The country with the white beaches, the big five and the majestic Table Mountain. It’s the country we travel to for safaris and language travel. But this is also where nearly every sixth person does not have higher education. This is where Fasiha Hassan comes in.
The inborn strength
“Before #FeesMustFall, I used to be called delicate. But now, I’m called strong, courageous and passionate, which I’ve always known I’ve been, but that people are seeing now” Hassan says with a straight back and a proud smile. And with good reason. For years, Hassan and her fellow students have peacefully fought for access to free education despite of violent police, difficulties and misunderstanding form almost all sides. From 14th of October 2015, when they used their own bodies to physically block the entrance to the university as a metaphor on that the increasing student fees would do, to 16th of December 2017, when the president announced free education, Hassan has not backed down.
So where does this strength come from? Hassan is considered one of the countries Born Free- generation, which means she was born right after South Africa gained its democracy and the time where apartheid as a system was abolished. A process her parents where very much a part of, and Hassan does not hide the fact that this has formed her in her own activism. “I grew up with an understanding and knowledge that we exist in a greater world and that we have to be active”. She talks about her memories about the times when she used to come to her parents’ meetings as just a little girl, playing with her toys next to the adults working for equality. “Now that I look back at it, I realize that that are some of the most important moments in my life”.
Already as a five-year-old, she got to come with her father to the townships. She might have been young and mostly looking at her father’s shoes to be able to keep up, but the memories of poverty printed it selves behind those small eyes. “I was afraid because I saw a part of South Africa that I knew, but that I wasn’t comfortable with […] This was also the point where I realized that not everyone in South Africa could live a comfortable life at all”.
From vicious circle to hope
And she was right. South Africa faces several complex problems, one of them being the fact that over half of its population are living underneath its upper-poverty line. Out of these are 93% black. As a result of this, blacks only make out 3,3% of the country’s student body, which should be an odd number considering 81% of the population are in fact black. How is this possible? The answer is easy and complicated. Increasing student fees. Actually, nearly one fifth of teenagers between 7 and 18 years old that does not attend any education stated that the high cost of university was what kept them from attending.
“Very often, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, it’s about how much money you have in your account”, Hassan says, and keeps further explaining how it creates a vicious circle where students have to work several jobs to be able to pay off their student fees, which leads to them not being able to attend classes. If they then fail, they will lose their scholarships and the governmental funding they do have.
Even if it was random that Fasiha means “well-spoken” in Arabic, it suites her perfectly. In the non-violent protest against increasing students’ fees, thus against increasing social and economic differences in a country already facing segregation and racism, she has stood in the front with one of the leading voices with the rest of the world listening. “I really think that #FeesMustFall has brought that out in me as a person”, she says with a confident smile. “Even if I die tomorrow, I can say with some level of confidence that the time that I had on this earth, and the time with my fellow students, that we did something worthwhile with it”.