ArticlePDF Available

#FeesMustFall as social movement and emancipatory politics? Moving towards an apocalyptic theological praxis outside the limits of party politics



This article proposes three reflexive movements. The first one offers an introduction to Fees Must Fall, pointing to some aspects that allow us to understand it as a social movement and some of its basic features. The second movement is a theoretical one, constructing the notion of emancipatory politics. It is based on the distinctions suggested by Jacques Rancière between ‘police and politics’ and by Michael Neocosmos between ‘excessive and expressive’ politics. It will also present the Freirean notion of ‘conscientisation and dialogicity’, emphasising the learning experience from the political praxis within emancipatory social movements. The third movement offers, as conclusion, an apocalyptic politics as suggested by žižek, envisioned through the lens of Christian eschatology, as a critical approach to social movements towards the radical transformation of society.
hp:// Open Access
HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies
ISSN: (Online) 2072-8050, (Print) 0259-9422
Page 1 of 7 Original Research
Read online:
Scan this QR
code with your
smart phone or
mobile device
to read online.
Felipe G.K. Buelli1
Clint Le Bruyns1
1Theology and Development
Programme, University of
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Corresponding author:
Clint Le Bruyns,
Received: 24 Aug. 2017
Accepted: 28 Aug. 2017
Published: 31 Oct. 2017
How to cite this arcle:
Buelli, F.G.K. & Le Bruyns, C.,
2017, ‘#FeesMustFall as
social movement and
emancipatory polics?
Moving towards an
apocalypc theological praxis
outside the limits of party
polics’, HTS Teologiese
Studies/Theological Studies
73(3), a4789. hps://
© 2017. The Authors.
Licensee: AOSIS. This work
is licensed under the
Creave Commons
Aribuon License.
Introducon – Approaching #FeesMustFall
The contemporary debates about social movements in South Africa are busy trying to understand
the current students’ movement called Fees Must Fall (also known by the twitter trending topic
#FeesMustFall or /#FMF). Contradictory and ambiguous as all social movements can be, FMF
raises polemical views and critical approaches. The movement started in 2015 as a continuity of
Rhodes Must Fall (#RhodesMustFall – RMF) (Naidoo 2016). As FMF struggled initially against
the increase in fees in the academic year of 2016, RMF had before that a strong critical approach
to the colonial heritage of South African universities. It started at the University of Cape Town
(UCT) on March 2015 when a student, Chumani Maxwele, threw faeces on the statue of Cecil John
Rhodes, an English coloniser and businessman who is notably known for his defence of scientific
racism. This event raised what would become a countrywide students’ movement calling for
decolonisation of higher education in South Africa (Booysen 2016; Naicker 2016; Pillay 2016).
Although we have to be cautious because of the different narratives regarding the start of the
movement, some scholars identify the beginning of the FMF movement at Wits University (Booysen
2016; Luescher, Loader & Mugume 2016). The students declared that the increase in the university’s
tuition was unaffordable and that the 5% government subsidy would be insufficient to cover the
impact in the cost of studying – including book fees, university tuition, research equipment and
accommodation. In a broader sense, we can say that the movement has in its core, the plea for
greater or universal access to higher education through free (decommodified) education.
Susan Booysen (2016) shows how the FMF students’ turmoil has been labelled as both an uprising
and a revolt. However, the students call themselves a movement. Ilse Scherer-Warren (2014), a
Brazilian scholar of social movements, identifies that the:
organized social movements have a relative temporal permanence and in the contemporary world tend to
be structured in the form of networks of militancy that operate as a strategy for a construction of common
political or cultural meanings, aiming to conquer and mobilize citizens and to produce social
transformations. (p. 14, [author’s our translation])
FMF has many features that allow us to understand it as a social movement. One interesting
aspect emphasised by Everatt (2016) is the relation between the contemporary protesters and the
‘former liberators’, understanding FMF as a social movement of political contestation. He asks to
what extent students drink from that liberation tradition or rebel against those figures who are in
power now. Another noteworthy aspect is the issue of power and class which can be identified in
This article proposes three reflexive movements. The first one offers an introduction to Fees
Must Fall, pointing to some aspects that allow us to understand it as a social movement and
some of its basic features. The second movement is a theoretical one, constructing the notion
of emancipatory politics. It is based on the distinctions suggested by Jacques Rancière between
‘police and politics’ and by Michael Neocosmos between ‘excessive and expressive’ politics. It
will also present the Freirean notion of ‘conscientisation and dialogicity’, emphasising the
learning experience from the political praxis within emancipatory social movements. The third
movement offers, as conclusion, an apocalyptic politics as suggested by Žižek, envisioned
through the lens of Christian eschatology, as a critical approach to social movements towards
the radical transformation of society.
#FeesMustFall as social movement and emancipatory
polics? Moving towards an apocalypc theological
praxis outside the limits of party polics
Read online:
Scan this QR
code with your
smart phone or
mobile device
to read online.
Note: The collecon entled ‘Spirit rising: tracing movements of jusce’, forms part of the ‘Faith in the City’ research project, hosted by
the Centre for Contextual Ministry in the Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria. Some of the arcles were papers presented at the
Biennial Consultaon on Urban Ministry, hosted by the Instute for Urban Ministry, in collaboraon with other organizaons, from 17–20
August 2016. The theme of this Consultaon was ‘#We must rise: healers - dreamers – jesters’.
Page 2 of 7 Original Research
hp:// Open Access
FMF. Patrick Bond (2016) points to the critique of neoliberalism
and the unequal distribution of investment of the tertiary
education that is unveiled by the movement and that becomes
a central aspect of it. The claim for free education challenges
the neoliberal logic that is at the heart of the management of
the universities in South Africa (but not exclusively). He
recalls what is claimed by the movement, that ‘to win free
education, fossilised neoliberalism must fall’ (Bond 2016:192).
