The #FeesMustFall movement has gained international recognition since its inception in 2015 and shows no signs of stopping in 2017.
The media was rampant with its coverage of the protests, which left many people feeling confused and conflicted about FMF. Who was telling the truth, and whose side should they be on? Was it the government, the media, the police, or the students?
One of the student leaders from Wits, Busisiwe Cathrine Seabe, has been at the forefront of FMF. She was arrested twice and even hospitalised in connection with the campaign. The first arrest occurred after she entered Bidvest stadium with a #FeesMustFall banner during a game, while the second was over “asking too many questions” during protests.
As an activist, Busisiwe has now shed some light on to the controversial movement and provided some much-needed answers.
What does #FeestMustFall mean to you?
It is more than just a movement centred around fee increments but is also heavily intertwined with the struggle of workers, our parents and thus any liberation or victory of students is void without the advancement and insourcing of workers and the unemployed. #FeesMusFall is an extension of the #RhodesMustFall movement. It came as a response to the ridiculousness that is the education system as an entirety in South Africa. The fact that South Africa spends 0.75% of its GDP on tertiary education, which is less than the African or world average, was something that we as students, that I myself as an individual, found unacceptable. Education in this country had been and continues to be commodified, which means only a certain calibre of people are able to access higher education, let alone good quality primary and secondary education.
Echoing the same sentiments as the protests at Wits in 1995 and in the #RhodesMustFall, #FMF is also a call for decolonialization and not transformation. It seeks to address the lack of social decolonisation and transformation as well as broader socioeconomic and racial inequality issues. #FMF is our generational obligation, and it is one we intend on seeing through to the best of our ability. #FMF speaks to identity and positioning within the country, continent and world as a whole. It attempts to structurally and systematically rid our country, identity, socialisation and economy of our colonial history that persists in subliminal ways. It seeks to move South Africa from its post-apartheid apartheid nostalgic era into true freedom and liberation through education.
What are your thoughts on how the media portrayed the students involved in FMF?
The media had a very biased depiction of the movement as an entirety. It presented itself as an ally of various university management officials, the private sector and especially government. It didn’t allow for students to engage on the various narratives that were distorting our intention and objectives as a movement. It set a very biased narrative and demonised students to the public. It presented us as hooligans and vandals who didn’t want to learn but were rather more interested in politics and party squabbles, regardless of the fact that we repeatedly mentioned how nonpartisan and intersectional the movement was. They also largely endangered students’ lives by filming militant moments where students defended themselves against police.
Why do you believe in the cause of FMF?
In the words of Assata Shakur, “where there is oppression, there will be resistance”! The state of our education system as a whole is deliberate oppression and suppression I had to endure for 12 long, hard years, and it was time to resist. #FMF was only a spark that would open up the necessary discourse into the public sphere all across the country. It was the means through which the lines of demarcation would be set for all to see.
Do you think the movement is losing momentum?
“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak. All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
We are currently undergoing a strategy and tactic retreat. In doing so, this gives us the opportunity to study other countries that have free education. It gives us the opportunity to consolidate all the necessary stakeholders that are important when overthrowing an oppressive system and regime. What regime this is, is subjective obviously.
We have taken time to study how our forefathers and politicians today fought in the apartheid struggle. We are engaging communities such as Marikana, Tembisa etc. We have also engaged countries like Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Angola and other European countries. The Russians trained our president as an intelligence operative. What better way to understand him and other leaders unless we put ourselves in the same position they were in and get the same training they did? In the words of Sun Tzu… “To know your enemy, you must become your enemy.”
In that light, this strategic retreat is to become the enemy!
Have protestors been deterred by the violence and arrests?
#FMF is not violent, but rather militant and responds to violence with militancy. This is a difference that we hope the country can understand. The only violence that protesters are being put off by is that coming from the state. For us, that state violence is more of a motivator than a deterrent.
Why did you engage in so-called violence and protest in that manner?
#FMF did not engage or advocate violence, rather militancy. Our protests were not clearly depicted by the media … they always arrived when buildings were burning or stones were being thrown and were nowhere to be found when we did peaceful sit-ins and die-ins.
One such act of militancy emerged on social media. Video footage showed Busisiwe forcibly vacating a staff member from Wits University:
Are FMF protests imminent?
#FMF has evolved and will continue to evolve yet retain the same objectives and principles. There will inevitably be more of #FMF. What is unclear is what form it will choose to present itself in this year.
What is your standpoint with regards to the Fees Commission?
We refuse to acknowledge and recognise the fees commission. We have had these commissions for years while wasting taxpayers’ money. When has a commission ever worked or served people with justice and fairness? Even something like the TRC is indicative of how useless commissions are.
Have you gained any sympathy for FMF?
Yes, we have, but as usual, sympathy is for Twitter and Facebook accounts in order to be relevant and trend. The only sympathy we recognise is that which forces these figures to be on the ground with students such as Simphiwe Dana, Thandiswa Mazwai, Adv Dali Mpofu, Zwelinzima Vavi and Prof Pitika Nthuli, of course subject to their self-interests.
Thousands of students have been affected by FMF, which saw student protests, postponed examinations, campus shutdowns, and damages of nearly R1 billion.
It remains to see if that will be the case this year too.
(Featured Image: Getty Images)
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