How Can the #Feesmustfall Campaign be Justified?

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  • May 14, 2023

Feesmustfall Campaign

The #FeesMustFall (#FMF) campaign was a student-led movement that took place in South Africa in 2015-2016. The movement demanded an end to the rising costs of higher education in the country and the provision of free education for all. The campaign sparked protests across the country, with students occupying universities, blocking roads, and clashing with police and security forces. While the campaign had far-reaching consequences for higher education institutions and the South African economy, the impact on individual students is less well understood.

Limited Access to Higher Education

One of the main justifications for the #FMF campaign is the limited access to higher education in South Africa. The country’s historical legacy of apartheid has left a legacy of inequality, with many black students still facing significant barriers to accessing higher education. Even for those who do gain access, the costs of tuition and related expenses can be prohibitive, leading to high levels of student debt and financial stress. The #FMF campaign aimed to address these issues by calling for free education for all students and an end to the increasing costs of tuition.

Students experienced unique challenges in transitioning to their first year during the #FMF protest actions. The protests disrupted academic activities, leading to missed classes and canceled lectures, which affected students’ ability to keep up with coursework. As a result, many students struggled to cope with the academic demands of their first year, which could have long-lasting effects on their academic performance and future prospects. A study by M. Greeff et. al. identified the impact of protest actions on students’ lives as a significant theme, highlighting the disruption and uncertainty caused by the protests.

Psychological and Physical Harm

Another justification for the #FMF campaign is the psychological and physical harm that many students experienced during the protests. The violent nature of some protest actions, including clashes with police and campus security forces, led to injuries and trauma for many students. These experiences could have long-lasting effects on students’ mental health and well-being, potentially affecting their academic performance and future prospects. The study identified psychological experiences of trauma and physical harm as a significant theme, highlighting the impact of the protests on individual students.

Collisions with Law Enforcement

Clashes between students and police or campus security were another significant theme identified by the study. The protests often became violent, with clashes between students and law enforcement. The heavy-handed response of the police and security forces led to injuries and arrests, further escalating tensions. The clashes also created a climate of fear and uncertainty for students, with some feeling unsafe on campus and others avoiding protests altogether. The study highlights the need for effective management of protests to minimize the risk of violence and protect the safety and well-being of all students.

Student Attitudes Towards and Needs in Times of Crisis

The study also identified student attitudes towards and needs in times of crisis as a significant theme. Students expressed a need for support and guidance during the protests, as well as a desire for their voices to be heard. Many students reported feeling frustrated with the lack of communication from the university administration regarding the protests and their impact on academic activities. They also felt that the university did not do enough to provide resources and support for students who were affected by the protests. Students expressed a desire for more open communication channels with the university administration and for more opportunities to voice their concerns.

Clashes between Students and Police or Campus Security

Participants reported incidents of police brutality, with some students being tear-gassed and physically assaulted. The police were accused of using excessive force, which led to the injury of students and further fuelled the protests. Some participants reported being afraid of going to campus because of the heavy police presence. These clashes disrupted the academic calendar and resulted in students missing classes and examinations.

The Impact of Protest Actions on Students’ Lives

Participants reported that the protests affected their mental health, with some experiencing depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The disruptions to the academic calendar meant that students had to extend their stay on campus, which increased their living expenses. Some students had to find part-time jobs to cover their additional expenses, which affected their academic performance. The protests also affected the academic progress of some students, with some unable to complete their courses on time.


The #FeesMustFall protest actions had a significant impact on South African higher education institutions, the economy, and individual students. A study provided insight into how first-year students at a Peri-urban University campus experienced the protest actions. The study identified these themes: clashes between students and police or campus security, the impact of protest actions on students’ lives, psychological experiences of trauma and physical harm, and student attitudes towards and needs in times of crisis.

The findings of the study highlight the need for universities to develop proactive measures to minimize the impact of protest actions or disruptions on the institution itself, students, and the stakeholders involved. The study underscores the importance of providing emotional and academic support to students during times of crisis. By doing so, universities can ensure that students have a positive first-year experience and are equipped to cope with the demands of university life. Furthermore, the study calls for more research into the experiences of students during protest actions and other crisis situations. Such research can inform the development of policies and strategies aimed at mitigating the impact of these situations on students and other stakeholders.

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