Besides that, Vishwas Satgar (2016) emphasises the existing
relationship between the students’ struggle and the workers’
class struggle, especially in what relates with the protests
against the outsourcing in the universities, which was also at
the basis of the movement.
While we do not have extensive written documentation (some
are still being published, especially from the Fallists
themselves) regarding FMF, it is possible to see some analyses
that understand the rise of this social movement related to a
specific culture in South Africa. Some works analyse this
historic context in order to understand the place and the role
of social movements as FMF in South Africa. The first one, by
Malcolm Ray (2016), relates the crisis in the universities with
South African colonial history, considering the colonial type
of education that coined the South African academic
(schooling) system. Ray analyses the Black Consciousness
Movement and how it was deeply related with the students’
organisation and with the students’ political activity. Like
Bond, Ray connects the contemporary crisis with neoliberal
capitalism and the ‘neo-apartheid’ that continues after the
end of apartheid. The FMF movement is characterised as a
movement within the whole critical and political analyses of
the contemporary South Africa that is unable to deliver
quality and universal services, such as free, decommodified,
Afrocentric and quality education. This long analysis is also
made extensively by the historian Sampie Terreblanche (2012)
who identified the neoliberal turn after the end of apartheid
as responsible for the country to be ‘lost in transformation’.
Sharlene Swartz (2016), in her turn, draws on the actual
situation of the country regarding social restitution in order
to build Another Country. For her, the whole programme of
decolonisation, which was also stressed by FMF:
must mean the making whole, the re-creation, re-appropriation
and reconfiguration of space. It means more than simply
eradicating the lines of force that keep zones apart; it requires
fundamental social and economic change. (p. XV)
What FMF reminds and brings to the public debate is that, in
most instances, this inequality remains divided along racial
lines, where to be black means to be poor. For many black
South Africans, it feels as if little transformation has taken
place in the more than two decades since the fall of apartheid.
These economic factors informed the climate in which both
the RMF and FMF protests took place.
Leigh-Ann Naidoo (2016) is one of the activist students who
give voice for the FMF movement. She sees it as the rise of the
black-led movement, connecting FMF with the struggle for
decolonisation of education of RMF. One aspect that she
considers interesting to note is the intersectionality of the
movement. As Naidoo (2016) says:
the movement acknowledged a number of oppressive systems in
addition to racism and capitalism and was committed to trying
to work against all oppressions that presented themselves in
universities, and were also present within the student
movements. (p. 182)
More broadly, Jane Duncan (2016) in Protest Nation analyses
the right to protest in South Africa. It does not include only
the students’ protests, but mostly the activity of social
movements in South Africa and the way these are repressed
by the state and police forces. She advocates for the democratic
right to protest as a way to civil society and social movements
to qualify the democratic participation and accountability of
the society. Besides South African examples, Duncan stresses
two interesting aspects. The first one is the international
character of the political repression against social movements
and protesting movements. Especially those who are entering
the public space, occupying and resisting, demanding for
rights and democracy. The second aspect is the conditioned
and distorted coverage of the media, mostly representing the
interests of economic power and condemning the protesting
It is important to understand the contemporary social
movements from a political point of view. For that, we will
present briefly five notions that will guide our understanding
about the role of the new social movements in the
contemporary global reality. The first notion comes from
Slavoj Žižek. According to him, we can categorise FMF as a
contemporary social movement that, within the local reality
and with its particularities, is also part of the global struggles
against capitalism and the new forms of repression pushed
by it. Žižek (2015) says:
Global capitalism is a complex process that affects different
countries in different ways, and what unifies the protests in their
multiplicity is the fact that they are all reactions to different
facets of capitalist globalization. Nowadays, a general trend of
global capitalism is towards a great expansion of market
dominance in combination with the progressive closure of public
space, reduction of public services (health, education, culture)
and the increase of authoritarianism. (pp. 127–128)
Žižek sees two main factors behind the action of these
contesting movements. The first one is related – in nuanced
levels of radicalism – with the economic aspects. Especially
with the critique of corruption and inefficiency of the state
in delivering services. The second factor is related with
the political-ideological critique, demanding real and
participatory democracy and exposing the fake democracy,
mostly engulfed by the neoliberal logic and political power.
