Echoes from the Global South: Reflections on the Student Public Intellectual, Hashtags and Neoliberal Themes in the #FeesMustFall Student Protests in South Africa (2015–2016)
Keywords:student protests, neoliberalism, naming, decolonisation, solidarity, silencing
The student protests in South Africa (2015–2016) reflected multiple dimensions of the crisis in higher education. These included epistemic, economic, political, psychological and social dimensions, raising serious concerns about the social compact in a post-1994 South Africa. What I examine through an eclectic approach which incorporates a first-person methodology and critical discourse analysis are the nuances and meanings that surfaced when students captured specific events and then articulated the events and the unfolding experiences in a vocabulary that provided a translation for their emotions and pain. This was done by the students by both linking and challenging protest hashtags or referencing texts that had only recently become accessible to them. As they learnt, they shared, and as they shared they realised that there were others experiencing similar challenges, such as the student protests in Chile (2011–2012). Sharing experiences is an act of solidarity and the benefits of solidarity strengthened the language needed to articulate what the students encountered in specific moments. I show that the South African students echoed issues that were found in the higher education protests in Chile, whilst also drawing lines in the sand with regards to the challenges in their own lived context. What is most significant for me is that in both the South African and Chilean protests an interesting phenomenon is evident that has not been acknowledged—this is the rise of the student-academic public intellectual. This paper highlights these developments to challenge the narrative of “uncivilised” and violent black students by contextualising and animating their articulations, questions and their understanding of the ideology and system that was suffocating them.
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