Youth Month: Discussing Disruptor Agencies to Voice Students in Contentious Politics

20 June 2019

For youth month, we will incite higher education innovation discussions to explore the African student experience. The assumption here is that students can indeed steer social change through viable disruption agents.

Disruptive innovation in this context refers to an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts (improves) existing markets and value chain networks. On that point, for blogs to follow we will assess the following areas of disruptors:

(1) Alternative economies; (2) #FeesMustFall student protest aftermath; (3) Africa Day perspective food security. All three to be discussed separately on higher level

Objective of discussion: A disruptor in this context is a simple concept classifying actions with the potential to break normal conventions that foster (social) change. In changing global economics, Africa’s higher education landscape has to meet market demands where the knowledge economy and graduates foster regional (socio-economic) growth. Let’s explore some concepts to discuss.

Problem to discuss: The economically inequitable state of youth, in this case students in Africa, discusses class divisions on campuses which affect academic outcomes when contrassing the haves and have nots. Government investment in Pan Africanist education is underdeveloped, ironically increased brain drain patterns emerge. Contentious politics is the use of disruptive techniques to make a political point, or to change government policy. Repertoire of contention refers, in social movement theory, to the set of various protest-related tools and actions available to a movement or related organization in a given time frame.

The concept of contentious politics was developed throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century by its most prominent scholars: Sidney Tarrow, Charles Tilly, and Doug McAdam.

Student rights are those rights, such as civil, constitutional, contractual and consumer rights, which regulate student rights. These freedoms allow students to reap the rewards of their educational investment. The rights includes free speech and association, to due process, equality, autonomy, safety and privacy, and accountability in contracts and advertising, which regulate the treatment of students by educators and administrators. There is limited research in student rights throughout the world. In general most countries have some kind of student rights enshrined in their laws and proceduralized by their court precedents.

Given the type of government, friction usually lies whilst navagating layers of political representation. Contention spreads from student representative councils, campus authorities, local, provincial, until national government are the market stakeholders. Disruptors affect the effects of citizens representation standards.


How can students voice these disruptors for social change?

In the past few weeks I have had the privilege of hearing various scholars in Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban attempting to answer the issues.

Firstly, a talk by a philosopher of Social Science Prof Howard Richards,
He conceptualises basic cultural structures and constitutive rules. During a Cape Town roundtable, interesting ideas arose for discussion. We explored areas around the regime of economic accumulation as modern capitalism’s only means funding social growth.

Interestingly enough in this book Rethinking Thinking: Modernity’s “Other” and the transformation of the University (2012) by Prof Howard Richards and Catherine Hoppers, a theme developed in early works that modernity has much to learn from pre-modernity. The research attests that by identifying historical underlyings of economic accumulation, can alternative models be tested.

Economic growth for Africa hope lies in youth: Young graduates bring a new energy and optimism to any business, adding diversity, different perspectives, 21st Century skills, and new values and experiences to the workplace.

According to Pieter Bensch, Executive VP at Sage – Africa & Middle East, many recent graduates and school leavers are struggling to find employment. In Ghana, only 10% of school leavers find work within the first year, while 7.9 Million youths in Nigeria remain unemployed.

Assuming personalized learning is a goal, online learning is the technology that makes the goal possible. Disruptive innovation is the economic process that allows the technology to fulfill its promise. Digital disruption is the change that occurs when new digital technologies and business models affect the value proposition of existing goods and services. Bensch says that businesses often lament the fact that the education system does not produce work-ready graduates yet they are the solution to that challenge. And with the youth making up the majority of unemployed people, we can all play a small part, to collectively make a massive difference.

Mr Chose Choeu a jury member of the African Excellence Awards says “Africa is all about Ubuntu – defined as meaning ‘humanity to others’ and also meaning ‘I am what I am because of who you are.” Africa needs communicators that are ready to assist and educate on the better use of information and communications technologies, under the Ubuntu ethos.
In South Africa, the source of the cancer that is corruption is deeper than greed. It is the collective relative deprivation, catalysed by the notion: ‘if our representatives can get away with corruption, so can we’.

I am an optimistic South African, noteworthy the last country in the world to gain independence apart from South Sudan who declared independence from war-torn Sudan on the 9th of July 2011. The miracle of still not breaking into civil war comes down to the compassion of the citizen’s will to build through unity, just under the equally compassionate leadership and prudent foreign trade policy and multi-state coalitions (attract developing economy investors).