The second contribution is related with the notion of
democracy. It is presented by Jacques Rancière (2006b) who
establishes that contemporary democracy is, in fact,
controlled and limited by an ‘oligarchical State’. According to
him, real democracy becomes a challenge to the governmental
Page 3 of 7 Original Research
hp:// Open Access
representative democracy. Signs of the real democracy are
regarded by him as signs of an anarchical society. Concerning
the social movements in such reality, he says:
Such was the demonstration developed throughout The Crisis of
Democracy: what provokes the crisis is nothing other than the
intensity of democratic life. But this intensity and its subsequent
danger have two facets: on the one hand, ‘democratic life’ would
seem to be identical to the ‘anarchic’ principle that affirms the
power of the people […]: persistent militant contestation in all
domains of State activity; undermining of the principles of good
government, of the respect for public authorities, of the
knowledge of experts, and of the know-how of pragmatists. […]
Such is the standard form by which experts state the democratic
paradox: as a social and political form of life, democracy is the
reign of excess. This excess signifies the ruin of democratic
government and must therefore be repressed by it. (pp. 7–8)
The third notion goes further in understanding the state of
contemporary democracies. It is presented by Giorgio
Agamben (2005) and stresses the fact that the global context
– marked by the neoliberal attack on democracies to privatise
the public resources – is thriving in creating ‘permanent
states of exception’. He formulates it as follows:
In this sense, modern totalitarianism can be defined as the
establishment, by means of the state of exception, of a legal civil
war that allows for the physical elimination not only of political
adversaries but of entire categories of citizens who for some
reason cannot be integrated into the political system [Palestinians,
black youth, LGBTS, Indigenous Peoples …]. Since then, the
voluntary creation of a permanent state of emergency (though
perhaps not declared in the technical sense) has become one of
the essential practices of contemporary states, including so-
called democratic ones. Faced with the unstoppable progression
of what has been called a ‘global civil war’, the state of exception
tends increasingly to appear as the dominant paradigm of
government in contemporary politics. (p. 2, [addition in author’s
our translation])
The fourth notion comes from the sociologist Manuel Castells
(2012:3), who analyses more closely the global social
movements. Castells sees differences in the new social
movements not only related to the technological revolution
and globalisation, but also to the contemporary political,
social and cultural context. He expresses it as follows:
The movements spread by contagion in a world networked by
the wireless Internet and marked by fast, viral diffusion of
images and ideas. They started in the South and in the North, in
Tunisia and in Iceland, and from there the spark lit fire in a
diverse social landscape devastated by greed and manipulation
in all quarters of the blue planet. It was not just poverty, or the
economic crisis, or the lack of democracy that caused the
multifaceted rebellion. Of course, all these poignant
manifestations of an unjust society and of an undemocratic
polity were present in the protests. But it was primarily the
humiliation provoked by the cynism and arrogance of those in
power, be it financial, political or cultural, that brought together
those who turned fear into outrage, and outrage into hope for a
better humanity. A humanity that had to be reconstructed from
scratch, escaping the multiple ideological and institutional traps
that had led to dead ends again and again, forging a new path by
treading it. It was the search for dignity amid the suffering of
humiliation – recurrent themes in most of the movements. (p. 3)
The last reference that becomes crucial is the debate regarding
the role of social movements and civil society in contemporary
South Africa more specifically. Richard Pithouse helps us to
understand how democracy is threatened by the
contemporary state of affairs in politics and especially in
economics in South Africa. Pithouse (2016a) notices how the
persistent economic disparities and the political context
maintain contemporary capitalism unchallenged. Pithouse,
on his research and engagement with the Abahlali
baseMjondolo, identifies the interconnectedness between the
struggles on the ground, with, by and from the perspective of
social movements, and the process of learning (2016b), as
much as the resistance to capitalism. Although Pithouse has
not studied the FMF movement, we can learn from him to
understand how, in South African society, social movements
have a history and an impact ‘from below’ that challenges
and criticises the political establishment and the economic
reality of the country.
Fees Must Fall, although a more ‘loosely’ organised and
structured movement, still misses a solid articulation of its
own political principles. Therefore, it has to be understood as
a different movement as we compare it with Abahlali. It is also
part of the new social movements (Abahlali started in the
1990s, after the end of apartheid): they are still open. Its
definition and its political orientation are not clear yet.
Furthermore, they are under disputation. That is why
ambiguity, contradictions and limitations can be observed.
But that might also be part of the characteristics of the
contemporary social movements. Using Bauman’s word, this
‘fluidity’ is at the core of the identity of these movements and
it might be that they are never going to achieve a level of
structuration and organisation as other forms of movements.
If that is something that, for now, is difficult to identify – as
the movement is still being defined and constructed – what
we aim to do here is to give some landmarks to identify and
to understand how these movements can be regarded as
‘politics’ in Rancière’s terms, and how they articulate the
possibility of emancipation, especially from a Freirean point
of view.
Social movements as polics and
emancipatory movements
This second movement of the article will introduce the
underlying understanding that, in the current circumstance
of capitalism – described as lacking democratic legitimacy –
true politics must be done outside the limits of the state.
Rancière’s understanding of ‘the distribution of the sensitive’
will guide us to establish some landmarks on how the
dominant order of society is perpetuated and how social
movements should act to do politics.
Rancière’s (2006b) notion of democracy seems to be helpful
and challenging in this sense. First of all, because he does
consider the so-called ‘liberal democracy’ as an ‘oligarchic
state’. This oligarchic state allows certain forms of democratic
representation, but its fundamental conception is already not
democratic. His notion of democracy tends to lead to
Page 4 of 7 Original Research
hp:// Open Access
anarchism, as the real democracy would come from the
impetus of contestation praxis towards the ‘oligarchic state’.
The real democracy, for him, only exists in the movements
that contest the oligarchic state. For this reason, a social
movement, as FMF, for instance, can only be contributing for
democracy if it is challenging the political order. Real
democracy, for Rancière, would be public demonstration that
exposes ‘liberal democracy’ to its real face: a democratic
order that is controlled by the ruling classes’ economic and
political interest. Representative democracy – as mostly
defended as the most appropriate means to achieve
democracy, according to liberal political thought – is limited
and in the end reproduces the social division that is at the
heart of the capitalist society. It means that when we listen to
critiques of the social movements for not being willing to
articulate its political interests as real proposals to be digested
by the representative democracy (parties, political
associations, civil society, etc.), that is rightly when they are
acting genuinely democratically: they are tearing apart the
veil of the oligarchic state and exposing the lack of democracy
in the political system.
