A use­ful, im­per­fect snapshot

CityPress - - Voices - GUGULETHU MH­LUNGU voices@city­press.co.za

Fees Must Fall – Stu­dent Re­volt, De­coloni­sa­tion and Gov­er­nance in South Africa, edited by Su­san Booy­sen Wits Univer­sity Press 300 pages R350

One of the first books out cov­er­ing the 2015 #FeesMustFall stu­dent protests, Fees Must Fall: Stu­dent Re­volt, De­coloni­sa­tion and Gov­er­nance in South Africa, was launched this week at the Wits School of Gov­er­nance.

In 15 chap­ters, pep­pered with writ­ings by nearly two dozen con­trib­u­tors, the book cov­ers a broad range of top­ics aris­ing out of #FeesMustFall.

Th­ese in­sights and analy­ses are of­fered by a va­ri­ety of peo­ple, within and out­side the move­ment.

Many ques­tions are raised, no­tably: What did #FeesMustFall mean for gov­er­nance? What was its in­flu­ence on fees move­ments in the US and parts of Europe? How does one doc­u­ment such a move­ment? What was the role of fem­i­nism? What can be made of the move­ment’s sol­i­dar­ity with work­ers, and of the ar­gu­ments for and against an end to out­sourc­ing?

The book – whose con­trib­u­tors in­clude editor Su­san Booy­sen, fem­i­nist Dar­lene Miller, ac­tivist Sizwe Mpo­fuWalsh and aca­demic Vish­was Sat­gar, among other em­i­nent names – is hon­est about not hav­ing cov­ered the sub­ject fully, given that it is con­tin­u­ally chang­ing and evolv­ing.

A year af­ter their con­tri­bu­tions were writ­ten, #FeesMustFall is still be­ing con­fig­ured and re­con­fig­ured on at least 24 of South Africa’s univer­sity cam­puses.

The book is an am­bi­tious and sub­stan­tive read.

Mpofu-Walsh writes a re­fresh­ing es­say, which at­tempts to place #FeesMustFall in the con­text of on­go­ing stu­dent and fee protests around the world, re­fer­ring specif­i­cally to the in­flu­ence that the lo­cal move­ment had on protests in Europe – par­tic­u­larly the UK – and the US.

Miller’s re­flec­tions as an el­der fem­i­nist at­tempt­ing to make sense of the new, younger fem­i­nist move­ment – which in­ter­sects with #FeesMustFall in terms of pro­vok­ing pro­test­ers’ con­sciences to give the move­ment in­clu­siv­ity – is also thought-pro­vok­ing. How­ever, her piece lacks di­a­logue with con­tem­po­rary young fem­i­nists at uni­ver­si­ties.

A great deal of the book ex­am­ines the re­la­tion­ship be­tween #FeesMustFall and the de­mand for an end to out­sourc­ing. This is an im­por­tant is­sue which de­serves more writ­ing and dis­cus­sion.

The book is not with­out its faults. The big­gest of th­ese, for me, is the de­scrip­tion by Booy­sen of the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand be­ing the epi­cen­tre of the move­ment. This is writ­ten with­out crit­i­cally en­gag­ing with what that means.

I am of the opin­ion that Wits was made into the epi­cen­tre for #FeesMustFall be­cause of the lion’s share of me­dia cov­er­age that its stu­dents en­joyed and the at­ten­tion and priv­i­lege af­forded to so-called pres­ti­gious uni­ver­si­ties such as Wits and the Univer­sity of Cape Town.

Where does that leave the likes of Tsh­wane Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy and the uni­ver­si­ties of KwaZulu-Natal and Fort Hare?

I would have liked a greater fo­cus on the in­ter­est­ing place Wits oc­cu­pies – I stress this be­cause self-re­flec­tion is es­sen­tial to help our un­der­stand­ing of the move­ment go­ing for­ward.

While the book is forth­right about fo­cus­ing largely on Wits, this does not let the con­trib­u­tors off the hook when it comes to the prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with do­ing so – prob­lems which stu­dents them­selves have raised.

The dis­cus­sion on pa­tri­archy, trans­pho­bia and gen­der non­con­form­ing stu­dents is also want­ing.

In spite of th­ese mis­giv­ings, the book of­fers great in­sights on some of the is­sues at play, which can go a long way to­wards en­hanc­ing the pub­lic’s un­der­stand­ing of the move­ment.

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