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Campaigns demanding the fall of something or someone have been a feature of the South African movements scene in recent times. How far have these campaigns succeeded in articulating and achieving their agendas? The author argues that fallism represents both continuity and discontinuity of the traditions of the historic liberation movements and emergent social movements in South Africa.

"The modern proletarian class does not carry out its struggle according to a plan set out in some book or theory; the modern workers' struggle is a part of history, a part of social progress, and in the middle of history, in the middle of progress, in the middle of the fight, we learn how we must fight... That's exactly what is laudable about it, that's exactly why this colossal piece of culture, within the modern workers' movement, is epoch-defining: that the great masses of the working people first forge from their own consciousness, from their own belief, and even from their own understanding the weapons of their own liberation." - Rosa Luxembourg


This essay explores the principles and ideologies embedded in the Fallism or the Fallist Movement in relationship to the discourse on transformation in South Africa. It examines how the continuities between apartheid and post\neo-apartheid realities shape the political consciousness, ideological perspectives and activism of the Fallism generation.  From this basis the essay explains the emergence of Fallism in South Africa through the logic and notion of historical experiences-historical consciousness, material conditions-social consciousness, structure–agency nexus. The essay further examines the interplay between spontaneity and organization in the context of Fallism, applying Rosa Luxemburg’s notion of the dialectics of spontaneity and organization. It concludes by enlisting Walter Benjamin’s theory of traditions of the oppressed to argue that Fallism represents both continuity and discontinuity of the traditions of the historic liberation movements and emergent social movements in South Africa.

Journalist Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya asserts that the name Fallism is derived from the fact that the common thread in the campaigns and movements concerned is the call or demand that something or someone must fall. [1] This essay concentrates on the Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall, with some reference to Outsourcing Must Fall, movements.  The decision to focus on these ‘movements’ is influenced by the explicit interconnectness of the issues they deal with. The three movements\campaigns operate within a shared ‘socio-geographic’ community and site of struggle (higher education\ campus) and all deal with issues directly and indirectly related to conditions and sense of alienation and de-humanization, marginalization and exclusion, discrimination and exploitation in a space in which the protagonists are subjected to a peripheral and subaltern existence.  These sections of Fallism also have a shared opposition to neoliberal capitalist exploitation and ‘new imperialism’ and a devotion to the theme of de-commodification, de-coloniality, intersectionality, solidarity and anti-sectarianism in their struggles. 

The Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall movements are particularly overt in their non-partisan\ non-alignment stance in relation to political parties and social movements and in their declaration of their unifying philosophical and ideological frame of reference as Black consciousness, Pan Africanism, Black feminism and queer politics.  

The campaign for the resignation of President JG Zuma pursued under the slogan ‘Zuma Must Fall’ is not included in this essay particularly because of its lack of the attributes shared by these three segments of Fallism. While the campaigns\movements that are the focus of this essay continue to exist as Rhodes Must Fall, Fees Must Fall and Outsourcing Must Fall, the Zuma Must Fall initiative seems to have found its home, expression, platform and movement in Save South Africa. In their intellectual\ ideological\political homilies, speechifying, and symbolisms the three ‘movements’ are explicit that the issues they raise are a mobilization platform and point of entry in their struggle against racism, classism, sexism, patriarchy, neoliberalism and new imperialism, and their struggle for de-commodification of labor and education, and for de-colonialisation at all levels of society and the state.

 Implicit in their discourse is a critique of the kind of South Africa they don’t want and general articulation of the kind of Azania [2] they dream of, or at least the principles around which it should be constructed. One cannot say the same of the campaign for Jacob Zuma to step down as the president of South Africa. Beyond its key theme of protection of constitutionalism and the rule of law, it does not project any unifying philosophical and ideological worldview and vision of the social system it envisages. In his emphasis of the need for people struggling against injustice to start imagining how they will live afterwards, Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya raises the concern that he has never heard what those behind the Zuma Must Fall initiative think must happen thereafter. It is for the reasons outlined here, that the Zuma Must Fall is not included in this appraisal of the Fallist ‘movements’. Thus, for the purpose of this essay Fallism shall refer to movements who use the strategy of focusing on one key symbol, issue or figure as a rallying and mobilizing point to advance an ideological and political program directed towards the fall of structures of oppression, exploitation, discrimination, disenfranchisement, exclusion, powerlessness, based on race, class, gender and other forms of social exclusion. 