Another landmark suggested by Rancière is the distinction
between police and politics (2010). Police is every practice
that ensures the reproduction of the established order, in his
words, a specific ‘distribution of the sensitive’ (2006a). The
state, conceived as oligarchic, operates to maintain, justify,
protect and reproduce that dominant order. It means that the
struggle around the state will be characterised as a struggle
within the dominant framework, therefore, not emancipatory,
or, in his words, not ‘politics’. The concept of politics, in turn,
points to the emancipatory praxis that generates creative and
contesting movements of change. It might only happen from
outside the dominance of police, that is, the dominance of the
established political order. Only real political activity (not
party politics), in Rancière’s view, can effectively change
society. All political (emancipatory) movements tend to be, at
certain point co-opted or engulfed by police, by the
‘distribution of sensitive’, by the dominant order, and
eventually lose their liberative glimpse. In fact, it is very
difficult for a political movement to reach that point in which
it is not regulated by the police. And that is obviously related
to the fact that the rancièrean ‘police’ has all the social
institutions as the media, schooling system, churches and all
the other means that are at the service of the reproduction of
the dominant order operating to create and reproduce a
specific ‘distribution of the sensitive’.
Politics is rare and quick. It means that we have to be cautious
in identifying a social movement as rancièrean ‘politics’. It
has to be sincerely and critically considered to what extent
that social movement is really building new ideas and praxes
and how it is dealing with the ‘police’, which permanently
tries to co-opt those refreshing movements to the established
order, to political parties, to the political system and so on.
We take that critical remark seriously in account when we
look at the dynamics of FMF and see the limits of the
permanent process of political co-option that happens in
many facets of the movement. According to Rancière, instead
of empowering the movement, this party political interference
is censoring the rancièrean political dimension of it, turning
FMF into another instance of the police.
Michael Neocosmos (2016), a South African scholar, helps to
contextualise Rancière’s view to the South African context.
He does it with special regards to social movements,
identifying how the political dynamic in South Africa can be
described as ‘expressive thinking’, which means – according
to Rancière – police, under state’s surveillance politics, which
will always express and reproduce the dominant order. Social
movement that moves into the political realm of the state
loses its emancipatory potentiality and reproduces
‘expressive thinking’. It means that the social movement,
instead of renewing and refreshing the understanding of the
society, becomes and settles for being a tool that expresses the
dominant view of it. At the end, it cannot contribute to
change the reality because it is an expression of the status
quo. On the other hand, he does also discuss an ‘excessive
thinking’, which exceeds the limits of the state and of police.
Therefore, we argue that for FMF and other social movements
to become or to maintain its hope of transformation, it has to
avoid becoming a reproduction of the party political debates
and the defence of its representatives. According to
Neocosmos and Rancière, this party division and the
definition of the agenda for the movement by the parties and
their representatives only condemn the movement to be
locked inside the existing political framework. At the end, the
discursive opposition is just apparent, as all the parties are
part of the police and work for the reproduction of the
political and economic order – an excluding and unjust
‘distribution of the sensitive’.
After understanding what is politics, we will reflect about
how the process of emancipation happens within the social
movements. For that, Paulo Freire’s notion of conscientisation
(1987) becomes quite relevant. The process of conscientisation
can be described as a process of learning that happens in
concentric cycles of engagement between the political praxis
of a subject and his or her immediate socio, political and
economic reality. Starting from the perspective of dialectic
historical materialism suggested by Karl Marx, his
understanding considers this process fundamental in the
struggle for transformation. The process of conscientisation
enables a growing awareness of reality and a grounded
theoretical knowledge that leads to a process of emancipation
centred and guided by the subject of the knowledge. As Ana
Lúcia Souza de Freitas (2016), a Brazilian theorist on Freire,
describes it:
Conscientization, understood as process of critique of the
conscience–world relations, is a condition for the assumption of
the human commitment in the historic-social context. In the
process of knowledge, man and woman tend to get committed
with reality, being that a possibility that is related with the human
praxis. It is through conscientization that the subjects take on
their historic commitment in the process of making and remaking
the world, within concrete possibilities, making and remaking
themselves too. (p. 88, [author’s our translation])
Page 5 of 7 Original Research
hp:// Open Access
Paulo Freire was an educator, so, for him, the process of
knowledge construction is not centred in the teacher, but has
to initiate in the subject of the knowledge, the poor, the
marginalised people, the people suffering under abusive
conditions in society and the people who have their rights
and their dignity violated. The role of the educator is
understood as that of a mediator: the person who helps the
student to see and understand his or her political and
economic reality and from that place, from that personal
engagement in the world, to act for its transformation. This
dialectic, elliptic process that starts in the subject and moves
into the world, transforming it, which will again affect the
reality of the student – or could we say, the activist of a social
movement – is a process of growing awareness. Subjects who
are more aware of the reasons of their condition of oppression
are better enabled to act in the world in an emancipatory way.
Social movements as collective and relational movements,
which surpass individual political praxis, freirean’s notion of
dialogicity becomes important as a way to understand that
no social movement builds up a conscientisation without a
real ethics of dialogue. Dialogue means, for Freire, an attitude
of love, respect, solidarity and democratic engagement
with others. No authoritarian, hierarchical and despotic
movement, even if including many people, yet centred in
individuals who are not responsive to others, can lead to
emancipation. Zitkoski (2016) describes Freire’s notion of
dialogue as follows:
dialogue is the force that pushes the critical-problematizing
thinking in relation to the human condition in the world.
Through dialogue we can say the world according our way of
seeing it. Furthermore, dialogue implies a social praxis, that is the
commitment between the spoken word and our humanizing
action. This possibility opens ways to rethink life in society,
to discuss about our cultural ethos, about our education, the
language that we practise and the possibility of acting in another
way of being, that transforms the world that surrounds us.
(p. 117, [author’s our translation])
Concluding this second movement, it is possible to
understand that not all social movements are able to lead to
an emancipatory praxis. According to Freire, the process of
conscientisation requires a movement of subjects who can
read and understand their reality and who are ready to act
practically for the transformation of their economic and
political conditions. This dialectical, spiral process can be
mediated but never arbitrarily defined by any authority –
teachers, professors, politicians and so on. It requires the
active participation, the personal and existential involvement
of those who are affected by the reality of oppression.
