From #RhodesMustFall to #FeesMustFall, students in South Africa have been conducting a series of protests across the country — challenging the remnants of apartheid and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, the dominant party that has been in power since the fall of apartheid and has faced accusations of terrible leadership, mismanaged economy and rampant corruption.
The students, often identified as the “born free generation,” the generation born post-apartheid, believe that ANC has failed to deliver its promises, neglecting the poor, and has become as oppressive as the apartheid regime.
Nelson Mandela, who was the star leader of the ANC party and the first president of the new South Africa, had once said the following to young South Africans; perhaps, he would be proud of them today were he alive:
“If the ANC does to you what the Apartheid government did, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the Apartheid government.”
A Kenyan Blogger, Kenyan Feminist, has written a thoughtful piece on this topic. She ponders about what Kenyans can learn from the protests. I have quoted some of her reflections below:
The students understand that ending apartheid is not enough, the symbols of apartheid must be destroyed, and they began doing that by demanding the fall of the Rhodes statue at the UCT Campus. They understand that the remnants of apartheid must be destroyed, and they are doing so by demanding for equality in the education sector through the #FeesMustFall Movement.
The South African university students also understand that change of government, and having fellow black men and women is not necessarily freedom, it can be as binding as apartheid rule. And so they are challenging new forms of apartheid, because apartheid did not end with the apartheid regime. They are challenging neo-liberalism as a remnant of oppressive rule. They are challenging racial and class inequalities, as remnants of apartheid.
These students are contesting gender inequalities, because they understand that gender inequality is a remnant of apartheid. That is why the women in the movement declared that they would not be erased, as has often been the case with revolutionary struggles. Women students claimed space and visibility during the entire protests. They have led marches, led struggle songs and worn head wraps to ensure their visibility and to make a statement that they will not be erased. LGBTI people also claimed their space and visibility in the protests. This movement clearly understands the concept of inclusion, and how structures of oppression exclude women, people with non-conforming gender and sexual identities, black people and the poor among others.
You can read the rest of her writing here: We too shall rise, but how.
While there is a lot to learn from these student-led protests, what we don’t have to borrow are the acts of violence and destruction of properties. Let’s not forget the xenophobic attacks on foreigners, horrible acts of violence that have tarnished the image of South Africa as a tolerant and welcoming nation. Nothing positive will come out of burning people and things down and getting burned by police in return. We can instead embrace the organized and nonviolent actions of the students against the government, as well as their solidarity with other oppressed people in other countries, such as Palestinians.