Why We Must Dismantle Sexism In South Africa’s All-Boy Schools

Consider the following conversation:

Man: Rape happens a lot these days because womxn have loose morals.

Womxn: Yes, I think it does happen more often today. But, I don’t think it’s because womxn have loose morals.

Womxn: But, even if they did have loose morals, did they deserve to get raped?

Man: Have you noticed how womxn dress these days? All those tight pants provoke us.

Womxn: Eh! But I am a grandmother and even I was raped.

Womxn: And my friend’s daughters was raped and she is 9 years old.

Womxn: Ayi, you people! My neighbours little two year old daughter was raped. Is she provocative?

My deep love for South Africa fills me with purpose and compels me to shine a light on the darkest parts of our society. I am a product of South Africa’s all-boy school system, often lauded for producing excellent education. My schooling should have, but fell short of, preparing me to fully embody values of compassion, equity, and justice. I have spent much of my adult life learning, relearning, and unlearning sexist behaviors gleaned from systemic patriarchy embedded in the school. 

During my student tenure in a semi-private all-boy high school in Johannesburg, a handful of teachers and students pushed back against sexism, and many educated us about the dangers of unchecked masculinity. However, when we boys grouped together, we bonded through displays of sexual dominance and expressed attitudes similar to the men in the above conversation. The physical school space itself did not foster patriarchy, although certain spaces such as locker rooms and hostels certainly did, but rather our acceptance of patriarchal actions strengthened its existence. All-boy schools are capable of, and do, nurture oppressive culture.

South Africa is the most unsafe place for womxn on earth. Every 3 minutes, men rape a womxn or a mxn, and every three hours, a husband or boyfriend murders a womxn. August 2019, which happens to be Women’s Month, was one of the deadliest months for womxn in South Africa. In thirty days, men murdered 30 womxn who were their partners. On August 24, 2019, a man murdered Uyinene “Nene” Mrwetyana, a 19 year old media student at the University of Cape Town. Nene went to the post office to pick up a package. The attendant told her the machine wasn’t working and asked her to return a few hours later. When she returned, he lured her into a back room, raped and tortured her, before killing her with a scale. He then dumped her body in a nearby garbage dump. 

Womxn, and some men, across the world coalesced in outrage. Social media was abound with #MenAreTrash, #IamNext, #MeToo highlighting the extent of sexual violence in South Africa. The rapists’ house was set ablaze by angry community members. Despite the overwhelming evidence, many men, and some womxn responded with denial, diminishment, and deflection to the presence of injustice. #WomenAreTrash, #NotAllMen soon trended, as men told womxn on social media: “she deserved it”, “what was she thinking going there alone?”, and “shut your mouth, or you will be next.”

I strongly aligned with the #MenAreTrash movement as I worked through what I read, what I watched, and what I experienced during this month. But, as a racialized white middle class cisgendered man who grew up in Johannesburg, I also saw a version of myself in the misogynists’ posts. When I peeled back the layers of association between who I am now compared to those times when I’ve embodied misogyny, I immediately reflected on my high school experience. During that period between 2003-2006, I subconsciously internalized the notion that my penis gave me status, power, and control over others.

How does rape culture explain parts of my schooling experience?

As I read through my high school journal, there is a particular poem, written when I was fifteen years old, which describes sexually assaulting a womxn. Reading it now evokes immense shock, shame, and disgust that I was thinking these thoughts as a teenage boy. As jarring as it is to read now, it was not an isolated text. My journal contained multiple accounts of older boys air humping me from behind, having pubic hair ripped from my scrotum while being held down, and assemblies when matrics would tell stories of their sexual escapades for all of us to laugh and cheer. I did not realize it then, but I know now, that I was deep in the bowels of South Africa’s patriarchal rape culture. 

In all-boys schools, we are taught how to reproduce the injustices of patriarchy. How we raise our boys determines the men we produce. Men determine the levels of social, economic, and physical violence in a society. We are more likely to leave our girl child with a womxn we don’t know rather than a male stranger because of the permeance of male violence. The levels of socialized sexism in all-boy spaces prepares us for inhumanity against womxn. It arms us to reproduce and strengthen the oppressive culture against womxn.

