2015 - when students taught academia the language of discontent: iLIVE

05 November 2015 - 17:27 By Majola Majola
ENGINEERING THE FUTURE: Tiisetso Leshilo, a second-year mechanical engineering student at the Wits University, gets on with his studies in a quiet corner while the #FeesMustFall leadership debates student fees following a week of unrest and marches on the campus
ENGINEERING THE FUTURE: Tiisetso Leshilo, a second-year mechanical engineering student at the Wits University, gets on with his studies in a quiet corner while the #FeesMustFall leadership debates student fees following a week of unrest and marches on the campus

The year 2015 will forever be remembered as the year students in institutions of higher learning succeeded in using the academic landscape to address the language of discontent.

A language often interpreted through violent protests by impoverished citizens of our country. From the #RhodesMustFall movement until the #OccuyUJ movement, the dated language of protest has not just shaken up the establishment, but has invigorated the meaning of active citizenry, therefore availing to us options to remedy self indulgent indifference of how largely untransformed South Africa remains. 

We must always remember that in its early stages June 16, 1976 was student rebellion against the use of the Afrikaans language as the medium of instruction in the Apartheid education system.

The language factor presented the surface of the deep structures reinforcing the exclusion of black people for the undeterred advancement of the Afrikaner Nationalist government’s oppressive ideals.

As soon as the students caught on they linked their movement to others of resistance against the entire system which also oppressed workers, their parents. Many public commentators have already highlighted why students and workers have linked their struggles in 2015, and at the heart of this alliance is the continued exclusion of black people from mainstream economy.

As the year draws to a close it is essential for us to reflect without prejudice on lessons left behind by the progressing movements.


For me the one major lesson I take is the unrestrained power found in the language solidarity, for it is through solidarity that a movement initially dismissed as belonging to 200 disgruntled students ended up at the Union Buildings legitimized by over 10 000 bodies. I take away with concern the two languages adopted by our government.

First, it is the language of misinterpretation by the government of the people’s language to challenges they face directly.  All active citizens are well aware of the fact that foundations to our democracy were built on the negotiation tables of CODESA.

The pragmatic approach of those negotiations gave birth to the language of compromise understood more by politicians than it is by ordinary people. This language of compromise has often been used to exemplify the protection of white capital and the policing of black people’s demands. The student movements also produced the language of assertion that is clearly founded on self respect.

The vacuum of a common language between the state and the people got crystallized by the following events.

Political porn

In September Mr. Vavi led the Anti-Corruption March and afforded our citizens the courage to stand up against corruption. Njabulo Nzuza of the ANCYL, a structure which forms part of the ruling party dismissed a movement raising an issue affecting impoverished people the most as just a public stunt.

Ayanda Mabulu produced protest artwork under the title The Pornography of Power.

If porn is described as sexual depiction for sexual arousal was Mabulu merely suggesting that today’s politics are an artificial depiction of the real meaning of freedom? How?

These are some of the questions we failed to adequately address while narrowing our reception of the art to its graphic placement of gender. Moreover Mabulu’s agitated depiction of our society got dismissed as attention seeking and disrespectful.

There were many more protests that took place in this country that had a very instructive tone than a pleading tone, perhaps indicating the multiplying of the power of awareness among ordinary citizens.


These demonstrations culminated in the March by the ANCWL in defense of the president.

Unlike protests which preceded the women’s march, theirs in particular concluded with a spectacular concert where Chomie and Deborah Fraser probably rendered musical adaptations of the memorandum the women handed over to Minister in the presidency.

The event was not only an overreaction and misinterpretation of concerned citizens grievances but was a blatant dismissal of other people’s well paced criticism and opinion of a government they put in charge to lead their lives.

Of course we all have the right to raise points of order in confrontational and violent tone that shape opinions, however it would be conducive to the progress of our country if we continue to overlook the seriousness of the issue trapped within objected to tonalities.

It is of utmost importance that the government of the people adapts to the language of the people, if its intention is to represent the people until Jesus comes.    


ANC Conference 2017