By Kim Ludbrook
During the last quarter of 2015, the powerful social media-driven #feemustfall campaign started to make local and international news headlines as students at all of South Africa’s leading universities protested, often violently, on campus and in the streets calling for free university education and a general ‘de-colonisation’ of the university system in the country.
In Johannesburg and Pretoria students attacked the very heart of the ANC rule, the Union Buildings. The students fought against the African National Congress (ANC) led government saying that the university fees should be free.
At the University of Cape Town, the sister #rhodesmustfall campaign witnessed the tearing down of the statue of one of South Africa’s most prominent white colonial figures, Cecil John Rhodes.
Although part of the student protest groups where white, the vast majority were black students using social media to make a point. Underneath the surface of these university protests, racial tensions rose as statues of other white political figures at campuses were defaced or torn down.
Then in early 2016 a white estate agent racially slurred black beach-goers in an apparent reaction to litter left behind after New Year’s celebrations. There has been mass reaction to her statement in social media and political quarters. Added to that, a leading ANC member called for ‘a genocide of whites’ while other racially motivated sentiments reverberated around the nation.
Recently black students, led by the opposition EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) party, and white students, backed by Afriforum, protested at the University of Pretoria. The university was shut for two weeks while each side argued over the main language of the University of Pretoria – Afrikaans. Black students demanded the right to be taught in their own language.
Then one morning while covering demonstrations between the EFF and Afriforum, I suddenly saw hundreds of students over the road who started to pray together. What grew out of the tensions was a movement called #colorblind. White and black students held hands, stating that they do not ‘see’ color and that ‘we are all the same’. A small sign of hope.