South African student politics 40 years after Soweto
On 16 June 1976, thousands of schoolchildren took to the streets of the Johannesburg township of Soweto, in protest at the apartheid government’s imposition of Afrikaans as the language of instruction, as well as at broader government oppressions. The brutal police response to the Soweto uprising shocked the world and became a decisive moment in the history of apartheid resistance. Estimates of the numbers killed by police vary between 176 and 700.
Forty years later, the country is again seeing student protests — this time about fees, education access, curriculum reform and wider social injustices — expand from student sites of struggle to reshape broader spaces of debate. This is a very different South Africa, but one that many students and others believe has not changed enough in the two decades since the fight for democracy was won.
In a pair of interviews, we hear from two students heavily involved in the #RhodesMustFall movement and #FeesMustFall campaigns. Kealeboga Mase Ramaru is a graduate of the University of Cape Town (UCT) who now works for Equal Education, a movement working for education quality and equality in South Africa. Brian Kamanzi is a UCT engineering student.
Here they discuss the background and goals of the campaigns, and their myriad sites of struggle. They reflect on the role of digital media in twenty-first century activism and the push “to create a new politics” — one that is less dominated by patriarchal structures and that creates a fairer, safer space for female and non-binary voices. And
Kamanzi discusses why it is so crucial to ensure science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses have a much stronger political component, equipping students with the critical capacity for interrogating the politics of industry and development in South Africa and beyond.
The interviews were recorded at the Going Global conference in Cape Town, South Africa, last month.
This is part of the Africa’s PhD Renaissance series on higher education across the continent, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.