Rhodes Must Fall: Engaging the colonial legacy and the continuities of racial-capitalism in post\neo-apartheid SA

“We need history, but our need for it differs from that of the jaded idlers in the garden of knowledge.”-  Nietzsche, On the Advantages and Disadvantages of History for Life

On 9 March 2015 students at the University of Cape Town (UCT) rose up in a protest against a statue at the university that commemorates Cecil Rhodes.  The protest movement grew bigger to focus on the wider issues represented by the alienating presence of the arch-imperialist’s statue at the university. The character of the movement is aptly captured by the UCT chapter’s definition of itself as “a collective movement of students and staff members mobilizing for direct action against the reality of institutional racism at the University of Cape Town.”[3]

The statue of Cecil John Rhodes was ultimately removed on 9 April 2015, following a vote of the UCT Council on 8 April 2015 but the RMF movement lives beyond the fall of the statue and has culminated into a wider movement to "decolonize" education across South Africa. RMF emerged as an expression of the discontent and rage of Black students and Black staff at the UCT in response to the alienating colonial architecture, Euro-centric culture of the university and a fee structure that is completely hostile and unsympathetic to the realities and experiences of Black people. The collective experience of racial profiling, financial and academic exclusion and general alienation in a high education institution with a Euro-centric ethos found motif in the struggle against the symbolic representation of the colonial legacy, i.e the statue of the arch-colonial racist Cecil John Rhodes.

However, the issues that mobilized the movement are deeper and bigger than a protest against the statue.  At the core of these issues is the history of the university’s indifference to Black students feeling alienated by its Euro-centric education practices and lilly-white culture, its downplaying of the students’ struggle with exorbitant fees and its apathetic response to incidents of rape and violence against women on campus.  It is not a wonder that students in other universities immediately connected to the issues raised by the campaign that initially started at UCT and that within a short space of time Rhodes Must Fall became a movement, with participation by university students across the country. Raeesa Pather observes that response from some UCT students to the Rhodes Must Fall movement has revealed the day-to-day racism that slips under the campus radar. The students she interviewed shared stories and experiences of white students referring to RMF students as “monkeys” and “kaffirs” or “savages” who “destroy everything they touch” on social media; and of Black staff and students frequently reduced to tears by the racism they encounter from their peers. Recognition of the relationship between the valorization and denigration of the Black body, the sexualization and objectification of the female body, the vulgarization and censure of the queer body and the commodification and exploitation of the body of the worker, and the ridicule and belittling of disabled bodies, led the activists of Rhodes Must Fall, and later Fees Must Fall and Outsourcing Must Fall, to intersectionality.

The practical reality of the connection between the social structures that oppress, exploit, de-humanize and discriminate against Black people, women, the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgender and Intersex (GLBTI) community, workers and disabled people raised awareness of the interconnection between racism, capitalism, patriarchy, homophobia, ableism, etc. Black students’ reflections on and awareness of the broader social, political, economic and cultural environment that shape their marginal and peripheral existence at the lilly-white institution made them to ponder on the continuities between pre- and post-1994 South Africa.

Ironically, it is precisely the fact that a significant number of the current generation of students falls under the category of youths born after 1994 that raised their keen awareness of the continuities between the social and power relations under the settler-colonial and racial-capitalist set-up and in the post\neo-colonial and liberal-capitalist dispensation.  The Black students’ realization of the systemic, structural and institutional nature of these continuities made them recognize that the contrast between the born-free label given to them and their conditions and feeling of being un-free in the higher education and broader social environment is the result of the untransformed nature of the education system and the social system within which the education system functions. 

True to the Marxian notion of the nexus between material realities and social conditions and historical and social consciousness, the harsh material reality of being the other in a university with a history of being a white university in a colonial town raised the Black students’ social and historical consciousness. On the other hand, the material and social reality of being beneficiaries of privilege accrued from social stratification based on race, class and gender made a sizable number of conscientious white students and academics find common cause with Black students in their struggle against neo-colonialism, while a significant number of white students and academics held on to the comforts and privilege and saw the Rhodes Must Fall Movement as an unnecessary disruption. The racist mindset of some of the White academics is reflected by an academic at one historically white university who rebuffed the concern that the dominance of texts by white Anglo-Saxon writers in books prescribed in the English literature department alienated Black students, as simply a matter of Black students being lazy.

The students’ recognition of the complementarity between the education system and the socio-political-economic system is reflected in their deliberate adoption of Black Consciousness, Pan Africanism, queer politics and Black feminism as their philosophical and ideological frame of reference and their articulation of the intersection between race, class and gender.  This finds resonant expression in the assertion by Kealeboga Ramaru, a student in RMF, that: “When we say ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ we mean that patriarchy must fall, that white supremacy must fall, that all systematic oppression based on any power relations of difference must be destroyed at all costs”.[4]

After the fall of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes the students continued to operate under the name Rhodes Must Fall, interpreting the name as symbolizing the fall of systematic oppression accrued from colonialism. The students’ observations that the two decades of transformation, being the catchphrase at the centre of government policies and public discourse, have brought no meaningful change realized that social, political, economic and educational structures are made un-transformable by the colonial and neo-colonial base, foundation, parameters, conventions and protocols upon which they are rooted. Therefore students moved away from a simple call for transformation to a call for the de-colonialisation of universities to create a campus environment, university culture and education practices embracing rather than alienating the reality of being Black and female and working-class in the world.