Secondly, the process of emancipation is never an
individualistic one, it is never related to the promotion of
personalities, but happens through an ethics of dialogue, in a
collective construction that demands serious and respectful
engagement with the ‘otherness’. These landmarks can be
useful to evaluate contemporary social movements, like FMF,
in order to understand how it can be emancipatory politics or
how, and why, do they fail when they are seriously affected
by the ambiguous and contradictory practices that diminish
their potentiality to be movements of change and
transformation in contemporary societies.
Conclusion – apocalypc thought
and the ‘courage of hopelessness’
The conclusion will drink from the polemic thinking of Žižek
and Badiou. According to them, the best way to do
emancipatory politics is to do – in party political sense –
nothing. We have to be brave to adhere to (party) political
‘hopelessness’, as the final stage of capitalism and of the
oligarchic liberal democracy that will lead to its self- and
automatic implosion. Doing nothing is the most radical thing
to be done!
For Alain Badiou, ‘it is essential to separate political practice
from fascination with power’ (2011:20). Badiou conceives
politics as ‘collective action, organized by certain principles,
that aims to unfold the consequences of a new possibility
which is currently repressed by the dominant order’ (2008:31).
He thus understands the ‘re-emergence’ of the ‘Communist
Hypothesis’ as fundamental in the current context of
struggles against capitalism and its effects in the social and
political realities:
The communist hypothesis is that a different collective
organization is practicable, one that will eliminate the inequality
of wealth and even the division of labour. The private
appropriation of massive fortunes and their transmission by
inheritance will disappear. The existence of a coercive state,
separate from civil society, will no longer appear a necessity: a
long process of reorganization based on a free association of
producers will see it withering away. (2008:35)
Badiou as much as Žižek (2015; 2017) state that in this
‘apocalyptical interlude’ in which the economic, political
and social crises are accelerating, the best option within the
political sphere is to do nothing. It requires us to be brave to
wait until we get out of a timely order, to get out of this
interlude of radicalisation of the capital crisis, as Badiou
affirms; or to be brave to have no hope (at least the kind of
hope offered within the framework of this established
order) as Žižek states. Meanwhile, we can articulate the
grassroots movements, reconstructing this ‘communist
hypothesis’ to imagine and establish new praxes of
emancipation that might lead us to another world (after
the end of this one as we know it). And, exactly at this
moment … theology has a critical contribution to give to
the political praxis. How to imagine and to announce
prophetically another reality?
Allan Boesak (2005:223) understands that the eschatological
dimension of theology ‘liberates us from the stranglehold of
historical predetermination and sensitizes us to dream of
eschatological possibilities as protest against empirical reality’.
For him, eschatology is rooted in our reasonable Christian
hope (courageous hopelessness?). ‘The fantasy we spoke of is
not empty, without meaning or content, but a reasoned and
Page 6 of 7 Original Research
hp:// Open Access
reasonable account of the hope that is within us (1 Pet 3:15)’
(2005:223). Christian eschatology understands that the end of
capitalism (or any other timely order) is the end of a present
disaster, and we are always moving forward to new cycles of
life, to new beginnings. So state Braaten and Jenson (1984):
Eschatology does not just mean discourse about the so-called ‘last
things’, that which happens in the end. It must consider everything
that is related to this end. Though the various movements toward
the end do not constitute an unidirectional process, certain causes
will undoubtedly urge more toward some ends than others […]
Often the eschaton, as that which stands at the end, is not regarded
as the goal of a linear progression. It can be the cessation of all life
cycles, as in the notion of reincarnation or of the return to the
beginning, to the garden which humanity once inhabited and to
which the blessed will regain access. (pp. 482–483)
Apocalyptic is an important dimension of eschatology. The
apocalyptic genre gives the eschatological hope of God entering
history and inaugurating God’s kingdom as a symbolic
language. Hope receives a body and a face. This heuristic
exercise of apocalyptic imagination seems to be a powerful
theological weapon when we think about the contemporary
stage of capitalism and how it affects and co-opts the political
activity of social movements. Art, culture and every form of
human expression embedded in hope and resilient resistance is
a source of transforming apocalyptic imagination. Regarding
the way the churches can address this, Boesak (2009) affirms:
The church is called to resist all these new forms of idolatry, for
they have enormous moral, political, economic and theological
consequences. It seems to me that we shall have to begin by
allowing for a new understanding of the imperial context of the
New Testament, as well as the ways in which traditional Christian
theology, as shaped by Western Europe and Euro-American
thinking and interpretation, have left us ill-prepared for dealing
with the theological, political and economic realities the church is
facing today. We need, in other words, a process of ‘decolonization’,
a process that will help us undo the domestication of Jesus, Paul
and the writings of the New Testament that has proved so
harmful in the history of Western Christianity. […] we shall have
to engage in hard political and economic analysis of our imperial
realities today, the manifestations of globalization and its impact
on the world and on the communities where we live, work and
worship and on the life of the church. Over against the ‘false
promises’ of empire we shall have to proclaim the promises of
God in Jesus Christ, which are diametrically opposed to the
promises of empire. […] we shall have to deny claims that the
reality of empire is so overwhelming as to be unchallengeable
and unchangeable as if it were ordained by divine sanction. We
shall have to resist all absolutist claims. (p. 72)
In this way, the theological reflection and the praxis of the
churches can be articulated by and with social movements,
building hopes, apocalyptic imagination from the dialogical
experience by the emancipatory movements. In fact, if the
churches in their manifold forms in society want to have any
impact in helping to create a new social, political and economic
order, it can only do so by working together, located among and
within the social movements that are experiencing something
new, something not known and something that we still cannot
define with words and concepts. Only after this long
conversation and this long exercise of collective imagination –
without doing anything in the party political sphere – we might
be able to cross out the limits of the present distribution of the
sensitive, inaugurating a genuine political praxis of emancipation
that exceeds the party political vicious patterns. But it demands
nothing less than courage – the courage of hopelessness.
