The events of the 2015 Fees Must Fall movement generated a lively debate in the South African public sphere, one which included multiple interest groups and constituencies. The aim of this dissertation is to critically analyse the public debate that arose around the 2015 Fees Must Fall movement. I approach this debate through the frame of the story by focussing on narratives published in mainstream print media, in student media and on the social media sites, Facebook and Twitter. Aside from more conventional news reportage, I also look at interventions by student activists, government, universities, and other public commentators including parents, political analysts, cultural and religious groups and onlookers. As a literary scholar, I look at the ways in which these events were narrated and the values that were encoded in the tellings. The fact that these events could and were interpreted, explained and rationalised in a variety of ways points to the complexity of truth and meaning-making. However, the point is not to search for the ‘truth’ about what happened but rather to consider the kinds of meanings that were constructed and what these might reveal about the broader social, economic and political landscape in post-apartheid South Africa, including prevailing attitudes, assumptions and myths. Given the prominence of women both in the events themselves and in the ways they were narrated, I will also pay particular attention to the role of gender in the narration of the events and the significance given to women’s involvement in the protests. I start my project by considering how protests have come to be represented in media and discuss the relevance of story-telling as a means of sense-making. I analyse first the accounts that focussed specifically on blame-placement as a way to explain the events. I argue that this blame placement reveals the fractured nature of South Africa. From here I move to accounts that specifically discussed the way in which the movement as a whole should be characterised. I draw attention to the tendency to personalise the movement vs. the trend of figuring it as an act of social justice for a society still plagued by inequality and oppression. I then look at the accounts that concentrated on the individuals in the movement and how they should be characterised, specifically looking at the various judgements of role-players’ behaviour. In concluding, I discuss the various issues and questions the public debate raised and what this suggests about the state of post-apartheid South Africa. Finally, I make a claim for the importance of story-telling as a way to make sense of the particular historical moment.
Mini Dissertation (MA)--University of Pretoria, 2018.