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Open Access Publications from the University of California

“Rhodes Must Fall”: South Africa’s Ongoing University Student Protests Against Contemporary Globalization’s Neoliberal Violence

  • Author(s): Irvine, Timothy
  • Advisor(s): Foran, John
  • Lezra, Esther
  • et al.

Despite apartheid’s 1994 de jure abolition, contemporary university students in South Africa transgressively protest for ongoing, radical, de facto “decolonization” that they allege, and I agree, has not occurred. My thesis historicizes and analyzes the Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) and Open Stellenbosch (OS) protests at University of Cape Town (UCT) and Stellenbosch University (SU), respectively. I analyze how university students’ protests drive counter-hegemonic social movements locally, regionally, and potentially globally. I highlight marginalized students’ imagination and articulation of alternatives to global neoliberalism, which is transgressive and perceived as radical.

I contextualize this case study of contemporary counter-hegemony in South Africa through a theoretical-conceptual approach, and a deep, colonial, historical approach. I present three critical premises: (1) neoliberalism is de-democratization and covert authoritarianism; (2) universities are potential sites of critical democratization; and (3) marginalized university students drive a radical, transgressive imagination of alternative worlds.

I provide critical historical background to situate South Africa within Contemporary Globalization before chronicling the emergent themes of ongoing protests. Following my South Africa case study, I briefly compare RMF and OS to other university student protests around the globe, including California and Germany. I suggest that under Contemporary Globalization, apparently dissimilar social movements share much in common, including universities’ simultaneous assimilation into, and potential for resistance against, the new, covert authoritarianism and de-democratization of global neoliberalism.

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