Reflections on Decolonizing and the #RhodesMustFall Student Movement, by AC4 Fellow, Kayum Ahmed

The cast of “The Fall” taken on the day of their final performance at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town. The cast had just been interviewed by an international news channel. Taken by Kayum Ahmed.

While the AC4 Fellowship affords students the opportunity to conduct field research through its generous grant, one of the incredible advantages of the Fellowship is the space it offers to reflect on these experiences.

Over the course of the Fellowship, I wrote three op-ed pieces that starts in Cape Town and is centered on a new radical theory called “Fallism” that was first developed by a student movement called #RhodesMustFall at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. #RhodesMustFall derives its name from one of its central claims: the removal of the statue of British imperialist, Cecil John Rhodes from the University of Cape Town. My reflection on the idea of Fallism was subsequently extended to a broader discussion of human rights following interviews with just over 50 individuals at the University of Cape Town. The second op-ed focuses on a critique of human rights discourses and its ability to engage with what I refer to as “non-humans” – often dehumanized black bodies.

The calls for the removal of statues in South Africa inspired by the #RhodesMustFall movement were echoed upon my return to the U.S. in places like Charlottesville which inspired me to write a third piece centered on white violence and First Amendment rights. Employing the ideas acquired over the course of my fieldwork in South Africa, I sought to analyze the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) engagement with free speech and its protection of the First Amendment rights of white supremacists. This third op-ed draws on my experiences in South Africa and suggests that the U.S. can learn something from activists in South Africa.

A person looking at the previous site of the Rhodes statute at the University of Cape Town which has been turned into an art space where passers by write or creatively express their thoughts on an enclosure around the pedestal on which Rhodes was once situated. Taken by Kayum Ahmed.


Author: Kayum Ahmed is a 2017 Fellow, pursuing a Ph.D. in International and Comparative Education at Teachers College. He is focused on the radical student-led movement called #RhodesMustFall, which seeks to decolonize education inspired by decolonial theories; his fieldwork took place at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

Photos provided by author, Kayum Ahmed. 

Below are the direct links to each of the three op-ed articles referenced in the blog post.

#Fallism as Public Pedogogy, written July 3, 2017: http://africasacountry.com/2017/07/fallism-as-public-pedagogy/

What About Human Rights for Non-Humans, written August 14, 2017: http://africasacountry.com/2017/08/what-about-human-rights-for-non-humans/

Defending Free Speech When Laws Do Not Apply Equally to Everyone, written September 5, 2017: https://www.openglobalrights.org/Defending-free-speech-when-laws-do-not-apply-equally-to-everyone/

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