This necessitates institutional codes and practices, epistemology and pedagogy rooted in the historical-material realities of South Africa instead of jettisoning and rebuffing the historical, cultural, social and political realities of South Africa and Africa. Thus, the immediate practical program of the movement constituted of three major practical demands\proposals, that is, (1) the university must hire more Black academics, (2) the university must stop outsourcing workers, and (3) the university must develop an Afro-centric curriculum. These demands are centered on the theme of de-coloniality but also express the idea of Black solidarity and the principle of Black worker-students solidarity which reflect the students’ awareness that their education issues are inseparable from broader societal issues and the specific experiences of the broader Black community and the working-class.

In as far as organizational form and organizational culture is concerned Rhodes Must Fall from the inception asserted the principles students’ self-organization around common issues  and collective  activity involving all student organizations and students from various social and political backgrounds, without affiliation to a specific political party and without a rigid organizational structure or hierarchy. While committing to stay student-centric and non-partisan, the movement accepts support and advice of elders and activists from organized civil society, labor, social and political movements. 

The organized student formations affiliated to political parties like Pan African Students Movement, EFF students and South African Students Congress (SASCO) are active in the movement. This raises concerns and challenges of struggles and contestations for political hegemony of the movement among the different political and ideological   currents. This is also complicated by the diversity of the entire student body.  The movement seeks to mediate this diversity through intersectional politics that are inclusive of all its members.  The movement has therefore positioned itself as a place of all people in agreement with the themes and objectives of de-coloniality and intersectionality, including white people. However, the movement is clear and uncompromising that de-colonialisation of higher education institutions shall be led by Black students. The perception that universities like Rhodes and UCT are colonial fortresses also influences the students’ confrontational and non-trusting attitude towards university administration.

This attitude was expressed well by Kealeboga Ramuru on the occasion of the falling of the statue Cecil John Rhodes:

“We must at no point forget that management is our colonial administrators, and their removal of the statue is merely an attempt to placate us and be perceived as sympathetic….Our freedom cannot be given to us – we must take it.” [5]

The movement is equally unapologetic about its choice of confrontational and transgressive methods and tactics. It offended the liberal sensitivities of many people with its defense of Chumani Maxwele’s poo protest [6], its exclusion of white students from certain fora and its defense of PASMA’s chanting of the “One settler, one bullet” slogan at the movements gatherings at UCT.   Members of the Rhodes Must Fall defense of the slogan is that the slogan is a rallying call to protest and tackle colonialism at the universities.   

Fees Must Fall & Outsourcing Must Fall: The dialectics of spontaneity and organization

The principles of de-commodification, decoloniality and intersectionality born out of Rhodes Must Fall were later adopted and updated by the Fees Must Fall Movement, which emerged in mid-October 2015. The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation’s research-study report titled ‘#Hashtag: An analysis of the Fees Must Fall Movement at South African Universities’, found that the issues of decolonization and transformation were central themes promoted by those involved in the protests.[7] This confirms the link between the philosophical and ideological framework of RMF and FMF as informed by the commonness of their political terrain and the practical realities that brought them into existence. Fees Must Fall began in mid-October 2015 in response to an increase in fees at South African universities. The students soon found common cause with the workers at the university who are subjected to precarious labor in the form of casualization and outsourcing. The protests started at the University of Witwatersrand and spread to the University of Cape Town and Rhodes University. The protests received sympathy from various sections of South African society and elicited international solidarity. A Cape Town daily newspaper, The Cape Argus, invited student co-editors to edit the day's edition of the newspaper. Articles were written, commissioned and edited by the students involved in FMF.

On 23 October 2015, a group of around 200 students gathered at Trafalgar Square, the United Kingdom, in front of South Africa House to show support of protesting students in South Africa.  On the morning of the same day university vice chancellors and student representatives met with President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria to negotiate a way forward. Whilst they were meeting, a large group of protesting students assembled outside the Union Buildings to await Zuma's response. A small group turned violent, setting fire to a portable toilet and breaking down fences. The police responded with tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets. Another group of students called for restraint and discipline, stressing it was a peaceful protest. Later in the day, after about 3pm, President Zuma announced from within the Union Buildings that there would be no increase in university fees in 2015.

The announcement was welcomed by the students as a victory and brought a stop to the Fees Must Fall protests.  The 2015 protests led to the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training. In 2016 the students resumed the protests in response to the announcement by the Minister of Higher Education of fee increases capped at 8 percent for 2017, with each institution given the freedom to decide by how much their tuition would increase. The 2016 protests saw the movement lose momentum, due to alleged sabotage by the Progressive Youth Alliance – which is aligned to the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and internal divisions. [8] The alleged infiltration by PYA and the apparent difficulty experienced by Fees Must Fall Movement to deal with the tensions emanating out of contesting political and sectional interests and the relatively ad hoc nature of its programs have raised issues about the weaknesses of Fallism, particularly its spontaneous character and apparent aversion to conventional organizational arrangements. 

