Themes 2, 3 & 4: The diversity of campus-based and national Fallist campaigns

This project part involves in-depth interviews with former student leaders/activists of the period of 2015/16. Between 5 -10 former student activists are interviewed per campus. The original list of nine campus case studies i.e. UCT, UWC, SU, RU, UFH, Univen, Wits, UJ, and UFS along with a list of substitution campuses and minor case studies form the basis for selecting student leaders (TUT, WSU, UKZN, UP, NMU). In addition, interviews are held with former student activists and student leaders from any campus and organisation who would like to contribute to the project. Please contact Mr Nkululeko Makhubu if you would like to participate.

While there are common elements to all cases in terms of establishing student political history, context of emergence, movement dynamics and the role of social media, protest event timelines, core grievances, strategies and tactics, framing, etc., there is different emphasis in different campus cases. For example, at UFS, a focus is on the radicalisation of the movement in the aftermath of the February 2016 ‘Shimla Park’ incident and related to that the #EndOutsourcing campaign, the #UnsilenceUFS and #EmbraceASister campaigns, while at UWC the focus is on partisan contestation over the SRC (between SASCO, the SASCO-splinter ALUTA, EFFSC and PASMA) and the #UWCFeesWillFall campaign.

The dynamic interaction between the online and offline life of the movement

It is clear that the 2015/16 student movement can only be understood if one gets a full handle on its ‘online life’, along with its offline presence. The 2015/16 Fallist movement is in these respects the first internet-age networked student movement in South Africa.

Thus, in 2018, a key focus has been on developing capacity and conducting a social media analysis (or ‘digital network analysis’/DNA). In a fruitful collaboration with Prof Tanja Bosch from UCT, Mr Nkululeko Makhubu has led this part of the research and archiving project within the HSRC. Between April and June 2018, the HSRC Research Ethics Committee has given full clearance for this part of the project: the social media related online and interviewing research. Between May and August 2018, Tanja Bosch, Nkululeko Makhubu and Thierry Luescher did a ‘pilot study’ of the social media related work taking #UCTShutdown as case. The study involved in-depth interviews with former #RhodesMustFall student activists at UCT as well as the social media analysis of digital trace data from Twitter. In addition, Nkululeko built a database of tweets and tweeters with over 500,000 unique records using a variety of hashtag campaigns including campus-specific hashtags for all case study campuses (e.g. #UWCFeesWillFall) and national campaign hashtags (e.g. #FeesMustFall; #FeesMustFallReloaded).

The study has issued in a chapter for the book Social Media and the New Politics of Political Leadership (edited by David Taras, MRU, and Richard Davis, BYU) which will be published by Routledge in 2019. A short summary article has been published in the HSRC Review on this work.