All-boy schools are a relatively small but significant stakeholder in South Africa’s educational landscape. Their prominence is layered by the high concentration of men they educate, their middle-upper class nature, and their often colonial and apartheid roots. Originally, these institutions educated white boys to take their place in the British colonial administration, and then the apartheid system of white patriarchal supremacy. In contemporary South Africa, the sediments of racial, class-based, and gender based hierarchies in these schools still operate largely unchanged. Boys, regardless of race and class who matriculate from these schools can often become men who embody the colonial and apartheid value system. In school I learned how to solve for x, but also, how to be white, how to operate in a capitalist economy, and importantly, how to perpetuate the system of sexism.

Education and schooling are not benign processes. Schools are a vision for society because they reflect our greatest hopes, and our most cherished values. Our schools expose us. They reveal who we think we are versus what we actually are and provide us with an opportunity for transformation. What is learned in school, both overtly through subject knowledge, and covertly through cultural behavior, can prepare us to challenge our position in the world: “…It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, and the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine…” But, because education, especially schooling, exists in an inherently unjust context, it can also teach us to be instruments that reproduce injustice. 

My schooling experience taught me to associate manhood with the false notion of sexual power. Sexual violence against womxn was not only encouraged, but expected. Teachers, parents, and adults in authority normalized this way of being through their implicit silence. I constantly heard and participated in sexist jokes, trivializing sexual assault (“boys will be boys!”), and discussions about why womxn should avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape. The fifteen year old boy who wrote the poem about assaulting a womxn grew into a man. Years after I matriculated, I bonded with my male friends over the extent of our physical dominance over womxn. Life after school was a continuation of school. 

I would be potentially dangerous to womxn were it not for trying to be a different man. My adulthood is defined by learning new ways of bonding with other men and womxn, relearning the value of feminine power and strength as nurtured into me by womxn in my life, and unlearning violent patriarchal behavior. Even though I grew up in a mixed race family in South Africa, I lacked comprehension of how racism operates until I studied under the leadership of an African American professor at a US-based university. In this context I confronted how I perpetuate oppressive ways of being and doing. Despite my growing awareness of race and class based oppression, I did not fully grasp the operation of gender. But, after contact with Kimberlė Crenshaw’s intersectional framework and my marriage to a feminist, I became conscious of how my adulthood is shaped by systems of patriarchy, racism, and class based exploitation learned in school. Despite my deep commitment to live through justice and equity I often fall short of these ideals. Regardless, I do my best everyday to listen, build relationships, reflect, learn and take action; understanding that I am always a work in progress.

What can we men do about it?

Men, we have a responsibility to combat internal and external patriarchy. As individuals, we can learn to listen and listen to learn. Do a personal and honest inventory of your behavior towards womxn. Ask yourself whether you make sexist jokes or use language that degrades womxn and sexual identities. How do you reinforce or challenge strict gender stereotypes among your children when you select their toys, delegate their tasks, or set their expectations? Do you raise your sons to respect the personal space of womxn? Do you place the blame on womxn when they are a victim of sexual violence, or respond to womxn’s experiences of patriarchy by denying its existence (“that rape is an isolated incident”), deflecting to something else (“we should be talking about this other issue”), or diminishing it (“her experience was worse, so stop complaining”)? If you are in a sexual relationship, do you always assume consent? What are your biases against womxn? 

In groups, refraining from bonding through the dehumanization of womxn is a start, but is insufficient. It is our responsibility as men to use our power and privilege to confront patriarchy at a systemic and interpersonal level. We can challenge sexist attitudes and rape culture among our peers, and model for others that these ways of being are socially unacceptable. We can teach our boys healthy ways to bond and define manhood as inclusive of womxnhood. To the men who value womxn, we need to mentor other men and boys to support their healthy development.