An extensive research on the strengths and weaknesses, victories and successes Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall movements is required for a more objective appraisal of Fallism. A brief examination of these strengths and weakness will suffice for this essay. In the main the key strength of Fallism is its insistence of non-partisan student-centered action, Black student leadership, student-worker-community solidarity and intersectionality. This helps to reignite the unity-in-action coalition-building, movement-building traditions of the ‘70s and ‘80s that facilitated civic, labor, political and community organizations and people of all social backgrounds to work together against apartheid. The respect for diversity and plurality and keen awareness of the plight of excluded and discriminated sectors of society made RMF and FMF a place where the gender and sexuality issues and the feminist and queer voices found a platform more than ever before in the history of student struggles.  Included in the strengths is the ability to elicit international solidarity, as was the case with the liberation movement in its struggle against apartheid-capitalism. Within a short period of time the call for de-colonizing universities had crossed the borders of South Africa, with progressives at Oxford University up in campaigns for the removal of the statue of Rhodes on their campus just after the protests had spread throughout South Africa. They brought public focuses – locally and globally – to concerns that have been there but waiting for vociferous articulation and vigorous action.  The most important of these concerns is the reversals and replacement of multi-culturalism and sensitivity to the distinct needs and demands of historically oppressed and marginalised communities by rising fascism, market fundamentalism and empire politics.  This particularly relates to the rampant “institutional racism” in the world and more insidious and crude in South Africa.

Amit Chaudhuri’s definition of institutional racism as the resurrection of the colonial order, which was by no means managed exclusively by racist individuals, but by people who believed that a skewed system was normal is more relevant in the South African situation.[9] The Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall movement amplified and exposed this conception of institutional or systemic or structural racism with exposure of how some of the institutions that pride themselves as centers of progressive liberal, social democratic and leftist traditions were reeking with racist attitudes and practices. 

The movement forced the state and society to explore underlying reasons behind questions such as: why are there so few Black professors in South Africa? Why are there so few Black South African post-graduates at South African institutions? Why do Black students feel so alienated at universities and why are female students so unsafe at the universities? Why have South African students turned on their parents’ generation?

Most importantly, the Fallist movement has helped South Africans to reflect on the extent of damages of overzealous obsession with reconciliation and nation-building without bold confrontation with the structures that produce and entrench racism, classism, sexism and related forms of discrimination.  It exposed the failures of the country to deal honestly and decisively with the issues of redress, restitution, restoration, reparation, redistribution and reconstruction as the sine quo non for genuine reconciliation and sustainable nation-building. It also highlighted the relationship between the dominant values within the institutions and broader society and the power and social relations that are shaped by skewed patterns of ownership and control of the economy.  The immediate victories of these Fallist movements include:

  • the fall of the statue of John Rhodes at UCT,  
  • the setting up of the fees commission,
  • the government’s increase of the amount budgeted for higher education by R17-billion over 3 years,
  • government’s commitment to increase subsidies to universities by 10.9 percent a year,
  •  the increased use of blended learning by South African universities to assist non-protesting students complete their courses,
  • free education returned to the centre of policy debates in the country, with the then minister of finance, Pravin Gordon pronouncing on 25 August 2015 that if corruption could be addressed, South Africa could afford to cover university fees for students from poor backgrounds,
  •  the theme of de-colonialization became more pronounced in the transformation discourse in South Africa  
  • the Outsourcing Must Fall campaign born out of the Fees Must Fall Movement put a spotlight on the plight of  workers who are in precarious labour at universities and spread to other sectors in the economy where workers are subjected to precarious labor and unfavorable conditions of employment
  • outsourcing Must Fall led to UCT announcing that  hundreds of previously contracted workers will be insourced from July 2016
  • at the University of Free State workers won a 100 percent pay rise as part of the in-sourcing agreement with management, with the Socialist Youth Movement (WASP’s youth wing) playing a leading role.

Another gain for the movement was the overwhelming support for its cause from civil society.

The greatest weaknesses of the movement is the inability to keep the momentum of advocacy and activism for the overall de-colonialized and free education going beyond the protests in response to specific issues. After the fall of the statue the Rhodes Must Fall activities subsided and its voice in the public discourse faded somewhat.  Similarly, the Fees Must Fall movement seems to be more active and vocal at the time of registration and protests against financial exclusion. Whatever work these organizations do in between the protests is not out there in the public domain. The loose character of the movement reduces its capacity to plan ahead for eventualities such as the arrests of its members and fight back. The lack of structure and codes of operation also reduces the capacity of the movement to defend its activities and independence in situations where established and resourced organizations engage in acts aimed at deviating from the agenda and program of the movement or hijacking it.  The spontaneity of the movement’s actions and its seeming aversion to organization and structure also denies it the ability to develop a protracted and sustained political program. It also means not all people who participate in its programs and activities are oriented or subscribe to its values such as non-discrimination and respect for diversity. This result to situations that it can’t effectively rein in on those who act in contrast to its principles such as misogynist and homophobic elements who may be found in the student movement who may display these tendencies at the protests and rallies of the movement.

