Student Protests in South Africa: coverage analysis

Having recently watched the Mexican film “Güeros,” I was intrigued by this story coming out of South Africa about student protests. I’m in college so naturally I’m always a little curious when I read headlines about higher education around the world. And of course they’re trying to raise tuition.

Al Jazeera’s (online) coverage used Reuters to detail the demonstrations taking place at the University of Cape Town. They report the damage, arrests and some remarks from officials. Without the inclusion of the link to a video on their Facebook page, the article is a bit stiff and does not provide and commentary from the students involved in the protests. The video takes us onto the scene with some footage from the protests and a student interview. Using police officers and higher education ministers as sources is of course useful for the straight facts, but a story like this should emphasize the voice of the students for the passion.

Student Protest UWC
Students protest at University of KwaZulu-Natal at Westville. Photo courtesy of SAPeople.

A local news organization from South Africa called African News Agency (ANA) offers more of a follow-up story after the news of the protests has already spread. I found the story included in the business section of a larger news group that seems to pull many local stations in one efficient online resource. Because it is a business story, there are numbers and number don’t often make for an entertaining read, but this is a really good story to focus on the why and the what’s next. ANA says, “Higher Education and Training minister Blade Nzimande and Wits Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib and his counterparts culminated in a deal to cap increases in 2016 university fees at six percent as a short-term solution.” But the students don’t think that’s good enough. I think it’s important that these people seem to be legitimately analyzing this issue and trying to find the best solution for the students, not just the state.

BBC seems to focus on Nzimande’s six percent offer, with this information as their lede, but there strongest element is their inclusion of student voices. Two students are named with long quotes explaining why this is so important and one of them expresses that “Many students are in complete shock about the lengths management has gone to in order not to meet with students,” which is the opposite of the impression that I was took from ANA’s article. BBC’s coverage was as proper as BBC always is, but it definitely seems to be the most human approach of all the stories I read. They gave us the hard facts and the numbers that caused these protests, but more importantly they let us hear from the students.

University of Cape Town (UCT) protest over tuition fees
Photo courtesy of BBC News: “The hashtag #FeesMustFall has been trending as the protests spread.”

Each of these organizations utilized social media and gave validity to the trending hashtags associated with these events. They were not dismissive of the importance of social media in this issue, as many traditional media outlets can be. I’m very interested to see how this story ends. Higher education has become increasingly important and the power that students have to change the system is proving to be a force to be reckoned with. If more people would pay attention to international news, they might realize how connected we all are after all.


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