As schools, let us commit to shaping boys into full, healthy and compassionate human beings. We can do this through evaluating our language, institutions, policies, and symbols. The following questions may be useful: 

  • Do we normalize racist and sexist language, including jokes? 
  • What are our mokitas, those undercurrents that we don’t talk about, but know exist?
  • Do we, even tacitly, foster toxic masculinity in spaces such as hostels or groups such as prefects or matrics? 
  • When we scrutinize our policies, especially our curriculum, do we equip our students to critically evaluate their learning through the lens of intersectional justice?
  • Do we challenge racial and gender based symbols such as stereotypes?

Left unchecked, all-boy school spaces will continue to produce men who equate themselves with violence against womxn. Rape culture is pervasive in families, schools, and society at large. By challenging the roots of this culture in all-boy schools, which educates thousands of men every year, we will make South Africa, and the world a safer and more equitable place for womxn everywhere. 

Organizations tackling gender injustice in South Africa:

Sonke Gender Justicehttps://genderjustice.org.za/

Sonke’s vision is a world in which men, women, and children can enjoy equitable, healthy and happy relationships that contribute to the development of just and democratic societies. Sonke Gender Justice works across Africa to strengthen government, civil society and citizen capacity to promote gender equality, prevent domestic and sexual violence, and reduce the spread and impact of HIV and AIDS. 

18twenty8 https://www.18twenty8.org/

18twenty8 is an award-winning, women-led Non-Profit Organisation that empowers young women, from disadvantaged backgrounds, by developing strategies for their educational and personal development. They encourage young women, predominantly between the ages of 18 and 28, to view higher education as an attractive and necessary tool for their empowerment. 18twenty8 prides itself on being one of a few organizations in South Africa that is 100% led by young women who empower other young women.

Agenda Feminist Media – https://www.agenda.org.za/

Agenda Feminist Media is committed to giving women a forum, a voice and skills to articulate their needs and interests towards transforming unequal gender relations. They aim to question and challenge current understandings and practices of gender relations in South Africa. Through their flagship project, the Agenda journal, they raise debate around women’s rights and gender issues

Warren Chalklen, PhD passionately works for equity and social justice through education, advocacy, and cross cultural dialogue. He can be reached at warren@warrenchalklen.com or www.warrenchalklen.com


Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.


White privilege: Guilt, Responsibility and Hope

naturebeauty-28I live my life steeped in various forms of privilege–unearned advantages bestowed on me through countless means. As a male, I exist in a world that affirms my manhood. Anything considered strong, rational or heroic is applied to my gender. Because I am able-bodied, buildings are designed for my easy access; toilet cubicles for my comfort and bar counters are always just the right height to rest my arm on. As a cisgender heterosexual identified man, I feel no insecurity in people asking who my “girlfriend” is. I never worry about whether there will be a toilet for my gender identification or whether I will be killed for being who I am. Because, who I am, exists in a world designed to affirm me, and nullify others. Not only am I bombarded with positive messages about being a man, subliminally accommodated because my body is considered the standard, or praised for acting according to my genderized norm; I am also advantaged by my white skin.

For generations, my white ancestors used political, economic and social violence to dispossess, dehumanize and nullify people of color. Political assets such as colonial and apartheid laws reinforced economic dispossession and exploitation of people of color. All this was threaded together by a social system that created a false sense of security in the minds of whites, and a false sense of inferiority in the minds of people of color. The vision of post-apartheid South Africa is to address these triple attacks on humanity. And, while the political laws have been overturned, and with them a shallow respite for centuries of violence, the economic and social aspects of white advantage remain stubborn.

For myself and many other white people like me it was easy to see how overt racial laws benefited me. It was also easy to differentiate myself from blatantly racist people. However, what I struggled to recognize was how my unearned advantages, my white privilege, had blinded me to an everyday accumulation of power-and my complicity to the continued economic and social inequality in our country. I realized, just as I am able to be thought of by others as a good person without earning it, that I did not have to be racist to benefit from my white skin. This understanding prompted a journey wrought with guilt, shame, responsibility, and hope.


