Could #FeesMustFall fuel the SA revolution?

South Africa has been recently labelled as the protest capital of the world. Since 2004, the country has been registering a significant amount of protests for a variety of reasons. The most frequent reason for protest in the country is “urban land”, a problem which could have been addressed by the government in the early years of democracy. The protests range from small marches, sit ins, and go slows to massive and violent protests which tend to result in fatalities. Being a democratic country, this gives the citizens of South Africa the right to protest and indeed the citizens are not shy to exercise their right so that their grievances can be heard and addressed by government or the private sector. It is reported that between November 2013 and February 2014 the country registered more than 3 000 protests, involving more than a million citizens. The SAPS reported in 2013 to have made more than 14 000 protest related arrests since 2009. Quite a number of protests have gone to a magnitude which one would perhaps classify as a mini revolution, these are protests that result in a significant change in the status quo. Is this sharply increasing rate of protests in the country a sign of the “rebellion of the poor” or are they curtain raisers for “the coming revolution”? One of the prominent features of South African protests over the last decade is the increasing radicalism and militancy of protesters. This leads to activities such as looting, shootouts, physical injuries, and even fatalities of protesters or police officers. There is number of protests which need special attention, this will perhaps give weight to the suggestion that the revolution is coming.


From 2004 there has been an overwhelming increase in the number and magnitude of protests. These were protests and strikes advocating for: equal and integrated distribution of land; housing; better service delivery; wage increases; an end to government corruption; the halting  of evictions and forced removals and; jobs. These are issues that are affecting the poor black majority of the population, with the exception of one protest, which is the most recent protest before the continuation of a particular protests which was in a so called “technical retreat” until January 2016. Before we get to 2016, let me take you through some of the most prominent protests to be staged in the country from 2004.


The Harrysmith protests occurred in 2004 and led to the death of one teenager and left close to thirty demonstrators injured. On the 19th of March 2005, close to a thousand Kennedy Road shack settlement blocked Umgeni Road for hours, this resulted in 14 arrests. Who can forget the 2006 Khutsong Protests which extended into 2007. In these protests, the residents of Khutsong were against the transfer of Merafong municipality from Gauteng to North West, the mass of protesters also threatened to boycott the local government elections which were scheduled to take place in March 2007. The protests were referred to as the “Khutsong vs Lekota” protests, they resulted in the arrest of close to 30 protesters. In 2007, the protests became more intense as teachers and pupils took to the streets in opposition of the incorporation of Merafong municipality into North West. The year 2007 also experienced the N2 Gateway occupations. This was when over a thousand families  occupied unfinished state built houses to protest unfair and corrupt allocation of houses. These protests extended into 2008 and were met by the Symphony Way road occupations, which lasted for over almost two years.


The Macassar Village land occupation is also one not to be left unnoticed. The occurrence in 2009 was marked by high militancy as a cohort of shack dwellers occupied vacant municipal owned land outside Cape Town. These protests are closely linked to the Abahlali base Mjondolo protests in 2010 where Cape Tow  city managers tried to ban the shack dwellers from occupying the CBD. In 2011 the country was in turmoil with violent protests in areas such as Ermelo, Grahamstown, Zandspruit, Ficksburg, Makhaza in Khayelitsha, the Samora Machel sauatter camp, Shaka’s Kraal in Kwa-Zulu Natal, Gugulethu, Thembelihle, and arguably obviously Soweto.


The year 2012 is one of the most historical years in South Africa’s history of post-apartheid protests. The year turned out to set a fundamental basis for protests to follow in the future. Prior to the Lonmin strike in Marikana, in January 2012, miners at Impala Platinum mines took part in a protest that was to inspire the Lonmin miners. Like the protests in Marikana, the Impala Platinum protests were characterised by intimidation, high militancy and violence. The Lonmin strike made international headlines when the deputy president of the country Cyril Ramaphosa ordered the massacre of 34 miners, while others were left with severe injuries. The 16th of August 2012 went down in history as a day when politically connected capitalists showed that they are willing to do anything in their power to protect their interests. The Marikana Massacre to this day plays a significant role in the protests that were to follow in the country. The Marikana Massacre was followed by intense and violent service delivery protest in Mothotlung and other areas of the country, this led to more police brutality, a notable result of the latter being the killing of Andries Tatane. The protests on grape farms in the Western Cape showed the influence which the Marikana Massacre has its succeeding protests. The two years that followed 2012 were also marked by protests of a higher magnitude in Protea South, Soweto and the Abahlali base Mjondolo march in 2013. In early 2014, the residents of Bekkersdal, Roodepoort and Bronkhorspruit took to the streets before the protests in Klipspruit, Soweto and Langa in mid-2014.


Following 2012, 2015 is perhaps the most significant year in the build up to the possible revolution. In October 2015, students all over the country led protests in response to proposed fee increases in their respective universities. The students were also calling for the insourcing of university staff working for private contractors. The momentum of these protests led to the realisation of the possibility of free education and the notion #FreeEducationNow was adopted. The protests were referred to as the #FeesMustFall protests and for the first time since 1976, the youth of South Africa was united and radical. The students led marches to the Union Buildings in Pretoria as well as National Parliament in Cape Town. The protests had a major influence on students around the world and they took student activism to a whole new level. #FeesMustFall portrayed that the youth has massive influence and power. Although the president of the country announced a “0% fee increment for 2016”, fees have not fallen and students vow to continue with the protests from the 11th of January 2016. South African students are ready for what is to be a radical, militant, and challenging year ahead of the 2016 registration period and commencement of academic year. Could this lead to a large enough “rebellion of the poor” to fuel a revolution? Even if the answer might be no, the #FeesMustFall campaign will definitely yield results that are to be remembered as one of the most historical since the birth of democracy in 1994.