Photography by Jabu Nadia Newman, taken during the recent protests in South Africa that called for ending the increase of university fees nationally (#feesmustfall) and ending outsourcing.
It’s 40 degrees Celsius and I imagine I’m in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing (1989). I taste the leftover pepper spray in the back of my throat while sirens are going off every hour or so. Just like Bedford-Stuyvesant in Do The Right Thing, South Africa is at its boiling point as the air lays thick with protests, chants and sirens. The student protests are continuing and meetings are happening at this very moment even after a week of national protests, police brutality and multiple arrests. I am tired, sick and constantly on the verge of tears when reminiscing about what we’ve gone through as the youth of this country. A part of me is worrying about my exams and assignments while another is weeping for my brothers and sisters who have been jailed, teargassed, fired at, beaten and treated as less than human. A week has passed and although we have achieved a lot, as we conquer one aim we realise how many more challenges there are to overcome.
After hearing that public university fees in South Africa would increase by 10.5% students across the country from different universities mobilized and started to protest. Tertiary education is already almost exclusively only available for the rich, as the majority of the country cannot avoid university fees; a fee increase would only further the possibility of young black and coloured students from getting a degree. The #feesmustfall movement recognized the issue with university fees and took up the task to fight for education as a right for all South Africans rather than a privilege for the elite (and naturally predominantly white).
A week later, the government announced that the increment would be by 6%. This was still not good enough for the students and finally our president Jacob Zuma announced that there would be no increment at all. But the protests carried on and the students were no longer just fighting for a 0% increase but rather a decrease in fees and the end of outsourcing. Alongside the #feesmustfall movement the call to #endoutsourcing has also been at the forefront of the agenda. Workers who are hired at universities are employed through labour brokers in a system known as outsourcing. This means that these workers are not awarded any benefits of employment such as medical aid, pension funds or subsidies for their children to study. Furthermore, this ensures that the very same universities these employees work for are the same universities that they can’t afford to send their children to.
More and more, South Africans are starting to recognize that not much has changed since the end of apartheid. Poverty is rife in our country and is almost exclusively synonymous with being black or coloured. Racism still exists and is experienced daily. We have not been granted the type of South Africa or government that we were promised in 1994. We feel as if our parents and forefathers sold us out and now we, as the youth, have to carry the struggle forward. The #feesmustfall protests are fighting for much more than fee decreases. It is fighting for equality, the end of patriarchy, the need for empowerment of the youth and especially black youth as well as the end to the inevitable systematic racism and oppression of black people that has carried on from the apartheid legacy.
These student protests have been the largest since 1976, a famous and massive protest against the apartheid government in Soweto (one of the biggest townships in South Africa). Besides the numbers and nature of the #feesmustfall protests being similar to the protests in 1976, the reaction from the government and police reminds many of those involved of the not so distant Apartheid past. Just like in ‘76, during the #feesmustfall protests the police was ordered by the government to fire stun grenades, use pepper spray and even fire live bullets. This type of police action was entirely inappropriate when facing peaceful and unarmed students and has caused a riff in supporters of the present government. This is the same people in government who fought the apartheid government and was also met with police brutality. The fact that they could now allow police to treat its youth like this is mind-blowing.
I have had to watch my fellow comrades get arrested for simply marching. I have had to run for my life and cough in pain while my throat and eyes burn from tear gas and pepper spray. Knowing I am a born free, meaning I was born in 1994, the same year the ANC came into power after apartheid and democracy was established, I never expected to be fighting so fiercely for my rights. I never expected to be part of a history so similar to the countless documentaries I’ve seen and articles I’ve read of protest action during apartheid. As much as I am disappointed in my government I am equally proud in my comrades, colleagues and fellow students. We have achieved our goals and have set history in motion. The faces of the protests have been fresh, beautiful, young, determined and fiery. I just hope that after exams we will carry the same fire as before.
Jabu Nadia Newman is a 21 year old black South African from Cape Town who goes by the pronouns her/she. Jabu is a feminist and communist “by nature and blood”, and aspires to be a director and photographer as well as a feminist media, film, and politics theory writer. She wants her work to mainly be collaborative between other black female creatives and artists. If anyone would like to collaborate with her, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. More of her work can be found on her instagram and her twitter.