My fist response to guilt was denial of complicity, deflection of reality and diminishment of other’s feelings. I always held the view that I was a person of integrity. Being told that I was complicit in others oppression felt like accusing me of being an immoral person. I would act defensively, angrily, and often with intimidation towards person’s speaking this truth. I eventually realized that by behaving in this way I was protecting my privilege and maintaining the unequal status quo in my favor. After eventually accepting that I had privilege, I began differentiating myself from those other white people. By pointing to their racism, I felt better about myself and my position as a white liberal. Talking about them made me feel special, ‘enlightened’ and gave me a new blanket of privilege to wrap myself in. In denying and deflecting, I never acted in ways to actually diminish my privilege. I could hide behind it while acting like I was actually against it.

Being part of a mixed race family, I was eventually confronted with a choice that brought immense shame. In situations when we would be treated differently based on our race in public spaces I soon learned that one is either against the system of racial oppression or complicit in it. In working against it, I soon learned that my privilege became a double edged sword: on one side, my privilege could be used to fight the system, on the other it merely reinforced itself. In these situations, I felt immense episodes of shame, especially because I would often hurt others through my ignorant behavior. The blindness of privilege, matched with the naivety of good intentions reproduced people’s pain.

©SydelleWillowSmith_sunshinecinema_PRESS-13Given the guilt and shame attached to benefiting from a racist society and a strong commitment to fighting all forms of oppression I also felt episodes of paralysis- the sense that I had no role in this fight because at the end, I would always just be another white liberal. This would often be followed by introspection and humility. I realized that privilege tricks you into believing that if you set your mind to eradicating it you can achieve it like any other goal. However, this is not how tackling racism works. Whites have a responsibility to be part of the process by working on ourselves before taking the fight to the system. We can only fight the system in partnership with, and under the leadership of people of color. We have no right to ask people of color how to deal with our issues—we have to face our position in society and confront what we say, how we behave and the actions we take to dismantle racism around us.

I have learned that racism is a sickness in our society. Its roots are deep and its impact on our nation has been devastating. Racism rips families apart, turns friends into enemies, and drives us away from each other when we really need to come together. It is also systemic, it is in the headlines we read (or don’t read), the unequal make up of our economy, and the ownership of land. All of which are skewed in favor of people that look like me. Until we answer these real questions in a more just way, we are merely talk-shopping. Nevertheless, I believe we all can be part of building a vision of a non-racist, non-sexist and truly just society. With this hope, and through action, I hope to learn and do more every day. I thank you for sharing this journey alongside me.

To read another article, White Privilege and the Road to Building a United South Africa click here or the image below:


What I Learned About White Privilege and Racism From Buying Bread

I love Portuguese rolls. Especially the ones from the bakery on the corner. These rolls are famous enough that they are greeted by many customers as they emerge at 10am, fresh from the oven and ready for an after breakfast snack. The half or full dozen rolls are prepackaged by the baker while anyone wanting loose rolls can manually put them in a packet. As I stood third in the queue with my three rolls waiting to checkout I noticed a white woman at the front with what looked like six rolls in a loose packet. “How many? the Black African cashier asked, not even looking up. “Five” came the reply. The item was rung up among other small items in the basket and the lady went on her way. In front of me was a Black African man who clearly had two rolls and a slice of polony in his hands. “How many?” the cashier asked grasping the rolls from him. “Two” he replied. The cashier looked down and counts the rolls before ringing it up with the polony. Without flinching, she administers his change and greets me with the same routine. I had a basket full of items, many of which were loose items. The cashier simply asked me how many of each item were in each bag, without removing them from my basket as she inputted into the register. I smiled, paid and left the shop.

Halfway down the block on the way home I realised what had just happened. How, despite constantly trying to be aware of various forms of my privilege, and take active steps to undermine them, had I completely missed this? Why was I (and the white woman in the front of the line) trusted to provide the right number of rolls to the cashier? Why, when it was so much easier to see the Black African man in front of me only had two rolls, would he have to be subjected to having it counted-was his word not enough?