The movements also seem to lack the capacity to protect their protests from infiltration and to rein in on criminal elements and political agents deployed to take focus away from the essence and subject of their struggle. Some form of organizational structure with a leadership collective, foundational documents, program of action and code of practice would be helpful for the movement to avoid the situation whereby it is not in control of who can speak and act on its name and what the centre of authority is with regard to its activities and programs.

A case in point is made of how, while the FMF insists on not having an organized leadership structure, the media ordained Nompendulo Mkatshwa the face of the 2015 Fees Must Fall, with Destiny magazine portraying her as the face of Fees Must Fall. Some people on Twitter asked why the magazine chose to portray Mkatshwa as the face of FMF ahead of Wits SRC president Shaeera Kalla who was effectively the one leading Mkatshwa and questioned not only why the magazine put a face to the movement but also why it specifically chose the picture in which Mkatshwa wore an ANC scarf. Destiny magazine claimed that the magazine did ask Mkatshwa to wear a more “neutral” scarf, but she refused. [10] It is difficult to dismiss the suggestion that Mkatshwa’s refusal to wear a more neutral scarf was a political decision and action aimed at providing mileage for SASCO and at showing that influence of the congress movement permeates everywhere in society.  Similarly it is difficult not to find the decision of the media to refer to Mcebo Dlamini as the leader of the Fees Must Fall Movement as part of a ploy to impose a person from within the congress movement as the voice and face of Fees Must Fall. This imposition of Mkatshwa and Mcebo as the face and voice of FMF as well as the alleged hijack of the march that was meant to go to Luthuli House by PYA created tensions and division.

In the context of a loose movement it becomes more difficult to organize in a manner that does not polarize the movement. The divisions within student leadership somehow weaken their case, throttle their fighting capacity and disarm them from engaging in a protracted uninterrupted struggle for de-colonialisation.  It makes it difficult for them to develop a common platform on which they can continuously engage in broader public discourse, bringing in their de-coloniality project to debates on economic freedom and related issues such as land redistribution and radical economic transformation.  Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya articulates the problematic of focusing energies on immediate gains without reflecting on long-term institutional, policy, strategy and programmatic issues when he observes:

“I get the sense that most of the energy (of the Fallists) is spent on dealing with the present problem without adequately preparing for life after the problem has been solved, as if they do not believe their campaign will bear fruit……We only need to look to our recent past to see how struggles hinged on being opposed to something, but not necessarily pro another thing, end up.” [11]

 A Black Consciousness elder who works closely with the RMF mentions that the members of the movement say their rationale for not having a leadership structure is to avoid harassment.  This reason is not plausible enough because whether a resistance to oppression and injustice takes a completely spontaneous nature, organized, unorganized or semi-organized forms, whether there is a leadership collective or not, the system will make attempts to crush it. The harassment of individuals is unavoidable, and so is infiltration and attempts to co-opt the movement or a section thereof.

It is also important to note that the absence of a centrally coordinated program of action, the political education, mobilizing and activism initiatives become disjointed and open to capture by organizations or political forces that are dominant at a particular university. On the other hand the relatively loose and spontaneous character of the movement can be useful in protecting it from the hierarchical, authoritarian and dogmatic conventions that often stunt creativity and plurality of perspectives within traditional political parties and social movements.  

An awareness of the gaps and advantages in both spontaneity and organization could allow for a dynamic conversation between older activists who are schooled in the lore and tactics of organization and the younger generation with more inventive maneuvers and channels characteristic of current waves of popular uprisings.   However, the obstacle to this seems to be skepticism towards organization on the part of Fallism and contempt for spontaneity on the part of the traditional left and radicals. While the Fallist movement seems to be overly sensitive to the shortfalls of organization and hierarchy\structure and overzealous in its faith in spontaneity, the older generation of activists seem to be overly dismissive of the potency of spontaneity and romantic of the uses of organization.  This perception of a rigid dichotomy or separation between spontaneity and organization is not helpful. Perhaps the best way forward for the moment should be seeing spontaneity and organization as complimentary rather than incompatible.

This will allow for organic responses to immediate situations but also building organizational and leadership capacity and political and ideological development that allow the movement to make certain interventions that utilize the spontaneous actions to build capacity for sustained and protracted struggle. This approach is in line with Rosa Luxembourg’s argument that spontaneity and organization are not separable or separate activities, but different moments of one political process. Luxembourg defines “spontaneity" as a grass roots approach to organizing a party-oriented class struggle. [12] Believing that spontaneity is the elementary moment from which the class struggle evolves to a higher level of organization, Luxembourg argued that one cannot exist without the other.  She advocated that organization mediates spontaneity; and spontaneous struggles provide a momentum and environment for organization. [14]

This idea that organization must mediate spontaneous action becomes more important in the face of current experiences of how the organic uprisings in the Middle-East and Northern Africa – so-called Arab Spring - either quickly dissipated or were captured by interests that had nothing to do with revolution precisely because of a lack on ideological agenda and political program.  The manner in which the 2016 wave of Fees Must Fall protests were redirected by the PYA also highlights the need for organization to mediate spontaneity.  On the other hand, the manner in which organizational arrangements and highly centralized hierarchical structures of authority and   processes of decision-making are used in traditional political movements to put a squeeze on dissent and entrench gate-keeping and empire-building tendencies exemplifies the deficit of organization.

