To the women of my generation and this movement, I salute you.

I also salute the fact that the students have refused closed door meetings with the government and want their concerns addressed in public show their resilience and resolve. The ANC won political independence and now the youth have led a charge for economic independence, a statement made by Wits SRC President Elect Nompendulo Mkatshwa

Today the students march to Union Buildings in Pretoria to continue their protest. To them I say fambai zvakanaka (go well). I stand in solidarity with you. No longer must African governments neglect our voice, the voice of the youth. The demands that you have made this week are well within your rights and it is your right to call out the government for not adhering to its mandate.

For too long the youth have been sidelined and told condescendingly to “wait their turn”. Well today the youth in South Africa have stood up and shouted Ke Nako (the time has come). It is time that African governments learn to deliver on their promises. #FeesMustFall #Asijiki

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