Fasiha’s fight for free education
Fasiha Hassan is the winner of the Student Peace Prize 2019. The committee awards Hassan the prize for her abilities to find pragmatic solutions to free education and her leading role in the #FeesMustFall-movement.
Hassan is the third woman in a row to win the Student Peace Prize.
Fasiha Hassan• Born in 1994 in South Africa.• Central leader in the student movement #FeesMustFall.• Started the movement in a blockade outside the Witwatersrand university 12th of October 2015.• Deputy President of the South African Union of Students.
– I am very proud and feel that I’m standing on the shoulders of incredible women. I think that it is wonderful in terms of representation of Muslim women and breaking stereotypes, Hassan says.
The Student Peace Prize• Founded in 1999.• 2019 marks the twentieth anniversary of the award.• Awarded every second year during the International Student Festival in Trondheim (ISFIT).• The prize is awarded a student who has done exceptional work to promote peace, human rights and democracy. • The winner of the prize receives 50 000 NOK to continue his or her work.• The winner is chosen by an independent committee consisting of experts and representatives from student organisations (Norsk studentorganisasjon og Saih).
#FeesMustFall: a fight against the apartheid legacy
The student movement #FeesMustFall started the autumn of 2015 as a response to the rise in tuition fees in Hassan’s university, Witwatersrand. The continuously rising tuition fees were a widespread issue in South Africa and the movement quickly spread to other universities in the region.
– The main goal of the movement is the realization of a free, decolonized and high quality education, she says.
The legacy of apartheid is still creating social and economic inequality in South Africa. The high tuition fees are limiting the youth’s access to higher education. Consequently, higher education is often a privilege of the rich.
– This is the first time since the end of apartheid we are seeing a mass mobilization of students under one cause in South Africa, Hassan adds.
Receiving the prize is a validation of the movement
According to Hassan, the fight for free education has been difficult. The movement has experienced lots of opposition and criticism.
– The Student Peace Prize reminds us that we are fighting for the right cause, says Hassan.
In her opinion, the fight against privatisation of education has been a global challenge for a long time. She thinks the Student Peace Prize has helped create a spark to raising the issue internationally.
– I want to use the opportunity of the prize to create something that can outlive us all. I am still discussing how we can accomplish this with the prize committee, she says.
Ingeborg Albert Rikheim, leader of the Student Peace Prize, says that it is important that we recognize student leaders like Hassan who fight for their nation's future.
– Students are often the first ones to take to the streets in the name of freedom, but they are also the first ones to be forgotten, Rikheim says.
Education as the key to solving issues in South Africa
– Education is a public good, states Hassan.
She further argues that education does not only benefit students, but society as a whole. It will help grow industries, which in theory will increase the number of jobs. Consequently, the unemployment rate will decrease. This will stop people from turning to crime, she believes.
– Neither me nor the leaders of the state is going to benefit from the implementation of free education, it is the generations to come, Hassan argues.
Sacrificing food and an accommodation for education
Hassan became involved in activism when she started university, were she quickly noticed big inequalities among student. She says that the tuition fees were rising every year. If students could no longer afford the tuition fees, they got kicked out. Many students could not afford textbooks. Therefore, they had to borrow the books during the night from the library. Others stayed in the library because they could not afford an accommodation to live in.
Hassan joined setting up a feeding scheme to provide one or two meals a day for hungry students.
– I realized that all these projects we created to help did not deal with the structural crisis of the universities, that the youth was not able to afford higher education, she says.
As a result, Hassan and a small group of co-students decided to literally close the doors of education. On the 12th of October 2015 they created a sit-down, to block the access to the university for everyone.
– Many students shared our passion and joined us in the sit down. After a few hours we were several hundred students. After a few days we had grown into thousands, tells Hassan.
By the following Monday, every institution of high learning in South Africa was shut down. From this moment, the movement became bigger than her, Hassan says.
–The police used tear gas and shot rubber bullets
In 2016 the most violent time of the movement erupted, despite the protests focusing on being peaceful.
– We felt that our government was against us and even tried to sabotage the movement, she says.
The #FeesMustFall movement originated in the background of the Arab spring, were students joined the fight for regime change. The government was scared the movement would be hijacked by an agenda of regime change. This was used as the main argument for the strong use of police force.
– The police used tear gas and shut rubber bullets at us, unprovoked. I felt betrayed by my own government, says Hassan.
There are still some students that are imprisoned in South Africa. Amnesty International is continuously working to get the charges against these students dropped.
Rikheim says that Peace Prize committee are recognizing the students use of non-violent methods, even when met with police brutality.
– We are recognizing Hassan and all the students behind the movements fight - a fight that was neither in vain nor a wrong one to fight, says Rikheim.
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First step against free education
In 2017 president Jacob Zuma announced that the state would work towards free education for all. From the beginning of 2018 youth living in a household with an income of under 350 000 rand were granted free education.
Rikheim says that the fight is still far from over. There are still students incarcerated and students who will never be able to finish their degrees.
– This is a step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to be done, says Hassan.
Malene Tonheim is a former member of The Student Peace Prize (2017).