During the unjust Apartheid regime, the police opened fire at a crowd of marching students and Hector Pieterson, 13 years of age, was the first to die. Sam Nzima, a journalist that witnessed the scene recalled the tragic incident, “I saw a child fall down. Under a shower of bullets I rushed forward and went for the picture. It had been a peaceful march, the children were told to disperse, and they started singing Nkosi Sikelele. The police were ordered to shoot.” For fighting for a just cause, for freedom in education, cultural and societal self, lives were lost. On June 16 1976, 20 000 students marched through Soweto as a result of an order issued by the Minister of Bantu Education, M.C. Botha in 1975 that African schools must teach half of the subjects in Afrikaans, from grade 7 and 8. The student protest was one of the biggest challenges to the apartheid government; the students led a part of the revolution that instigated the end of apartheid.
Years later, in a constitutional democracy, the police opened fire at a crowd of marching students. As if history was repeating itself, rubber bullets flew from the streets of Johannesburg to Pretoria to Durban and Cape Town as students from all over the country fought for free quality education, the determination of intellectual, cultural and societal self.
#Feesmustfall has become the largest student movement in a democratic South Africa; like the 1976 students the #Feesmustfall movement is again fighting for access to education. The apartheid government harassed, beat and arrested student activists who were causing unrest against an oppressive educational system and so did the current democratic government. The system had the leaders of #Feesmustfall such as Mcebo Dlamini and Kgosi Chikane arrested and unfairly jailed during the movement’s protests. Although one person died as a result of the #Feesmustfall protest, a cleaner at Wits University, the #feesmustfall movement is also being silenced by violence.
Investigating the effects of the #feesmustfall protests Duncan and Paolo Frassinelli (2015:14) suggest that the intimidation and violence committed by private security and police on “peaceful” protesting students and the frequent harassment of students on campus were meant to produce an atmosphere of fear amongst students and workers. Their determination was to prevent legitimate political activity and constrain the freedom of conscience and belief. Lekalake (2016:1-2) in her research shows that the continuing protests on South African university campuses have transformed public debate on the role of young people in politics and societal transformation.
Student activism has always played a role in the liberation of society and its development. Despite violent responses from two different forms of government, the South African students still see the bigger picture of an inclusive and self-reliant society. The 1976 youth was pushed to give up their lives for future generations and it is happening again to the same generation Hector Pieterson died for. The similarities between the 1976 student uprising and the #Feesmustfall campaign call for a reflection of the role the young people play in the construction of this country.
Protests are often attributed to the fails of a government that is representative and responsive to its citizens. The representational position of the militant anti-apartheid struggle articulates the legitimacy of the violence. Inequality and marginalisation trigger greatly the collective violence demonstrated in protests (Holdt, 2014:136). Although the student uprising in 1976 and the #Feesmustfall movement were not initially violent, the response of both the apartheid government and the democratic government extended the exaltation of violence as a response to put into effect the fight against the struggles of the students.