Gugulethu Mhlungu

BOOK REVIEW: A useful, imperfect snapshot

2016-11-20 06:04

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Fees Must Fall – Student Revolt, Decolonisation and Governance in South Africa, edited by Susan Booysen

Wits University Press

300 pages



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 Mpofu-Walsh 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.

Read more on:    fees must fall  |  protests


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