Free Expression on Youth Day: A Review of ‘We Are No Longer At Ease: The Struggle for #FeesMustFall’

13 Jun 2019
Free Expression on Youth Day: A Review of ‘We Are No Longer At Ease: The Struggle for #FeesMustFall’

In preparation for Youth Day, PEN SA Research Associate, Rowan Morar, immersed himself in the student protest perspectives of various young writers.

We Are No Longer At Ease: The Struggle for #FeesMustFall (2018) is a collection of short essays, speeches and poetry from activists, academics and people involved in various iterations of South Africa’s recent student protests.

Comprised mostly of young voices, the Jacana Media publication – edited by Wandile Ngcaweni & Busani Ngcaweni – provides a striking range of anecdotes, analyses and critiques of student movements under the #FeesMustFall banner, as well as perspectives from representatives of universities, civil society and the state.

Concerns range from the medium of instruction and political affiliation to policy conundrums and ideological commitments of different stripes.

Akhona Mdunge’s essay ‘The University of Pretoria, DASO and my role as a student leader after the 2016 protests’ provides a perspective on the #AfrikaansMustFall movement. Along with NKhensani Manabe’s ‘I Am Stellenbosch’, these essays exemplify key issues of belonging, institutional culture and linguistic exclusion refracted through the example of these key Afrikaans universities.

The question of inclusion at the cultural and political level is evident in the gender politics of universities today.

‘Power, privilege, hypermasculinity and intersectionality’ by Kneo Mokgopa explains the ideological commitments to ‘intersectionality’ and ‘fallism’, attempting to “present a non-binary perspective” that attempts to include multiple gendered expressions in the movement that have been ousted by “hypermasculine performativity” (110).

This type of theoretical engagement with masculinist politics in the movement is paired with essays such as Anele Madonsela’s ‘When women become a danger to revolution’, which offers personal anecdotes of campus politics.

Importantly, the book represents both politically affiliated and unaffiliated students, engaging the complicated dynamics between student and state level politics during #FeesMustFall.

As a mosaic of manifestos and meditations on the philosophical underpinnings of the movement, Part 1: Theorising the Fees Must Fall Campaign surveys the landscape.

In a speech addressed to UCT’s black alumni, ‘An end to assimilation, the right to self-determination’, Ramabina Mahapa speaks of freedom not as “the opportunity to be white or live like whites”, but rather “the right to self-determination and a dignified life” (13).

Black Consciousness politics percolate throughout this section and, as reflected in the book, the movement. Gugu Ndima’s ‘Forgive us Biko for we have betrayed you’ offers an engagement with the difficult questions of political responsibility today, in a moment where young people are both more politically active at the national level and are voting less, as evidenced in our recent election.

The collection excellently positions these philosophical problems alongside the economic, with essays like Qhama Bona’s ‘The ticking time bomb of youth unemployment’ and ‘Intellectual openings and policy closures: The many faces of higher education transformation’ by Busani Ncgaweni and Robert Nkuna.

The mixture of philosophy, politics, economics and policy registers demonstrate the range of thinkers of the movement.

We Are No Longer At Ease surveys the landscape of recent student protests, highlighting key concerns of the moment.

Essays challenge constitutionalism and its limitations for transformation because of the importance of property rights, read the Freedom Charter alongside Higher Education policy and undertake localised readings of Intersectionality theorists.

Personal experience and theoretical engagement create a palimpsest of the movement through the voices expressed within.

We Are No Longer At Ease offers a poignant means for reflecting on the contemporary significance of Youth Day in 2019.