The new face of Student Activism

2015-10-21 17:28

We must congratulate ourselves, for we have reached a state when even the most occasional twitter head now knows about the #FeesMustFall national campaign.

This year has begun on an interesting note for all aspiring student activists. We have seen the WITS SRC raise 1 Million to counter-act financial inabilities of many students, and we have seen the falling of statues and the rise of the politicized mind.

Today's hashtag, however, transcends the limitations of being a mere feature of social media. WITS, once more, has done a good job at publicizing its discontentment with the raise in tuition fees, and many universities have joined the campaign, as most of us woke up to the news that UCT students spent the right at the police station, Stellies students were forcefully removed from their location of protests, and Rhodents even went so far as proving white privilege exists, by forming a white human shield around black students who were at a higher risk of suffering from police brutality.

This is all so inspiring, but, see, I am from the University of Pretoria.

I spent the entire day listening to the struggle rhetoric that often dominates political discourse, even in a platform where only students speak. Many of the people I have shared ideas with, would agree that, often, national politics ends up filtering itself down to the student space, which is not always desirable. Not when the aim is to create an entirely student-lead movement.

Today was no different. Though I earnestly commend the students who came in full support of the cause, and out of their own volition to be seen fighting for it, I could not ignore the power that political regalia still holds, especially when it comes to dividing students.

Very quickly, the meeting went from being connoted with words such as unity and purpose, to becoming a test of political loyalties, and subsequent disagreements.

But before someone jumps to the conclusion that political affiliation does more harm than good, dare I say that this would not have taken place were it not for the expectations that students have of activism.

The problem, as it can be witnessed, is that, in South Africa, student activism is believed to exist only within political affiliation, therefore, if a student who claims herself as "independent" decides to hold the microphone, her opinion will be undermined by her seeming "confusion".

The results of this misunderstanding are evident. We often see political parties and student branches "leading" the movement, not because they may be the most capable, or the most representative, but because an individual who does not represent a party is not seen as legitimate enough to represent the students. Another evident disease is that of political altruism, a microwave-like inspiration that makes you utter statements like, "I will die for the students", and forces you in the opposite direction as soon as fear threatens.

Students, all in all, are becoming increasingly aware of their surroundings, and the University space is constantly being challenged.

An institution of higher education is no longer a place in which the mind is only expected to develop in paper, but much more in action. Students learn in and and outside of the classroom, and as they grow in their academic career, they start to acquire the autonomy to voice their opinions on the political societies in which they are inserted in.

With that said, I warn my fellow students against resorting to militancy as if it is the only way to be heard, even if it may be the precedence of civic manifestation culture in South Africa. It is vital to take some time to intellectualize the problem, so that misdirected frustration can be avoided.

The success of UP supression today was that its' deterrence strategy worked, not because it was excellent, but because students did not choose to strategize before moving.

At the end of the day, this is not just about the fee increase, it is moreso about the way in which student action is perceived, by the institutions, and by the media.

We need to detach ourselves from sensational headlines, and burning tyres that distract students from the main objective, which, I believe, is to be heard, not because of the volume of our voice, but because of substance in our opinions.

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