Begin typing your search above and press return to search. Press Esc to cancel.

#FeesMustFall – a social media review

With campus protests making national headlines since March this year, it is not unreasonable to feel some fatigue setting in around the topic. Unless the issue of tertiary education costs touches you personally, you may have already started ignoring the news, possibly expecting it – like so many flash-point issues in this rainbow nation – to be dragged out, down-played or just ignored by the powers that be, until it goes away. After all, these are just kids making trouble at school about how much university fees are, right? The exciting news we have for you is… it’s so much more, and it’s worth sitting up & taking notice of.


Since the open air discussion held at UCT on the 12th of March, the transformation conversation has steadily gained momentum. The #RhodesMustFall Movement created a Call To Action event on Facebook on the 14th of March for the following day with the message:

‘We are holding a mass meeting on lower campus, tomorrow morning at 8am.

We meet to mobilise and collectively establish a way forward for the weeks ahead. Details about events and actions for the next week will also be elaborated upon.

The meeting tomorrow is where the action begins: so if you have interest in directly being a part of the historical change that’s to take place at UCT – we shall see you tomorrow

A luta continua [the fight goes on]


And in early April the statue indeed did come down. The ’’historical change’’ had begun and soon, starting with #OpenStellenbosch, students from institutions around the country stood up and marched in the #FeesMustFall movement.

An overview of which universities were driving the most volume of discussion.

An overview of which universities were driving the most volume of discussion.

Over the following 9 months it swept across the country. The graph above details the conversation about individual institutions between 12 March and 9 November. The resulting sustained and growth in conversation is not surprising, considering how many institutions have been affected. The real surprise lies in its comparative volume.

Overall Twitter South Africa conversation.

Overall Twitter South Africa conversation.

Between 21 and 23 October – at the peak of student engagement both on the ground and online – Twitter South Africa saw three consecutive days, each with significantly more activity than we have seen since Madiba’s death*, averaging 1,256,207 tweets a day. To put that into perspective, the next highest tweet day was the 12th of February 2015, the day of SONA15 with only 1,083,988 tweets in total across the country.
* The two biggest days of Twitter activities in RSA history was 6 December (1,425,230 tweets) and December 10th (1,658,081 tweets) – the day after the announcement of Tata Madiba’s death and the day of his memorial ceremony.

A Topic Wheel exploring the top themes relating to Fees Must Fall.

A Topic Wheel exploring the top themes relating to Fees Must Fall.

This massive jump is attributed to the national #FeesMustFall and associated hashtags. The the topic wheel above illustrates how the issues surrounding #FeesMustFall absolutely dominated the topics discussed by South African Twitter users during that 3 day period.


Out of the top 10 Hashtags in RSA between 21 and 23 October, only two were not directly linked and all 5 of the top retweets were related to the protests.

University of Cape Town's student transformation leader Thato Pule.

University of Cape Town’s student transformation leader Thato Pule.

While this movement is currently primarily focused on issues surrounding the inequality of access to quality education, faced predominantly by non-white students their ideals are much broader.

Affinities comparing those involved in FeesMustFall vs the rest of Twitter South Africa.

Affinities comparing those involved in FeesMustFall vs the rest of Twitter South Africa.

Compared to the rest of Twitter RSA, users engaging with #FeesMustFall and associated hashtags are 80 times more likely to be discussing feminism, 5 times more likely to be engaging on the topic of Social Justice and 3 times as likely to mention human rights and personal development. On the flip side, they are 1/101 times as likely to be discussing Venture Capitalism as the rest of South Africa and a 5th as likely to mention One Direction.


There is a lesson to be learnt from our recent history – the Moldovian unrest, the 2010 Iranian elections, Tunisia, Egypt and Ukraine – as well as the mirror protests currently being held in the UK by students. The social media is where revolutions are now born and raised.


image10 image09

It is the platform where ideas are shared and collectively put into motion, where gatherings are organised and controlled from. The personalised and instantaneous way with which individuals can share stories, photos and video of what is happening on the ground, empowers a more dynamic, structured and effective response. It is revolutionising transformation.


This data was gathered and analysed using Crimson Hexagon’s Forsight platform.
youKnow Digital are Crimson Hexagon’s Sub-Saharan partners. If you would like to see more of the powerful features that this Social Research and Analytics platform can provide, feel free to contact us for a live demonstration.

+ There are no comments

Add yours