Photo: Petrie Jansen van Vuuren
Photo: Petrie Jansen van Vuuren

As we approach the New Year, it is an apt time to consider the future of the fallist movement in South Africa. What does 2017 hold in store? To answer this question it is necessary to reflect on two key outcomes of the year.

The Anti-Poor, Anti-Black Failure of #FeesMustFall

Recent NSFAS applications, which represent the most impoverished segment of the student population, have fallen in number. So much so, that government has extended the deadline, this despite also making the application process easier in terms of proving economic need. There is logic in this. As a poor, impoverished student, why on Earth would you risk wasting time and resources at an institution where your education is likely to be disrupted? Relatively, you would have far more to lose than better off students.

Additionally, other costs to poor students are beginning to emerge. Present students who wanted to attend lectures and so forth were often disrupted by protestors. In all likelihood this will impact on attainment and pass rates for courses. An example of this was the library sit-in by Stellenbosch fallists. Without a shadow of doubt, the most harmed in this action were the poorer student community of Stellenbosch. Ultimately, it cost the fallists in terms of support, and will continue to do so in the future.

The rise of Hyper-Racial Ideologues

A second outcome has been the development of very extreme narcissistic leadership. Despite arguing that they are a ‘collective’, it has become quite obvious that there are clear leaders of the movement. Government targeted these ‘leaders’ quite hard. We saw many arrests in response to increasing violence from students and their affiliates. What is concerning is the ideology that they push, which is essentially regressive in nature. I would actually go so far as to suggest that free education is simply being used as a vehicle to legitimise far less virtuous ideologies, in particular the hyper-racialism.  I will most certainly be covering this in an article in the New Year.

However this ‘leadership’ doesn’t have a mandate from students themselves.  In some cases their numbers are incredibly small.  At Stellenbosch hardliners were down to about twelve/fifteen and they were forced to ‘import’ protestors from other universities.  Even at Wits, Habib’s poll demonstrated the limited real world support from students. Fallists leaders have used threats and violence to damage the education of the majority.  Despite this exams and lectures largely went ahead. Government didn’t budge either.

The #2017FebruaryRevolution

At the end of February next year Pravin Gordhan will deliver his budget to Parliament. I have little doubt that his speech will disappoint the fallists. He will certainly compromise, but #FeesWon’tFall; at best, the movement can hope for are some token changes. Gordhan has little choice in the matter; with massive problems in basic education and other areas, he will have to compromise.

Let us be very clear. The outcomes of this will be a watershed moment for #FeesMustFall. They will most certainly respond to his speech in full force. I would argue that there four possible responses open to them:

  1. Business as usual. Unlikely. #FeesMustFall has already begun a steady radicalised trajectory; it will be difficult to shake. This in turn will have consequences. Poor students are likely to vote with their feet and avoid radicalised universities. This has happened in the US with regards to their recent student protests. It has been financially very costly to universities.
  1. Gets taken over by intersectionalists. Likely. Many fallist leaders are already pushing an intersectional ideology. It is a risky move, however, as it is likely to alienate large swathes of supporters. Arguably, this in part is what caused the failure of fallism in Stellenbosch and in turn has caused division amongst fallists at UCT.
  1. Becomes partly taken over by the EFF. Likely. The EFF have vocalised their support time after time for #FeesMustFall. Fallists have resisted identifying with a particular political party, however, the government’s targeting of student leaders is likely to change that in the long run. They will need some kind of formal structure to protect them; the EFF fulfils this need well.
  1. Evolution of ultra violence. Maybe. So far both police and students have played by Queensbury Rules. However, it just takes one protestor to replace stones with bullets to set off a Marikana-like incident. The fallout from this will be incredibly damaging and tragic.
Photo: Petrie Jansen van Vuuren

February 2017 will be a watershed period for #FeesMustFall. In all likelihood their response will continue to have anti-poor and anti-black outcomes. The only way they can divert this outcome is to realise that the target of their protests must shift from the universities and the poor to the government itself. But this will require a formalised organisation with a unifying ideology and a clear ethical leadership that is fully mandated. Tragically, I can’t see this happening any time soon. None of these features are present in the current incarnation of #FeesMustFall.

This will leave the government with little choice but to continue cracking down on student leadership, possibly passing/amending laws to deal with this more efficiently. Likewise, universities will have no choice but to move education more and more online, which will harm the poorest of students who lack easy internet access. However, on the plus side, universities that haven’t been radicalised stand a good chance of getting more applications from students of all economic and racial backgrounds. For instance, Walter Sisulu University has already capitalised on this by not only offering free education to master’s and PhD students, but increased its available spaces for PhDs  from 15 to 100, and master’s from 315 to 600. No doubt this will benefit the university enormously. Similar policies have already been adopted by UFH and UKZN.


February 2017 is going to bring FeesMustFall to a crossroads.

Either it chooses to maintain its current course, in which case it will fizzle out to a standstill, or expediency forces it to grow up and formalise itself. However, its hyper-racialised ideologies will ultimately prevent genuine formalisation and unity. The movement, in all likelihood, will evolve into small, niche splinter groups. Each will try to outdo the other for news attention and ‘wokeness’. However, at the end of the day, this ideological competition will increasingly alienate the bulk of students, who simply want to study hard and get a qualification to further themselves. This is the wild card – how long will they put up with the #FeesMustFall movement disrupting their education? Maybe this will be the real #2017FebruaryRevolution.

  • Harald Sitta

    Excellent analysis. What i wonder is how a few radicals and fanatics can push around the vast majority of students. Do they have no guts ?? Second lesson i learned in the army: You are not treated as you deserve but as you allow others to treat you. It is the task of the rational, moderate and eager to learn students to crush this movement.

    • Anthony Stuurman

      Thank you. Although I think they have guts. Many students were physically threatened for just attending lectures or writing an exam, yet they pushed on. In a way this is quite a potent form of resistance.

      But, where u are 100% right is it won’t be enough in the long run. They need to more visibly supportmanagement. I think even two or three well attended counter protests would squash #FeesMustFall.

      • Harald Sitta

        Therefore i like horse riding. Then you know how to use a riding whip…. Yes the idea of effective counter protest is fine.Let’s do it. i am on board.