Contributors are invited to write on the topic above from either a research or an activism perspective. Abstracts and contributions must be written in English and in a style accessible to a wide audience. Please submit abstracts to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
No later than 10th January 2017
GUEST EDITORS: Simamkele Dlakavu, Sandile Ndelu and Barbara Boswell
2015 marked a watershed year in South African higher education, with first the #RhodesMustFall (RMF) and then #FeesMustFall (FMF) student movements irrevocably changing the political and cultural landscapes of university campuses nationally.
In March 2015, a group of predominantly black students at the University of Cape Town used the protest method of civil disobedience successfully to demand the removal of a prominently-placed statue of the colonizer Cecil John Rhodes from campus. The statue was, for these students, a symbol of the continued racism and alienation they experienced as a result of an incomplete transformation project 21 years into South Africa’s transition to democracy. RMF’s mission statement described the movement as “an independent collective of students, workers and staff who have come together to end institutionalised racism and patriarchy at UCT” (RMF Mission Statement). The movement used the demand to remove the statue as an entry-point into a broader set of decolonisation demands, including the removal of offensive artworks from campus that celebrated colonization, in-sourcing outsourced university workers, transforming a predominantly white professoriate and decolonising the university curriculum to centre Africa and African knowledge systems across the disciplines. RMF centred “black pain” – the idea that “the dehumanisation of black people at UCT” was at the root of its struggle. (RMF Mission Statement)
Another central tenet of the RMF movement was intersectionality (Krenshaw 1989). The movement noted that even as it arose as a response to racism at UCT and centred black pain, “[a]n intersectional approach to our blackness takes into account that we are not only defined by our blackness, but that some of us are also defined by our gender, our sexuality, our able-bodiedness, our mental health, and our class, among other things. We all have certain oppressions and certain privileges and this must inform our organising so that we do not silence groups among us, and so that no one should have to choose between their struggles.” RMF inspired similar decolonisation movements such as the Open Stellenbosch Collective at Stellenbosch University, the Black Student Movement at the University currently known as Rhodes (UCKAR), the RhodesMustFall Movement at Oxford, UK, and the Royal Must Fall Movement at Harvard, USA*.
An important offshoot of #RMF was the #FeesMustFall Movement, which erupted at the University of the Witwatersrand in October 2015 as a response to a proposed 10.5% fee increase for the 2016 academic year, and quickly spread to university campuses across South Africa. This movement sought to remedy the lack of access to universities of the vast majority of black South African youth due to the prohibitive costs of higher education. The #FeesMustFall 2015 Movement resulted in a government directive for a 0% percent increase in university fees for 2016, a provisional victory that spurred the movement to regroup in 2016 with a demand for free, decolonised education for all eligible South Africans.
Where #RMF was concentrated on one campus, the University of Cape Town, #FMF manifested across almost all of South Africa’s 26 university campuses in multifarious ways. This meant a much more decentralised structure, with each campus’s members providing direction to its protests in specific and singular ways.
Despite vast differences in the make-up and strategies of these student activist groups, sexism, heterosexism, homophobia and transphobia have emerged as characteristics that marred these movements, albeit unevenly, across various institutions. Cleavages emerged between students who identified as black, queer and transgender feminists, and sections of the movement who identified more explicitly with patriarchy.
These cleavages gave rise to a range of feminist interventions. At UCT a group of black, queer, transwomxn strategised around claiming increasingly contested space within #RMF (Matandela 2015); the UCT Trans Collective disrupted a photographic exhibition hosted by #RMF as a gesture of resisting the erasure of black trans bodies from official narratives of the #RMF Movement. At UCKAR, black womxn activists released the #RUReference List, a list which named eleven men accused of rape on that campus, and inaugurated a national debate around rape culture on South African university campuses. At Wits, a solidarity naked protest was initiated under the hashtag #IamOneInThree, representing the number of womxn in South Africa who have or will be sexually assaulted or raped in their lifetime. Moreover, Black feminists at these universities have organised events, workshops and protests aimed at challenging the violence and exclusion inflicted upon them by cisnormativity, heteronormativity and patriarchy. These interventions mirror earlier mini-skirt protests at the Universities of Zimbabwe and Namibia, where womxn deliberately used dress to draw attention to sexual violence against womxn students.
African universities have sustained histories as sites of resisting pernicious nationalist discourses and policies. Cameroonian universities such as the Universities of Buea and Yahoundé have, for the past decade, employed strikes as a way of bringing attention to budgetary cuts, spearheading a larger movement to transform neoliberal economic relations in that country (Nyamjoh et. al, 2012). In Kenya, Chuka University was shut down in early 2016 because of disputed student union election results, following the closure of the University of Nairobi after student protest over fees increases.
Although these current movements/protests are part of a historical continuum of resistance against racism and colonialism on African university campuses, they simultaneously mark a point of departure. They have, unlike earlier struggles, brought to the fore a clear and powerful feminist challenge to the cisheteronormative patriarchy – in broader society as well as within the student movements
This issue of AGENDA seeks contributions on Feminisms and womxn’s resistance within national and pan-African student movements. We invite papers that are empirical, theoretical, epistemological or experiential. Stories, poetry and other creative works are also encouraged. Some themes to address might include:
- Mappings of feminist/womanist resistance within student movements across the African continent.
- Deployments of intersectionality within national and continental student movements.
- Visions of decolonised curricula that centre black feminist thought.
- Rethinking “black pain” through black queer, feminist and/or trans lenses.
- Trans feminist resistance within student movements.
- Centering class and geopolitics — i.e. different forms of activism at historically white and historically black universities –within feminist and decolonial resistance.
- The role of social media in feminist student activism, including online bullying and responses.
- Reframing imperial feminisms.
- The intersections of class, disability, gender, race and sexuality within student movements.
- Historical accounts of feminist resistance within student movements in Africa.
- Black feminist imaginations of decolonised institutions of higher learning.
- The relationships between these assertive feminist forms of resistance and earlier feminist struggles and scholarship as they relate to difference, identity and intersectionality
Contributions are accepted in any form, prose (both theoretical and practical), poetry, narrative, interviews, and visual arts.