The many examples of how organizational traditions are sometimes at variance with current material realities and contemporary experiences of the people prove the theoretic correctness of Rosa Luxembourg’s proposition that organization should be informed by the daily struggles and immediate organic actions of the masses as they spontaneously engage with the issues facing them.[14]

A nuanced application of the dialectic of organization and spontaneity, rooted in the dynamics of South Africa, could be useful for Fallism and conventional political, civic, social, community and labor organizations. It can enable them to explore and engage in a dynamic process of fusion of spontaneous action and anarchist traditions with organizations and deliberate planning. This would allow for spontaneous action to benefit from the insights and expertise of organization, and for organization to draw strength and build from the space and conditions created by spontaneous struggles.

Conclusions: Continuity and discontinuity of SA liberation struggle politics in Fallism

‘The continuum of history is the one of the oppressors. Whereas the idea [Vorstellung] of the continuum levels everything to the ground, the idea [Vorstellung] of the discontinuum is the foundation of real tradition.’ — Walter Benjamin

The Fallist anti-colonial and anti-racist struggles - and the language that developed out of the struggles - went beyond the class and gender perspectives of social and power relations. Fallism traced the roots of political oppression, economic exploitation and social denigration of Black people in South Africa to colonialism and imperialism. 

Consequently, it identified racism and white supremacism as the ideology employed in service of capitalism, colonialism and imperialism. Thus, Fallism re-ignited Pan Africanist, Black consciousness and Black Feminist traditions and re-located the perspectives Du Bois,  Garvey, Cessaire,  Sengor and Lumumba; Nkrumah, Sobukwe; Cabral, Malcolm X,  Kwame Toure (Stockely Carmichael), Biko, Sankara, Ivan Van Sertima, Assata Shakur, Bella Hooks at the centre of  current struggles and contemporary policy debates on transformation of academia and broader society.

It also heightened students’ and youths’ interest in and interaction with current Pan African philosophies and Black intellectual traditions such as the Afro-centricity of Molefi Kete Asante and Afro-pessimism of Frank Wiltherson.  Consequently, Fallism motivated students, youths and workers to fuse the language, culture and images of the liberation movement traditions with contemporary modes and new, chic and cheeky avenues and idiomatic expressions of struggle.  In so doing, Fallism simultaneously reclaims and appraises the traditions of struggle and messes up, unsettles, disrupts and discontinues these traditions to create forms of politics and activism that speak to the turbulence and hurly-burly of the time\s and place\s and spaces they find themselves in.  It plays James Brown’s “Shout it aloud: “I am Black & Proud!”  and the BCM’s   “Black is Beautiful” at high voltage to express the hope and ideal of Blackness freed of white supremacism and Black inferiority\docility complex. At the same time it  irrepressibly screams that “Blackness is an excrement of whiteness” , “Blackness is death” in recognition of the wretchedness of Black bodies and desolation in an extremely anti-Black world where Blackness is not a mere cultural identity, but  a position of accumulation and fungibility (Saidiya Hartman)….a condition—or relation—of ontological death.[15]

To a mind that is longing and romantic about the past ways of activism and the struggle at the expense of being cynical of everything in new ones, Fallism urinates on the graves of heroes. To a mind that is puffed-up and quixotic about the present modes of activism and forms of struggle at the price of making modernity, avant-gardism or newness the creator of everything, Fallism is the all-mighty new and fresh beginning.  What we are referring to here are two extreme paradigms of engaging with a ‘new’ movement\moment like Fallism. On one extreme is the viewpoint of projecting a particular moment\movement as a momentous, earth-shattering tumultuous big moment of complete rupture that disrupts and ends histories and traditions and begin a brand-new new history and creates spanking new traditions.   The problem with the romantic view of any particular movement\moment in history as the new big thing or as the end and beginning of history is that it buries the histories and traditions of the oppressed in the name of creating a new philosophy and culture of liberation. It, therefore, presents history and philosophy, and tradition and progress as binary opposites. This gives the so-called new person the pomposity that makes him to strut around like he is the first person to see the world as it is.  It, therefore, denies the new movement the wisdom that philosophy derives from history and the sensitivity and discernment that progress develops from tradition.  This is typified by the tendency to think of concepts such as de-coloniality, intersectionality, and anti-sectarianism and confrontational and transgressive politics as new inventions of Fallism, rather than principles and practices born out of the concrete and tangible historical and material realities within whose womb the agency, activism and struggle of the Fallist generation is born.  

This framework prohibits the old generation connection and intimacy to the language and struggle of the new generation and to dismiss it as the folly of the young. It also disallows the young generation the perception and insight to realize how their idiomatic and practical expression of struggle is indebted to the history and traditions of the struggle of the old.