We are thankful for the readings and critical engagement by
Prof. Dr. Anne Harley and Felipe Tonial.
Compeng interests
The authors declare that they have no financial or personal
relationships which may have inappropriately influenced
them in writing this article.
Authors’ contribuons
Collaborative scholarly engagement between both authors
as activist-theologians around grassroots struggles. F.G.K.B.
wrote the draft version based in common activism and
joint theoretical reflection with C.L.B., the supervisor. C.L.B.
revised the text and gave substantial feedback to improve the
draft. Both F.G.K.B. and C.L.B. approved the final version.
Agamben, G., 2005, State of excepon, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
Badiou, A., 2008, ‘The communist hypothesis’, New Le Review 49, 29–42.
Badiou, A., 2011, ‘Le socialism est-il le reel don’t le communism est l’Idée?’, in
A. Badiou & S. Žižek (eds.), L’Idée du Communisme’, pp. 9–22, Lignes, Paris.
Boesak, A., 2005, The tenderness of conscience: African renaissance and the
spirituality of polics, Stellenbosch, Sun Press.
Boesak, A., 2009, ‘Theological reecons on empire’, in A. Boesak & L. Hansen (eds.),
Globalizaon: The polics of empire, jusce and the life of faith, Sun Press,
Bond, P., 2016, ‘To win free educaon, fossilized neoliberalism must fall’, in S. Booysen
(ed.), Fees must fall: Student revolt, decolonisaon and governance in South
Africa, pp. 192–213, Wits University Press, Johannesburg.
Booysen, S. (ed.), 2016, Fees must fall: Student revolt, decolonisaon and governance
in South Africa, Wits University Press, Johannesburg.
Braaten, C. & Jenson, R. (eds.), 1984, Chrisan dogmacs, vol. 2, Fortress Press,
Philadelphia, PA.
Castells, M., 2012, Networks of outrage and hope, Social Movements in Internet Age,
Polity, Cambridge.
Duncan, J., 2016, Protest naon: The right to protest in South Africa, UKZN Press,
Evera, D., 2016, ‘Standing on the shoulders of Giants? Successive generaons of
youth sacrice in South Africa’, in S. Booysen (ed.), Fees must fall: Student revolt,
decolonisaon and governance in South Africa, pp. 126–147, Wits University
Press, Johannesburg.
Freitas, A.L.S., 2016, ‘Conscienzação’, in E. Streck, E. Redin & J. Zitkoski (eds.),
Dicionário Paulo Freire, pp. 88–89, Autênca Editora, Belo Horizonte.
Freire, P., 1987, Pedagogia do Oprimido. 17º edn., Paz e Terra, Rio de Janeiro.
Luescher, T., Loader, L. & Mugume, T., 2016, ‘#FeesMustFall: An Internet-age student
movement in South Africa and the case of the University of the Free State’,
Polikon 1–15.
Naicker, C., 2016, ‘From Marikana to #feesmusall: The Praxis of Popular Protest in South
Africa’, Urbanisaon 1(1), 53–61. hps:// 471166 40434
Naidoo, L.A., 2016, ‘Contemporary student polics in South Africa: The rise of the
black-led student movements of #RodhesMustFall and #FeesMustFall in 2015’, in
A. Heernan & N. Nieagodien (eds.), Students must rise, youth struggle in South
Africa before and beyond Soweto ’76, Wits University Press, Johannesburg.
Neocosmos, M., 2016, ‘Construcng the domain of freedom: Thinking polics at a
distance from the state’, Journal of Contemporary African Studies 1–16. hps://
Pillay, S., 2016, ‘Silence is violence: (Crical) psychology in an era of Rhodes must fall
and fees must fall’, South African Journal of Psychology 46(2), 155–159. hps://
Pithouse, R., 2016a, Wring the decline on the struggle for South Africa’s democracy,
Jakana Media, Johannesburg.
Page 7 of 7 Original Research
hp:// Open Access
Pithouse, R., 2016b, ‘Our struggle is thought, on the ground, running’, in The
University of Abahlali Basemjondolo (ed.), Centre for Civil Society Research report,
No 40, Durban, University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Rancière, J., 2006a, The polics of aesthecs: The distribuon of the sensible,
Connuum, London.
Rancière, J., 2006b, Hatred of democracy, Verso, London.
Rancière, J., 2010, Dissensus: On polics and aesthecs, Connuum, London.
Ray, M., 2016, Free fall: Why South African universies are in a race against me,
Bookstorm, Johannesburg.
Satgar, V., 2016, ‘Bringing class back in: Against outsourcing during #FeesMustFall
at Wits’, in S. Booysen (ed.), Fees must fall: Student revolt, decolonisaon
and governance in South Africa, pp. 214–234, Wits University Press,
Scherer-Warren, I., 2014, ‘Dos movimentos sociais às manifestações de rua: o avismo
brasileiro no século XXI’, Políca e Sociedade. Revista de Sociologia Políca 13(28),
Swartz, S., 2016, Another country: Everyday social restuon, Human Sciences
Research Council, Pretoria.
Terreblanche, S., 2012, Lost in transformaon: South Africa’s search for a new future
since 1986, KMM Review Publishing Company, Johannesburg.
Zitkoski, J.J., 2016, ‘Diálogo/Dialogicidade’, in E. Streck, E. Redin & J. Zitkoski (eds.),
Dicionário Paulo Freire, pp. 117–118, Autênca Editora, Belo Horizonte.
