Student activism had a substantial role on transforming education system

Students have always fought for their rights in South Africa and even during the implausible times of injustice, inequality and divisiveness, students have been agents of revolution. It is a continuous trend from its earliest existence and was associated particularly to the marginalized black South Africans.

Student activism may be understood as actions or practices that seeks to change the way the system functions and challenge the particular structure whether in politics, society or academia. Activism of students in the society played a significant role in corroding apartheid laws that continued to exclude black students. Throughout the late 1960’s and the mid-1970’s, South Africa encountered countercultural instances of political violence that revolutionized modes and ideas of uprising, breaking regulations in various ways, some expressly linked to anti-apartheid and racialized imperialism policies and others implicitly political in the context of counterculture .There was an upsurge in the protests against apartheid and its separate and unequal education system.

In protest against the introduction of Afrikaans as medium of Instruction in local schools, school students displayed their strong commitment to social activism and were activists in foremost way, leading in the 1976 Soweto uprising, which invaded black university campuses at the time. As far as South African struggle is concerned, it is usually considered a void on the graveyard between the mid-1960’s and the mid-1970’s. Many students were murdered and tortured for rising up for their rights. Within the prominent and prevailing textual criticism, the Soweto uprising of 16 June 1976 culminated in a prolonged period of civic peace. About one day after the Soweto revival massacre of 16 June 1976, approximately about 400 white students from Witwatersrand University were irritated by the reckless actions of the government of that time in Soweto for murdering students. They then joined forces and marched in response to the killing of students across Johannesburg’s City Centre.

Yet again, recent trends in 2015 to 2016, the students exhibited a strong commitment to opposing hiking university fees and to decolonize pedagogy which led to several institutions being closed down. Many students were penalized, killed, tortured, and subjected to multiple mishandlings. This was prevalent to practically all higher education institutions. Recent disorder on campuses may represent a strong connection between universities and social change, particularly as society is negotiating a conventional definition of social status, race, and ethnicity .Student protests are focused on issues impacting students on or off the campuses and the activism of students in higher education has been a key issue throughout the country challenging access to high quality free decolonized education . Signed into law in 1996, the constitution marked the end of South Africa’s apartheid and the charter of rights made it a duty for the government, by reasonable steps, to make more and more education accessible. The #FeesMustFall protest from students stimulated new initiatives at the higher education institutions and launched an ongoing national discourse for the promotion of tertiary access and achievement by predominantly disadvantaged black students in order to eradicate racial inequality and dismantle patterns of oppression. The higher learning institutions saw a significant push for structural racism, particularly during student protest. The shift in status of black graduates had been called for an academic programming that is perceived as Eurocentric to be revamped. Students demanded free education in many respects to abolish tuition rates and on the other hand to ensure that South Africa’s post-apartheid content, methods and teaching skills are free from Eurocentric influences.

The #FeesMustFall has rocked the politics pillars of South Africa. The higher education sector has been a failure in recent years. University systems has seen an ongoing violence in many institutions which have left some campuses infuriating students and the police. Developments in South African universities have given rise to a continuing national debate on increasing educational access and advancement for students of color, shattering ethnic inequalities and undermining the disparity of opportunities.

Universities haven’t done much since 1994 to open up various components and sources of information in a new way and exploratory ways. Although all universities have a new inclusion, justice and transformation and reform agenda but systems, institutions, and epistemology have not significantly changed. There may be policies, but they are not ready for implementation.

Since June is a youth month. It is very vital to remind ourselves of the noteworthy role played by students particularly on transforming the education system that directly impact them.Student activism encouraged institutions to focus on the fulfillment of these undertakings.Students demanded their outcries and their rights to be considered. Rights of Africanized and decolonized higher education emerged as a key criticism and activism aspect, articulated vividly by student movements in South Africa. Institutional practices are generally deemed non-democratic if students are excluded, especially when spoken from their structures and developments when not represented.

Imagery: Student marching for fees to fall

Source: The Conversation

Caption:  rights to free quality education in South Africa


: Heleta, S,2016, ‘Decolosing Higher Education’:Dismantling epistemic violence and Eurocentric in South Africa’, Transformation in higher education 1(1),a9.

The Conversation

By Sanele Thwala

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