As a young white multilingual South African committed to building South Africa, I was convinced that because I had family members who are Black and Brown I was exempt from racism and white privilege. I was often heard asking: “How could I be racist if I did not see colour?”;How, if I worked hard could I be accused of benefitting from apartheid?” or the classic: “I am not like those white people” (read: my racism is not as obvious as theirs). As I began to truly be honest and reflexive, I faced the reality that I am a benefactor of a racist society designed to affirm people that look like me, and dehumanise those who don’t. Despite the silence around race in our family, I found it particularly difficult to reconcile my love for my sister of colour from within a society that taught and rewarded me for being hateful towards people that resemble her. I eventually concluded that I could not be both: fully loving to my sister while being hateful towards people that resemble her. In this conclusion, I began to slowly face the realities of my own privilege and how these played out in the daily life of people around me: differently abled, women, immigrants, gay, lesbian, people of colour. The process began to shape my understanding of myself and the country I grew up in.

The connections and disconnections between white privilege and racism

As I deconstructed this bakery situation I saw the connections and disconnections between white privilege and racism. What happened in the bakery was an example of my white privilege playing itself out. That the white woman and I both received trust without earning it, compared to the fellow Black African shopper is a form of white privilege. McIntosh describes white privilege as the unearned advantages one receives because of the colour of their skin[1]. In the bakery, what separated our three experiences was not largely our gender, our language (we all spoke English), our overt socioeconomic status, nor our frequency to the bakery (I have seen these two at the bakery at least four times prior to this incident). Race appeared to be the deciding factor in this situation. Race determined who was trusted and who was not.

I cannot leap into the mind of the Black African cashier to understand why she counted his rolls and not ours. Nor can I ascribe any malice to the white woman or myself. I can, however, point to the fact that regardless of whether I or the white woman would admit, acknowledge, or take responsibility for (as opposed to deny, deflect or diminish) our white privilege, it still operated for us. It ensured that we were immune to similar experiences of human degradation in the form of a microaggression experienced by our fellow Black African customer. When I spoke to my best friend, who identifies as Black, about the bakery incident he was unsurprised. “Warren, this happens often when we are together, you don’t see it not because you are racist but because you have white privilege”. Lesson learned: Not all white people are racist, but all white people possess the advantages of white privilege.

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I came to realise that skin colour is not a neutral thing. It is not like eye colour, hand size or height. These things are not given the same meaning as what someone looks like. Skin colour means something in the world. It has power. What someone looks like determines how they are responded to (even so called colour blindness is purposefully emphasising a person’s race). In a country like South Africa, were racism is baked into the cake of our society, racism is our ‘normal’. It is the most normal thing about our abnormal society.

When we think of racist people, we often question people’s moral integrity. Racism, that is, discrimination against someone or a group because of the colour of their skin is often thought of solely as a matter of attitude. But, racism is not only about people. It is also about resources. Imagine that with a magic wand all interpersonal racism was destroyed and South Africans were able to have honest conversations with each other, what would we say? My hunch would be, and not only is this backed by people’s lived experiences and reams of data, that our conversation would be about how people of colour are still marginalised from resources in their own country. That despite how they may feel about us on an interpersonal level it still does not change how unfair the current status quo is.

If we were honest with our brothers and sisters of colour, we as white people in South Africa would admit our lack of genuine humility for our position in this society. We would admit that if true racism is about resources, then it is impossible for a person of colour to be racist. Think for a moment about the Black African cashier: was she racist or discriminatory? In the act of counting, she was discriminating. Even if she was overtly discriminatory towards myself or the woman, could she be considered racist? She may be considered discriminatory in that moment, but because she lives in a system that systematically deprives her of resources she cannot be considered racist. Although we all inherited this system that distributes resources unevenly, we as white people have a greater responsibility to play our role in building our country by working to diminish our privilege.

What can we all do?

