Researching the South African Student Movement in and around Johannesburg

In the course of 2018/19 the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) has been interviewing experiences of, and reflections on, the 2015/16 student movement from a diverse cohort of students and former student activists on South African university campuses. It has been both challenging and fruitful.

Challenging because of the scale of this awesome research project – it requires getting interviews scheduled and traveling the beautiful yet vast campuses in South Africa which takes time and money. Fruitful because of the primary data collected  from student activist. This followed along with the tears, fears and cheers of the stories told by former and current student activists.

The story and pictures below are the interview experiences by two social scientists in Johannesburg and the vibrant student activists based in the financial capital of Africa.

Prof. Thierry M Luescher is a Research Director at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC – Cape Town) and affiliated Assoc.Prof in the School of Higher Education Studies of the University of Free State. His research focus is the student experience; student politics; higher education policy; and international and comparative higher education.
Mr Nkululeko Makhubu is a M Com Information Systems student at the University of Cape Town. He is also a researcher at the HSRC involved in their Student Movement project
Nkululeko is quite the digital cadre. Asking fellow student activists involved in the 2015-2016 student movement – for multimedia content at Wits. SA History Online is collaborating a platform which facilitates user generated content based on the Student Movement from #RMF to #FMF
Day 1 of 4 of interviews in the City of Gold. For the #FeesMustFall and history of student leadership project Prof Luescher interviewed Dr Prishani Naidoo (Society Work and Development Institute) at Wits with co-interviewers Mr Nkululeko Makhubu and Mr Ntokozo Thabo “TK” Bhengu from the Council of Higher Education.

This Observatory of Student Politics and Higher Education Research in Africa ( blog keeps you occasionally updated on the Human Science Research Council project – and on opportunities to stay involved and contribute.


Day 2 of 4 of interviewing in Jozi with Nkululeko Makhubu and Thierry Luescher. Heart felt sharing of experiences on #FMF and #NationalShutdown at Walter Sisulu University by Mr. Vuyo Mntonintshi. He is a Candidate Attorney at the Wits Centre for Aplied Legal Studies.

In terms of student interview participants so far: a big Thanks to all who gave their time, energy and shared their narratives from across the landscape of SU, WSU, RU, UJ, NWU, SAUS, UWC, and WITS in a first pilot set of interviews in “Jozi” about the Fallist student movement of 2015/16.

Wits lecturer Kelly Gillespie said that October 6 is an active movement for workers, staff and students to come together to discuss the kind of university they want and “identify the key sides of struggle and need to be worked on in order to create a decolonised public African university”.
Putting up posters at the University of Johannesburg’s student centre noticeboards at their Bunting Road Campus


Business pioneer Sol Kerzner celebrated milestones achieved by the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) School of Tourism and Hospitality (STH) at the Bunting Road Campus, named after him.
Students and members of October 6, an organisation of workers and students, from Wits and University of Johannesburg (UJ) gathered on Monday to discuss increasing security on university campuses. Among the issues discussed was “the right to protest”. Member of Right2Know campaign Palesa Kunene said that “police military” must come to an end at universities as it is infringing on protests.

Qualitative research requires a lot of patiance, attentiveness, travel and logistical planning. UFS, UWC and UCT were almost completed in 2018. After this it’s off to Eastern Cape, Kwa Zulu-Natal, Limpopo and Gauteng again. To all student activists – we are grateful for your efforts, and deeply humbled.

Some FAQs on the project:

What is the HSRC – SAHO Student Movement project?

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) is the largest public social science research organisation and policy think tank in South Africa and indeed Africa-wide. It is like a huge social science, arts and public health research university, but its students are funded interns that are registered in degree-granting universities. The HSRC is based in Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Pietermaritzburg and Pretoria. As part of the HSRC’s public mandate it has established a project to establish and curate a public collection of research and public submissions on the student movement in South Africa and the 2015/16 Fallist campaigns in particular. The project is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Research Foundation (NRF).

South African History Online (SAHO) is the largest independent history education and research institute in the country. SAHO was established in 2000 as a non-profit Section 21 organisation. It is run by an independent Board of Directors, comprising historians and people from the private sector. SAHO’s aim is to promote history and the arts and to address the bias in written history as represented in South African educational and cultural institutions. It’s motto is therefore “Towards a people’s history”.

Together we are aiming to establish a huge digital archive for now and the future and participate in a process of critically examining the learning that can be gained from the student movement. Fittingly, this partnership will allow anyone with internet access to learn about protests campaigns such as:

#RhodesMustFall, #OpenStellenbosch, #FeesMustFall, #EndOutsourcing, #RUFReferencelist, #NationalShutDown, and other campaigns into 2016 and beyond.

Preserving this South African moment of history is crucial in sustaining the fight for Free Decolonised Education.

Click here for More information on the project. For regular updates follow on Twitter @osphera and @HSRCza

Why do we need your help?

Sharing your first hand perspective on the student movement to the world gives a better collective understanding of the challenges that youth in general, and students in TVET and higher education in South Africa, face. It creates the possibility for a more bottom-up, grassroots narrative and to keep the demands and initiatives of past generations of student leaders alive.

In advancing the drive to build an archive on the 2015/16 student movement fit for the Digital Age, the HSRC and SAHO have established a website to collect images, videos, docs, PDFs, audio files, etc. from student protests to archive them and be able tell the multiple narratives. They will form part of the ‘data’ to tell more complete, critical, and student-grounded narratives of the movement.

To upload any pictures, videos, or links via SAHO go to:  CLICK ON THE POSTER BELOW

FeesMustFall poster proof1

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