Dissent, disruption, decolonization: South African student protests 1968 to 2016
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Fifty years after student protests shook much of the Cold War world, in the “West” and in the “East,” “Global 1968” has become the catchword to describe these profound generational revolts. We hear a lot about West Berlin, Paris, Berkeley, London, and then the Prague Spring, even occasionally the 1968 events in Mexico City may be mentioned; in contrast, none of the relevant overviews bring events to the fore that happened on the African continent in general, and in South Africa in particular. This beckons a number of questions: Was there something “1968” on the continent that matched the activism of the generation in revolt elsewhere? And as indeed there was, as we have shown in an overview article, how did students in African countries contribute to the global uprising with their own interpretations, and why have these been largely “forgotten” in the global discourse? And what do they mean today when we talk about protests of students and youth? After all, Africa has recently become again a hotbed of significant protests of young people who share a great desire for democracy and social justice. From Senegal and Burkina Faso to Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, young Africans have hit the streets in their hundreds of thousands. South Africa for one has seen a massive revolt of university students during 2015 and 2016. This article looks at South African student movements in the late 1960s and early 1970s, following some notes on the wider continent, specifically the May 1968 protests in Senegal, the only African 1968 event that has found marginal attention. Then the focus shifts towards the recent South African student protests of 2015–2016 to explore the ways in which the revolt of the generation that has come of age after the end of apartheid may relate to past uprisings in ideology and activist practice.