On the other extreme is the framework that ascribes everything to tradition and therefore sees the new movements\moments as simply a continuance of the old. This framework perceives the concepts and practices of new movements as simply versions and extensions of the old and, therefore, jettisons anything that tends to significantly vary from old ways as an aberration; a deviation that should be seen as an abomination.  

Neither of these perspectives is useful.  One perceives tradition as “a great retarding force,” while the other sees modernity as a destabilizing force. One sees organization as a great hindrance and the other perceives spontaneous action as an inoperable circuit. But in reality tradition and modernity, history and philosophy, organised action and spontaneous action feed from one another and can’t exist without the other. There is a dialectic interaction between the students’ historical memory \ historical consciousness (of the slave rebellions, anti-colonial struggles and liberation wars, of the battle of Isandlwana, the June 16, 1976 uprising, etc) and their objective experiences of marginalization \exclusion\discrimination.   


Fallism should be seen as continuing as well as discontinuing the traditions of the Congress movement, the Pan Africanist and Black Consciousness movements, the social movements that emerged in the 1990s in response to capitalist globalization and neo-liberalism, and the Black consciousness inspired counter-hegemony and counter-culture movements like the Blackwash and September National Imbizo that preceded the Rhodes Must Fall, Fees Must Fall and Outsourcing Must Fall movements. This kind of understanding will allow the older generation of activists and segments of the historic liberation movement to appreciate the new movements as building on the legacies and traditions of struggle of their predecessors and responding creatively to current realities - discarding, updating and replacing modes of resistance and protest with new forms of rebellion and activism.

Leigh-Ann Naidoo captured this well in her ‘Open Letter to Barney Pityana on the Rhodes Must Fall Movement’ in which she, inter alia, beseeched:

 “If you would show solidarity and engage from the vantage point of being willing to listen and learn rather than knowing better than them, then you would be able to start seeing the amazingness of these young students – mostly undergraduates and honours students. They don’t have all the answers as they grapple with competing oppressions and urgent issues. They are working with concepts like ‘intersectionality’ that bring into focus the multiple oppressions that occur in addition to the race/class lenses of the past. The movement and its public or popular education programme has created a space that has allowed for people with varying privileges and their corresponding blind spots, to be part of the conversation. This is radical dialogue, which I believe formed part of the legacy with which BC has left us……Biko and you would be impressed by the Black female voices and Black transsexual voices in the conversation.

“But you don’t have access to any of this because you choose to stand outside of the movement and last we heard from you, you were challenging Prof Pumla Gqola, who has been writing and thinking about radical BC, because you believed somehow that the idea of removing the statue was not well or deep enough thought through. Pumla has come to speak and listen at Azania House, why haven’t you? Is it perhaps because it may make your boardroom meetings with the powerful untenable? Or is it that you have been contorted by privilege and comfort? I am asking because I truly don’t know and would like to understand how so many of the people who fought and sacrificed to fight apartheid and all its oppressions can stand by silently now and ignore the fact that while things have changed, a lot has morphed into something worse. Poverty and inequality under the ANC’s watch is getting worse, and there has been a rampant entrenchment of white privilege, even under a Black government.”[16]

Leigh-Ann Naidoo was essentially appealing for Pityana to see his SASO\BPC activist self in the young activists of Rhodes Must Fall and hear the voice of Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi’s protest against his (Pityana) radicalism of the ‘70s in his (Pitaya’s) critique of the confrontational and transgressive politics of the Fallists. Indeed the history of the liberation struggle in Azania is the history of the disruption of tradition to create or reclaim a tradition or rather the history of discontinuity and continuity. The South African Native Congress of 1912 disrupted the tradition of resistance to colonialism and imperialist invasions along tribal lines and introduced the mobilization of African people around African nationalism. Under the new name of the African National Congress (ANC) and within the framework of the Freedom Charter it interrupted African nationalism with its adoption of multi-racialism and non-racialism.

The Pan Africanist Congress contested the multi\non-racialism framework with its notion of the oneness of the human race and the centrality of the African experience and African people in the struggle against colonialism. The Black Consciousness movement updated the PAC’s scientific explanation of race as a social construct and a function of the politics and the economy with the anti-racism position and an explicit broad definition of Black to include all ‘people of colour.’

The ANC Youth League the ANC generation of the 50s and the Pan Africanist Congress respectively disrupted the old ANC tradition of petitions and deputation to international institutions and took the struggle into the realm of mass action with the 1949 Program of Action, the Defiance Campaigns and the Anti-Dompass demonstrations. The Poqo operations went beyond peaceful protest to armed resistance. The 1970s generation fueled by the fire of Black Consciousness moved beyond the traditions of protest to and resistance and rebellion and the 1980s generation took the rebellion to the level of rendering apartheid South Africa ungovernable with peaceful and violent acts of civil disobedience, popular uprisings and armed insurrections.  

