Profiles of South African Women

The Women Who Led the #FeesMustFall Protest

Young women have been leading the “Fees Must Fall” movement, and two are of particular note: Nompendulo Mkhatshwa, president of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) Student Representative Council

(SRC), and Shaeera Kalla, the council’s past president. The #FeesMustFall campaign began at Wits University when students rejected the government’s 10.5 percent tuition fee increase for academic year 2016. In October 2015, both Mkhatshwa and Kalla led a student march to the ANC headquarters in Johannesburg, where Mkhatshwa spoke on the students’ behalf and delivered a memorandum of the students’ grievances to ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe. Mkhatshwa, Kalla, and the Wits students were credited with sparking the protests that lead to the closing of universities across the country.

Nompendulo Mkhatshwa

Nompendulo Mkhatshwa is an undergraduate student at Wits University, a part-time researcher at the ANC headquarters in Johannesburg, and leader of the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA). At the height of the #FeesMustFall campaign, Mkhatshwas was the president of the SRC, an ANC activist, and widely regarded as one movement’s leaders.

Nompendulo has since become a divisive figure among Wits student protestors and others within the movement. One of the most prominent faces in the media, she appeared on the cover of the popular magazine, Destiny in December 2015. She and the magazine were criticized for drawing attention to one person, therefore detracting from the thousands of students who were involved in the movement.

She also lost credibility when, hours after President Jacob Zuma announced a tuition freeze for 2016, she called for an end to the nationwide university shutdowns. Although she has not been as visible since falling from favor with students, she has represented them at the fees commission, has worked with police and within the courts to help secure the release ofstudents arrested during protests, and has met with university management to discuss and negotiate students’ demand for free education.

Shaeera Kalla

Shaeera Kalla was born in Pretoria, the youngest of five children. Growing up, she attended many protests with her parents and other adults—as Kalla described it, not a common practice for young Muslim Indian woman. She credits being Muslim as one of the primary reasons she is involved in social justice movements, as she believes it is inherent in the teachings of the Quran.

Kalla holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree, majoring in philosophy, politics, and economics from Wits University and is now a postgraduate political science student. She joined the Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee, the Workers Solidarity Committee, and South African Students Congress (SASCO) while an undergraduate and served as the Student Representative Council in 2014.

For Kalla the #FeesMustFall movement was more than a protest against fees—it was a way for students to express their anger and frustration at their universities, which they believe to be anti-black and poor. Students believe that universities’ Eurocentric curriculum and commodification of education needed to be changed.

In October 2016, Kalla was struck at close range by 13 rubber bullets during a protest at Wits University. She was shot in the back while walking away from police.

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