Trade partners to the resource-rich nation need to use the examples of Malaysia, Singapore, UAE and China who could build relatively equitable social structures, and stable economies in the same time period as South Africa. No doubt white capital monopoly controls all serious macroeconomic apparatus, especially when it comes to the global trade aspect. As a result of decades of a natural resource rape (drilling into the land for lusty non-renewables), SA has the worst distribution of family income, in the world.

All other things being equal, most people would agree that a low Gini index is a good thing. As Matthew Osborne said, inequality can breed social problems. To me, it seems that SA has well-received political freedom, sadly economic freedom is to come. Thus, to economically address the deep social scares of the apartheid regime, the ANC should have used innovative bargaining assets such as nuclear arms, soon after trade sanctions were lifted.

Only one country has been known to ever dismantle nuclear arsenal completely—the apartheid government of South Africa developed crude fission weapons during the 1980s, but were dismantled in the early 1990s. During this contentious time, the national assets, economic land and raw materials were sliced like a pizza back then, so good people have been trying hard to right wrongs, as much as the sub-Saharan region.

A global symbol of soft power, through the benevolent charismatic leadership of Nelson Mandela, first African state to legalise same sex marriages, the most Nobel Peace Prize laureates, a great social delusion. Göran Bolin and Galina Miazhevich describe Nation Branding as a practice used by governments, together with PR consultants and corporate businesses to launch campaigns promoting a certain image of a nation state.

In previous research, it is commonly agreed that this practice occurs in line with the historical moment of neoliberalism.


To answer the question, the prior addresses the zeitgeist within a historical context. The latter envisions the future as a resource. Accepting this, we can say fee-free decolonised education as a result of a historically dismal education system needs to be first understood. Then use accurate Afro-centric knowledge exchange, as a resource.

Vis a vis, political imagination has to be in good effect, this way more equitable higher education development can be envisioned in the long term. My optimism lies in the fee-free education policies within South Africa’s higher education sector. To me this indicates a ‘Back to the Drawing Board’ narrative after generational inequities in education.

Nation building is about the creation of communities, while nation branding is about the production of (intangible) commodities. We have, second, discussed the role of the media in nation branding research and pointed to the importance of taking the agency of the media as organisations and the affordances of media technologies to account the role of the media in nation branding processes.

Above all, the articles problematise the intersection between nation branding, convergent media and transmedia practices, as well as question the mediation of nation branding within a more conceptual approach of simulacra or circulation of ‘sign commodities’. While there is a need for a more theoretical conceptualisation of the relationship between media and nation branding, there are also numerous practice-based avenues for further research in the field. The response to the centralised mediated nation branding initiatives, going beyond strategic campaigns. The understudied realm of popular culture is less ‘orchestrated’ nation branding.

Finally, how transnational media flows and cross-cultural flow of meanings complicate nation branding research. The media plays different roles across a broad range of nation branding practices which engage with the activities of soft power and public diplomacy. To fully understand this complexity, there is a strong need to incorporate an analysis of the media in their capacity as technologies with specific affordances, as well as institutions driven by their own logics and interests. This would be a further step in developing a truly critical cultural analysis of nation branding in an era of a vastly differentiated media landscape.
Dr Olusola Ogunnubi & Olumuyiwa Babatunde writes that the shifting trend of South Africa’s foreign policy toward soft power has equally portrayed ambivalence that challenges its status as a regional soft power state in Africa. Its leadership is often suspect. They state factors that impinge on South Africa’s ability to use soft power to advance its interests. It notes that notwithstanding the seeming optimism of its soft power, South Africa’s capacity to translate this into influence is largely undercut by several factors. South Africa faces the paradox of effectively playing the role expected of it as an international norm entrepreneur while at the same time being conscious of the expectation of its African constituency.

Furthermore, Prof Narnia Bohler-Muller offers an international relations perspective that South Africa’s political and cultural heritage also has the potential to contribute towards BRICS’ growing influence.

The notion of ‘harmony’ (sometimes referred to as stability) in Confucianism, a value that clearly underlies China’s economic reforms and foreign policy framework, is founded on the so-called three bonds, namely those of ruler and minister, father and son, and husband and wife. Similar to Ubuntu, Confucian thinking, these bonds are expected to enhance harmony within Chinese society itself, but this focus on harmony can also be seen in China’s foreign policy.

Secondly, I’ve recently heard three presentations on student politics in South Africa’s historic Fees Must Fall student movement.