Although not all white people are racists, all white people possess white privilege. Once we acknowledge this, what then? How can we as white South Africans play our role in building a united South Africa? It is important to recognise that because racism is a sickness in the white community, we as white people need to educate our white brothers and sisters–it is not for South Africans of colour to guide us on how to take responsibility for our own issues. If we truly love our fellow South Africans of all races then we need to be brave enough to interrupt symbols, conversations, practices, and institutions that foster oppressions of all kinds. Finally, we need to learn to listen to people of colour. Fighting for a more just society is about connecting to the humanity in all of us. Recognising our privileged position at the table, we as white people can learn to play our role without reinforcing the oppression we are advocating against. One cannot build the necessary society alone. Joining communities that can support your journey such as Awake SA and others is vital to continue the learning process necessary to build a country all our children can be proud of.

[1] McIntosh, P (1989). White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Peace and Freedom (1)


To read the article: White Privilege and the road to building a united South Africa, click here.



Take An Online Multicultural Education Class

After many requests, put together a multicultural education class teaching basic concepts in the field. I hope it brings you as much joy as it brought me to put it together 🙂

See the Promo Video below:

Click here to take this course for $10.

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Course Description

To build prosperous communities, nurturing schools, and innovative businesses; we require understanding of how to work with people from all walks of life. This course systematically prepares anyone interested in diversity and multiculturalism with important skills to make their environments more inclusive, safe, productive, and connected.

Concepts covered include the cultural, historical, and philosophical foundations of education in a multicultural society. We begin by talking about the principles of multicultural education, before looking at the connections between issues such as race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.

We also cover less addressed issues of diversity such as language, geography, religion, and the youth culture. Optional discussions, activities, and a range of additional readings deepen the learning so that anyone taking the class can put the ideas into practice right away.

NSFAS: Never Stop Fighting Against Suppression #FeesMustFall

944808_10153585419585188_407402953_nIn 2001, a mother working on a farm in Limpopo province earning R1400 per month says goodbye to her beautiful child as she begins her 8km trek to school for her first day. Thandi, the eldest of three children is starting grade one. She carries a 2l bottle of water and some food her mom packed her. The food is often the only meal she eats all day, costing her mom close to R400 per month if she includes milk and bread. The family survives on moms remaining salary. Although Thandi’s mom cannot read and write, nor has she ever seen the inside of Thandi’s classroom, she sleeps well knowing her children get to go to school. She understands that education is the way out of poverty. Her vision for her children is for them to fulfill their true potential.

Thandi is met with a dilapidated school building and almost slips into the long drop on her first trip to the toilet. Despite this, the principal and teachers share Thandi’s mom’s vision for education–they see their job as more than teaching, but an opportunity to empower, emancipate, and educate young people. Thandi thrives, and despite her constant hunger, progresses well. The learners around her, faced with the reality of caring for siblings, expensive school uniforms, and constant hunger are forced to leave school. 1.28 million learners start grade one with Thandi in South Africa’s 14,565 primary schools[1]. Of the group that started with Thandi, roughly three quarters made it to matric year[2]. One fifth or about 295,478 South African learners were pushed out of the system at an average of 25,735 per year[3].Those pushed out of school were forced into the mines, factories or streets. The apartheid legacy lives on. Students-21

Despite the odds being stacked against her, Thandi pushed through to defy the apartheid designed subjugation that sought to define her only by what she looks like. Of the 978,710 that wrote the final exam, 773,180 (73.9%) passed[4]. More than 200,000 of her fellow matric class stayed behind. Of those that passed, Thandi was part of 278,344 (30.6%) that earned university exemption. That same year, universities received 31,253 applications for undergraduate study but only admitted 6,463 new first-year undergraduate students[5].Of that group, she was lucky to be part of a small number of students approved for National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding nationwide. She began her studies to become a teacher at Wits University, carrying the weight of her community and the vision of her mother.

