Student Peace Prize Awarded to South African Civil Rights Activist

The Student Peace Prize 2019 will be awarded to Fasiha Hassan for her non-violent efforts for equal access to higher education and her leading role in the movement #FeesMustFall in South Africa.

In South Africa students pay high prices to study. This closes the door on the poorer parts of the population and contributes to a continuous social inequality cross ethnicity and class that is difficult to break down. Even though South Africa has one of the world’s most progressive constitutions, the division between white people and black people is propagated by high levels of economic inequality. The Muslim law student Fasiha Hassan, based in Witwatersrand University, was born after the fall of apartheid in 1994. She is one of “Mandela’s children”, a generation that is taking a stand against the injustices of the past to create a better future. Fasiha’s parents were both activists in the anti-apartheid struggle and their background in activism formed her as well. She became involved in activism when she started at Witwatersrand and met students from completely different backgrounds from her own: not only students that had to work hard to pay tuition, but students that were unable to finish their degrees at all because they could not afford the curriculum.The only thing that separates these students and Fasiha is that they were born into a different economic situation. As part of a generation “born free”, Fasiha Hassan says she has a responsibility to fight for equality in society – education must be a right, not a privilege.

As one of the leaders of the student movement  #FeesMustFall, Fasiha Hassan has fought for everybody’s right to a higher education and continues the fight to break down racial divisions in South Africa. As a part of her effort to change a system that prioritizes white privilege, Fasiha Hassan has suggested concrete economic and structural solutions in meetings with political officials. After extensive pressure from the student movement, then-president Jacob Zuma announced that higher education would be free in South Africa in 2017. This is still far from being a reality, and Fasiha Hassan continues to work to find concrete solutions that will include marginalized groups and contribute to true universal access to higher education in South Africa.

#FeesMustFall was the biggest mass movement of people since the time of apartheid. The movement united the students of the country around a common cause and put students and education on the national agenda. The movement constitutes a difference for South Africa’s future in a time when social inequalities are increasing. Even after president Zuma declared that there should be free education in the country, the fees have still not fallen. Instead, the students have been given more militant campuses. A place made for learning and free space is occupied by security guards and aggressive treatment of students. The students did what they could to speak up for their cause, but the institutions are so well-established that student voices are not heard or taken seriously. They will never be able to even out the inequalities if higher education is going to belong only to those who can pay for it.

– #FeesMustFall is one of the most important and effective expressions of mobilization in civil society in South Africa in modern times, according to Nobel Peace Center president Liv Tørres. “When democracy was established in South Africa in 1994, most citizens expected that economic rights, social parity, jobs, and food on the table would follow. That isn’t what happened. South Africans know that there is democratic power in organization and mobilization. In its time, apartheid fell through mass mobilization of civil society. Today, many look to the youth in #FeesMustFall as role models for the future,” Tørres says.

– I want to congratulate Fasiha Hassan with the Student Peace Prize for 2019. Hassan and the #FeesMustFall-movement has reminded the whole world about the political power the students can have. I hope that Hassan’s impressive effort to achieve equal access to education and social justice in South Africa will inspire others to engage themselves, says Marianne Hagen, Secretary of State in the Foreign Ministry

– This year’s Peace Prize winner is a strong advocate for critical thinking and an important voice in the fight against inequality in South Africa. The work of Hassan and the #FeesMustFall-movement has a global impact and stands as an inspiration to all. Norwegian students have a long history with solidarity with South African students, and I hope that the prize will contribute to strengthen international student solidarity and show clearly that we stand together in the fight for equal access to higher education on a global scale, says  Beathe Øgård, Leader of SAIH and Leader for the Peace Committee.

– On behalf of Norwegian students, I will congratulate Fasiha Hassan as laureate of The Student Peace Prize 2019. Her important work towards tuition fees in South Africa builds up under a global student movement for equal education, says Håkon Randegård Mikalsen, Leader of Norwegian Student Organisation and member of this years Peace Committee.

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