Žižek, S., 2015, Trouble in paradise: From the end of history to the end of capitalism,
Penguin Books, London.
Žižek, S., 2017, The courage of hopelessness: Chronicles of a year of acng dangerously,
Allan Lane, London.
... According to the protestors, higher education has consolidated a new kind of class apartheid [2]. Even though it is best known as a student-led, nonpartisan protest movement, the movement drew support from people from all walks of life (including the wealthy, the poor, business, academia, and civil society), with various political parties attempting to secure additional mileage from the campaign [3][4][5][6][7][8]. After several failed attempts to ease tensions with alternative solutions, the #FeesMustFall campaign appeared to reach a climax in 2017, when the government announced "Free Education" in mid-December 2017 [9,10]. ...
Full-text available
The declaration of free education for the poor and working class by the South African government remains a key result of the two-year #FeesMustFall movement. The campaign was tainted by a few heinous incidents that sought to disrupt its objectives. This study examines the connections between online activism and real-world occurrences by undertaking a longitudinal sentiment analysis of textual conversations on the Twitter platform since no quantitative research has been documented in this regard, particularly on the opinions of social media users and their associated impacts. Between October 15, 2015, and April 10, 2017, 576,583 tweets with the hashtag campaign #FeesMustFall were collected and analyzed using the Valence Aware Dictionary Sentiment Reasoner (VADER). The change point analysis (CPA) method was used to detect various changes in the dataset, and the cumulative sum analysis (CUSUM) method was used to discover changes over time. Results revealed that this online activism sentiment reacted to and reflected real-life events. The sentiment expressed is triangulated with a perceived real-life negative event, which is the burning of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) hall and the library at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), thus confirming how Internet activism influenced these real-world events during the #FeesMustFall campaign. The study makes a significant contribution because it is the first longitudinal examination of the #FeesMustFall campaign’s sentiment distribution and variations.
... Subscriber: OUP-Reference Gratis Access; date: 17 December 2020 which the author knows well, can construct a meaningful, if limited, argument from which to consider other cases in the Global South. The reader may benefit from other ac counts of the recent student movement in South Africa from persons who were closely in volved or have offered detailed commentary on it (e.g., Booysen, 2016;Naidoo, 2016a, b;Nyamnjoh, 2016;Mbembe, 2016;Butelli & Bryns, 2017;Chinguno et al., 2017;Chikane, 2018;Long, 2018;Gillespie & Naidoo, 2019;Mavunga, 2019). ...
... The academic point of departure, in terms of scholarship, is the question of the interconnectedness between the tradition of liberation theology, very important in contexts like Brazil and South Africa during their political struggles, dictatorship and apartheid, and the struggles, including the decolonial theoretical contemporaries' framework adopted by many social movements. We have been particularly reflecting on this topic from the perspective of our own activist involvement in social movements, especially in Fees Must Fall activities (Buttelli & Le Bruyns 2017a, Buttelli & Le Bruyns 2017b. These social movements have been using the theoretical tools of a decolonial critique, understanding how democracy has not been able to change the socio-political reality because of the continuity of a 'regime of coloniality', especially identified by Fees Must Fall in South African Universities and the academic curricula (Naidoo 2016). ...
... Methodologically, it is a reflection based on praxis. Namely, the engagement of both authors with the so called "Fees Must Fall" movement, a student's movement which demands free, decolonized and decommodified higher education as much as racial justice, against gender-based violence and the patriarchal culture in academy and society (BUTTELLI; LE BRUYNS, 2017;NAIDOO, 2016). This article will focus in presenting shortly some main aspects of South Africa history, presenting the overview of the so called "rainbow nation". ...
Full-text available
This article has as objective to present historical aspects, as much as a brief conceptualization of the contemporary socio-economic situation of South Africa. The theoretical reflection of this article articulates the participation of both authors in the youth movement “Fees Must Fall”. Based on that, it aims to debate about the contemporary issues on the field of High Education in South Africa. Like in Brazilian reality, since 2015 there has been a rise of a students’ movement demanding free education and a decolonial reform of the higher education curriculum, as much as gender and racial justice. The “Fees Must Fall” movement lead to, but also protested against, the militarization of the campi, imprisonment of students, depredation, arson and violence from the different sides. The so called High Education crisis in South Africa has made propitious a wide debate in society, as much as it has served as model for many student’s struggles in other contexts. This article will speak from the reality of the engagement with these students to debate about the political and economic situation in South Africa and its impact in the field of high education. Methodologically, the article sets up a bibliographical debate concerning the social and economic reasons for the contemporary crisis. The conclusion of it points to a list of some of the reasons for the crisis in high education in South Africa
... Today it is acceptable and regarded as people's right to make their voices heard. The recent #FeesMustFall movement among South African students was their way of resisting the everincreasing costs of tertiary education (see Buttelli & Le Bruyns 2017). Buildings were torched, with libraries a specific target. ...
Full-text available
In today’s ‘age of protest’, people have the right to publically resist what they perceive to be unjust and abusive. Sometimes, public protest is non-violent, but often it becomes destructive. People get hurt and property is damaged. Those who have the least are often affected most. This article explores the potential of the centuries old ethics of the Jesus tradition coupled with recent insights from psychology on empathy, for effective and necessary resistance against injustice and power abuse, but without the futility of the violence and destruction. This way of love resists all evil, oppression and injustice, and has the power to break the spiral of violence.