Three academic scholars were able to address the issue of leadership from a media, student union, and systemically. In a future blog I will detail the narratives these academics said around interesting notions about student politics and uprisings in the old and ‘new’ South Africa. Political scientist and author of Voices of Liberation: Chris Hani starts us off. He says that youth-led organisations against the apartheid regime had relatively more drive to fight oppression than their parents. He recollects how the 1976 Soweto uprising reached Cape Town strengtened by the Black Consciousness Movement.

Student groups evolve from campus informal groups, formalised unions, to national political parties. The second scholar explores the decolonization agenda by looking at various public opinions in South Africa. In a nutshell, before any irreversible action is done, higher education needs a unified definition and establish common understandings from primary, right through to post-doctoral education. Then the last scholar looks at the University of Witwatersrand and its impact on the city of Johannesburg during Fees Must Fall. The assumption is that the university is like a cultural microcosm for the city. In this case the impact of the student protest envisioned within the economic hub of Africa.

It is sometimes argued that freedom of expression, education and relative economic independence in Western culture is responsible for the scope of various contemporary social movements. However others point out that many of the social movements of the last hundred years grew up, like the Mau Mau in Kenya, to oppose Western colonialism.

Some countries, like Romania, in the European Union, have comprehensive student bills of rights, which outline both rights and how they are to be proceduralized. Most countries, however, like the United States and Canada, do not have a cohesive bill of rights, so students use courts to determine how rights precedents in one area apply in their own jurisdictions.

Spanish sociologist, Manuel Castells researches the information society, communication and globalization. He categorised Occupied Spaces in the book Networks of Outrage and Hope. There are similarities to Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall protests are concerned:

  • His first claim is that they create community, and community is based on togetherness. Similarly, at the University of Cape Town, the Cecil John Rhodes statue which once metaphorically overlooked the peninsula of the Cape of Good Hope began a national student movement. This #RhodesMustFall campaign was a student conscientization movement, where the physical space of the statue extended higher education transformation and decolonization dialogues on virtual spaces too.
  • This nicely agrees with his second claim, Occupied Spaces are not meaningless: they are usually charged with symbolic power of invading sites of state power such as the parliament and the Union Buildings during 2015 and 2016 #FeesMustFall protests, or financial institutions because control of space means the control over people’s lives
  • His third claim, concludes that by constructing a free community in a symbolic place, social movements create a public space for deliberation, which ultimately becomes a political space. The Biographical Availability of students allows the occupation of public space on multifaceted layers of reality. Disruption narratives evolve on virtual spaces, to urban spaces, and mental spaces of autonomous communication.

Castells firmly believes that Occupy should be read beyond momentum, with its counterparts spreading across very different countries and contexts. The reintroduction of the Arab Spring into this conversation, despite the controversies around its real existence, envisions the networked movement as a universal phenomenon. Castells revisits the case of Tunisia; but instead of people, it is Internet organisations that are at the forefront: ‘The connection between free communication on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter and the occupation of urban space created a hybrid public space of freedom that became a major feature of the Tunisian rebellion’.

Furthermore, Manuel Castells sees the clicktivism as an active group of unemployed graduates, secondly the presence of strong cyberactivism culture, thirdly is the relatively high rate of diffusion in internet use. All of which were factors when considering the case of #feesMustFall in 2015/16, especially when considering the months of October in these two years.

Then lastly, Africa day at the University of the Western Cape (UWC),

a historically disadvantaged university which in many ways, is a metaphor to the educational potential of the continent. Food security can also be a metaphor, for ‘food for thought’ in higher education transformation discussions.

The relaunch of Renata Coetzee’s popular A Feast from Nature, presided over by Prof Julian May, director of the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security. A seminar by veteran politician Prof Ben Turok. UWC Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Tyrone Pretorius, discussed some of the important challenges facing the African continent in his official welcome address, singling out the themes of xenophobia and the oppression of women. “But we can’t celebrate on campus and ignore the fact that African immigrants are treated with suspicion and hatred in South Africa, and that women are regular targets of oppression and violence.

“Africa Day is more than just a holiday in a handful of African countries,” Ms Coetzee said. “It is a chance to celebrate the diversity of cultures across dozens of countries – to reflect on our history and our achievements, and to consider how best to move forward, together.”

Final Word

The Prof Turok lecture at UWC concludes blogs to follow on areas of disruption which reflect on Youth Month. Please share this blog post and follow us on twitter so that I can consider responses in my blogs as we dissect the above mentioned in the coming days.

Celebrating youth month in this regard means to preserve the vibrancy of teaching and learning through affective knowledge management systems. Apart from the above mentioned, perhaps contentious politics in higher education is based on the lack of established collective understandings.

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