South Africa's 'fees must fall' protests are about more than tuition costs

A student holds a placard reading 'A placard with "Zuma must fall" outside the Luthuli House, the ANC headquarters, on October 22, 2015, in Johannesburg, during a demonstration of thousands of students against university fee hikes.

Story highlights

  • On Friday 23 October, in response to student protests, President Zuma of South Africa announced no increase in tuition fees.
  • Underlying causes of dissatisfaction remain, South Africa remains one of the world's most unequal societies.
  • In higher education, white males make up 53% of the staff population despite being only 8% of the population.

Basani Baloyi is an alumni of the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg, South Africa) and PhD candidate in economics at SOAS, University of London
Gilad Isaacs is a researcher in the School of Economics and Business Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand and also a PhD candidate at SOAS. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)An unprecedented movement of student activism has been sweeping South African university campuses and cities, culminating in a march on the historic Union Buildings on Friday 23 October, the seat of the South African government. Not since the Soweto Uprising of 1976 have this many youth arisen to demand the right to quality and accessible education.

The students have won their demand of a 0% increase in tuition fees, with planned fee increases of up to 11.5%, at the heart of the protests. However, as ongoing demonstrations prove, the students' demands have been deeper than this. They have called for the "decolonization" and "transformation" of higher education institutions, the insourcing of outsourced workers (mostly cleaning, security and support staff, often the most vulnerable workers), and the release of their classmates arrested earlier in the week.

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