As Walter Benjamin observes, history is not based on a progressive flow of “homogeneous, empty time” directed to the future but on a disruptive constellation of the present and the past.[17] The impact of the legacy of the past and the lessons we gain from the exercise of discerning what of the past is use-worthy material and what is garbage material implies that the past is not simply gone.  In other words, the past cannot be fully historicized. 

The point is not whether or not the struggling oppressed maintains or disrupts traditions in their quest to develop the culture of liberation and to demolish the structures and traditions of oppression.  The points is how best the struggling oppressed update and improve the most liberatory traditions of their past and how they free themselves from the most oppressive traditions of the past.  It is precisely by opening themselves to an interrogation and interruption by the new generation of activists and movements that old generations of activists and movements can be assured of a revolutionary continuation of the best of their practices and a revolutionary discontinuation of the worst of their practices. 

There is a dialectic and complimentary relationship between the optimism of “Shout it aloud: “I am Black & Proud”; “Black is beautiful” and the pessimism of “Black life is death”; “Blackness is the excrement of whiteness”.  Understanding this dialectic is not only the function of how ‘the struggling, oppressed class relates to its oppressed past’ in order to know what ‘past is constitutive or destitute of tradition’.[18] It is also the function of identifying which aspects of the tradition are oppressive and which possess liberatory ethos.

Walter Benjamin asserts that ‘The history of the oppressed is a discontinuum.’ – ‘The task of history is to get hold of the tradition of the oppressed’.[19] The argument we have presented in this essay is that history constitutes both continuity and discontinuity and that the past carries both oppressive and liberatory memories and practices. Consequently our position is the task of the oppressed is more to identify which tradition is inherently or potentially oppressive and which is inherently or potentially liberatory.  Therefore we conclude that the task of the Fallists and other new emerging movements is to combat and discontinue the oppressive aspects of social and political traditions and to reclaim, update, preserve, continue and expand the liberatory elements of social and political traditions.

*Mphutlane wa Bofelo is an anti-establishment underground poet\essayist and popular-education and worker-education facilitator currently based in Durban in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province of South Africa. This essay expands on the view expressed by wa Bofelo in the  keynote address at the Mandela Bay Book Festival  on 17 March 2017  on the subject of ‘Black Consciousness Poetry and the Fees Must Fall Movement’.

End notes

[1] Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya. 2016. Fallists need future view too. The Mercury. 9 April  2016

[2] Azania is the name first adopted by the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania and later endorsed by the Black Consciousness Movement and leftist Socialist formations like the African Peoples Democratic Union of South Africa (APDUSA), New Unity Movement (NEUM) and Workers Organization for Socialist Action (WOSA) as the name of a liberated South Africa.  The literal translation of Azania is the land of the Black people. Citing Runoko Rashidi and Ivan van Sertima (editors), African Presence in Early Asia, Tenth Anniversary Edition, Transaction Press: New Brunswick: 1995,  Black Consciousness stalwart and Maoist theorist,  advocate  Imrann Moosa asserts that the etymology of Azania to the Zanj Rebellion( 869 – 883 A.D.). The Zanj rebellion constituted of a series of small revolts that eventually culminated into a large rebellion that saw the 500 000 slaves sacking Basrah and setting up their own state, advancing to within seventy (70) miles of Baghdad itself. The Zanj built a city in the marshes known as al-Moktara (the Elect City) that was almost impregnable due to its watery location, and they also built a fortified town, al-Mani’a. They even minted their own currency. The Zanj thus took over the Caliphate and maintained a marooned state for some fifteen (15) years.

[3] Rhodes Must Fall. Wikipedia. (Accessed 9 April 2017)

[4] Raeesa Patel. Rhodes Must Fall: The Movement after the statue. The Daily Vox. Monday, April 24, 2017 (Accessed 19 April 2017

[5] ibid

[6] On 10 March 2015, UCT student Chumani Maxwele flung the human waste on the statue of Rhodes, calling for the monument to be taken down. This led to scores of protesting students drenching the statue of Cecil John Rhodes in human excrement.

[7] Langa, M. (ed) 2016. # An Analysis of Fees Must Fall Movement in the universities of South Africa. Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation: Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

[8] Rhodes Must Fall. Wikipedia. (Accessed 19 April 2017)

[9] Amit Chaudhuri. 2016. The Real meaning of Rhodes Must Fall. (Accessed 20 April 2017)

[10] Vhahangwele Nemakonde. Is Nompendulo the face of Fees Must Fall? (Accessed on 28 April 2017)

[11] Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya. 2016. Fallists need future view too. The Mercury. 9 March 2016

[12] Luxemburgism - Dialectic of Spontaneity and Organisation (Accessed 20 April 2017)

[13] Luxemburgism - Dialectic of Spontaneity and Organisation (Accessed 20 April 2017)

[14] ibid

[15] Afro-pessimism (Accessed 21 April 2017 )

[16] The Daily Maverick, 14th April 2015

[17] Walter Benjamin cited by Sami Khatib. 2015.  Walter Benjamin and the “Tradition of the Oppressed”. (Accessed 21 April 2017)

[18] ibid

[19] ibid