Full-text available
The debate over the public role of religion and of theology has become quite urgent. Not only by the evident religious presence in the party politics sphere, nor by its influence in the Brazilian social culture and life, but by the role that theology and, in this case, the churches can have to transform the social order. The present work reinforces the emancipatory potential of theology and the action of the church in the public space, pointing to a priority locus, from which both reflection and practice can be emancipatedly formulated, namely, social movements. Social movements, it will be argued, are the space in which the spark that gives rise to social and political change emerges in reality. In this sense, some notes will be made from the notion of Event of Alain Badiou, which recognizes, so to speak, the unique epiphanic character of the Events that can divide history between before and after, which effectively have a radically transforming character. In this sense, the heuristic potential for the church and theology will be emphasized to engage in the struggles of movements in the experience of the Badiousian Events that we could characterize as based on the paradigm of revelation.
Full-text available
The years 2015 and 2016 were marked by violent protests at South African universities. While the focus of many of the protests was on access to university education, an equally major theme was the decolonisation of universities. University statues, such as that of Cecil John Rhodes at the University of Cape Town and many others, were pulled down or defaced. Within the discourse on decolonisation of curriculum, statues were viewed as symbols of maintaining and preserving the colonial hegemony that is being sustained by a Western or Eurocentric curriculum taught at universities. These developments led to a national discourse, which, among others, highlighted universities as spaces of exclusion because of residual colonial features. These protests became represented by hashtags such as #RhodesMustFall. These protests indicated a conflict and contest to eradicate the remnants of colonialism, as represented by statues (#YourStatueMustFall), which some protesters argued should be replaced by symbols of black liberation and anti-apartheid iconic symbols (#MyStatueShouldBeErectedInstead). For an integrated South Africa, with its constitutional ideals of a rainbow nation, a discourse of coexistence is required (#BothOurStatuesShouldBeErected). In this situation, a contextually engaged reformatory public practical theology is required to contribute to a constructive discourse and coexistence. (10) A public practical-theological response and proposal to decolonisation discourse in South Africa: From #YourStatueMustFall and #MyStatueShouldBeErected to #BothOurStatuesShouldBeErected. Available from: [accessed Aug 17 2018].
Full-text available
This article reflects on the challenges to systematic theology that arise from students' struggles against capitalism in Brazil and South Africa. It suggests an understanding of the social, political and economic reality, emphasising that these struggles are part of the new social movements that struggle against capitalism. Epistemologically, a kairos and decolonial theology is suggested as a meaningful theological response to the contemporary struggles. Lastly, it affirms that a decolonial theology may help to create hope in struggles to overcome capitalism. It suggests ways to embody this theological approach in political praxis, in a creative way trying to overcome capitalism. 2018 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.
Full-text available
How can we begin to make sense of the diversity of hashtag student movements that sprang up in South Africa in the course of 2015? In this paper we start by presenting key elements of Altbach’s empirical theory of student movements and Castells’ conceptualisation of internet-age networked movements to propose as conceptual point of departure the notion of innternet-age student movement’. At the case of the campus-based #SteynMustFall and #UFSFeesMustFall student movement at the University of the Free State (UFS), we illustrate the richness of data available for empirical analysis and reflect on related methodological challenges when seeking to understand internet-age student movements and the dynamic relationship between the campus-based and the country-wide movement, the territorial space and the cyberspace. We conclude by reflecting on some elements of a possible research agenda for engaging with the 2015 South African hashtag student movements.
Full-text available
This article explores the forms of popular politics that rose out of massive student protests in South Africa at the end of 2015. By delving deeper into the way higher education has been structured in post-apartheid South Africa, the author explains the ways in which race and class privilege have been reified in South African universities. The spatial location of the university within South Africa and the place of the university within the African continent is not reflected in institutional culture of higher education but is deeply embedded in the student protests. By exploring the collective decision making structures of students the author explores students growing lack of faith in higher education institutions to effect any transformational change.
Full-text available Como distinguir os diferentes tipos de ativismo no Brasil atual a partir de suas formas de organização, formas de atuação pública, seus ideários, propostas ou reivindicações socioculturais e políticas? Tendo em vista este desafio, iniciaremos o artigo criando uma tipologia que nos permite distinguir movimentos sociais históricos de manifestações de rua conjunturais e verificar como e quando os movimentos sociais organizados se expressam politicamente através das manifestações públicas e em que medida as manifestações de rua excedem o espaço discursivo e politicamente estabelecido pelos movimentos sociais. A seguir será examinado se os movimentos sociais organizados vêm sendo impactados pelas manifestações de rua e incorporando ou consolidando demandas transversais em suas agendas políticas.
Political emancipation in the twenty-first century must be conceived and achieved through establishing a ‘distance’ from the state and its practices. This article argues that in order to begin to understand politics ‘at a distance from the state’, we need to first understand politics as a collective thought-practice. The thought of an emancipatory politics exists only when collective subjectivities exceed the limits imposed by social place, identities and interests defined and reproduced by state expressive subjectivities. In order to think a new emancipatory politics for the twenty-first century, we must therefore ‘absent the state in thought’, in other words, begin to understand an excessive subjectivity and how it interacts with state subjectivities which are always expressive of place. Therefore, ‘distance from the state’ here refers to subjective distance rather than to institutional, physical or social distance.
What role has critical psychology played in the student protests that hit South African universities in 2015 and 2016? This editorial argues that psychologists cannot remain silent or take a position of false neutrality. If they do, they risk finding themselves on the wrong side of history again. Critical psychology, in particular, needs to translate useful theoretical resources in pragmatic psycho-political practices, in the context of Rhodes Must Fall, Fees Must Fall and the "Fallist" movement more broadly.
Why does the spectre of May 68 still haunt French discourse? Alain Badiou on the country's longue duree sequences of restoration and revolt, and the place of Sarkozy's presidency within them. Lessons in political courage from Plato and Corneille, and a call to reassert the Manifesto's founding wager.