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Richard Pithouse Reflects on the Meaning of Fees Must Fall and the Grahamstown Spring

The New South Africa at TwentyTowards the end of last month, as the #FeesMustFall student movement gained momentum and spread across university campuses in South Africa, Grahamstown experienced two watershed moments that shook its foundations to the core.

As Rhodes University students were protesting against the proposed fee increases and an exorbitant minimum initial payment (MIP) for 2016, a scourge of xenophobic violence took place as Grahamstown locals attacked migrant Muslim traders who had “come to destroy black business”.

Richard Pithouse, Politics lecturer at Rhodes and contributor to The New South Africa at Twenty: Critical Perspectives edited by Peter Vale and Estelle H Prinsloo, provides insightful analysis of the two events and what it means for the future of the town and the country.

Read the article:

Everybody knows, to borrow a line from Leonard Cohen, that the deal is rotten. Everybody knows that we can’t carry on as we are. Everybody knows that Zuma can’t take us out of the morass into which we are sinking. As the student march finally got under way on one side of town the attacks on migrant Muslim traders began on the other side. Two visions of the future, both internally complex, contradictory and contested, were playing themselves out within a five-minute walk from each other.

One the one side local elites were exploiting real fears and a real crisis to advance a politics of authoritarianism and ruthless chauvinism in which their own material interests could be conflated with those of the nation. One the other side some of the brightest and best of our young people were at the centre of a project organised and sustained, although not without some strain at some points, around a set of emancipatory ideas.

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