Her struggle didn’t stop there. Despite being part of only 5% of the original class of learners who began school in 2001, she faced a hostile university environment. The legacy of structural marginalization continued as she faced institutional racism, English lecturers who did not consider her language challenges, a curriculum with expectations such as teaching practical’s without the support to reach those expectations. She felt as though the university did not know who their students were, and frankly they did not care.

151020FeesMustFallFortHare05-jpgDespite this, Thandi pushed on. Enduring hunger as NSFAS funding was cut and resisting the constant threat of financial, residential and academic exclusion. Around Thandi, her peers were not so lucky. In her first year alone, universities pushed out 50% of their first year students[6]. One of the top three reasons given in universities across the nation was financial exclusion. Thandi saw each year how students with stories just like hers were forced to swallow the bitter pill that everything they, their families, and communities had worked for was lost. If Thandi makes it to her final year, she represents half of her entering class. As a Black woman in a previous White Institution, her odds of being where she currently is are slim. Despite this, as a third year student Thandi is determined. One Black student, excluded on the grounds of finances shared with Thandi how betrayed she felt when, after being financially excluded, passed Nkandla on the way home to her village. She wept as she cursed the political greed that snatched her dreams.

Thandi has made it this far, but her final year is under threat. The Vice Chancellor announced a 10.5% fee hike for the upcoming year. Simultaneously, the Minister of Higher Education reduces NSFAS funding by 10%[7] but raises the student enrollment numbers by 71% between 2002 and 2012[8]. Thandi is heading for financial exclusion without the means to pay for her final year. The universities in response blame the lack of funding on government who blame the universities for not absorbing costs. It is easier for these two entities to push the blame to each other while forcing fee increases. Just like 2007 and 2009, publically, government and universities will blame each other, but in private they collude to raise fees. Their strategy is to patiently attack the morale of resisting students using threats of exclusion, co-optation of leaders to divide student unity, court interdicts, police harassment and complete denial of the impact of fee increases. The use of structural power by government and universities against students will only end when students submit to the fee increase which will exclude them from the university.Nsfas

Thandi has two choices: give up on the vision for herself and her community or fight for her right to be educated. Having made it this far, she has no choice but to fight against the pattern she has observed her whole educational career–apartheid designed educational push out of the Black child. She understands the media will portray her as violent. The police will likely be sent in to harass, intimidate, and even kill her. Fringe groups, political interests will try capturing the narrative through violence or coercion. Many will sell out. Despite this, she understands that what she is peacefully fighting for is her right to human dignity: for her place in this world that has longed denied her.

She is fighting to graduate, teach in her community, and make a difference to the future of our country–how, fellow South Africans, can we fight alongside her?


*As a White male South African I used the fictional character of Thandi to place #FeesMustFall in context. I humbly recognize my privilege and in no way aim to speak on behalf of Black Women or any other marginalized grouping. Thandi’s character is based on a series of interviews with students and a range of public access data.


[1]The Department of Basic Education’s Report on Dropout and Learner Retention Strategy to Portfolio Committee on Education (2011)

[2] DBE. (2008). Ministerial Committe Report on learner retention in the South African School System. Pretoria: Department of Basic Education.

[3] The Department of Basic Education’s Report on Dropout and Learner Retention Strategy to Portfolio Committee on Education (2011) (p. xii)

[4] South Africa Info (2013) http://www.southafrica.info/about/education/matric-070114.htm

[5] Southern African Regional Universities Association. 2012. “South Africa Data Profile 2012.”

[6] Letseka, M, and Simeon M. High University drop-out rates: a threat to South Africa’s future. Pretoria: Human Science and Research Council, 2008. N. page. Human Science and Research Council. Web. 2 Mar. 2013.

[7] Bizzoli, B (2015) Behind the university funding crisis. http://www.politicsweb.co.za/news-and-analysis/behind-the-university-funding-crisis

[8] Centre for Higher Education Transformation (CHET) – South African Higher Education Open Data. “Full Dataset 200-2012, Table 01 – Enrolments Headcount and FTE.” http://chet.org.za/data/sahe-open-data