FMF Leaders Question The Ethics Of Fasiha Hassan Accepting International Peace Award

Former student leader and current member of African National Congress (ANC) communication team Fasiha Hassan has been awarded the Student Peace Prize (SPP) for her work in the Fees Must Fall (FMF) movement. Norwegian students awarded Hassan the SPP on Tuesday for her “nonviolent efforts towards gaining equal access to higher education and her leading role in the movement #FeesMustFall in South Africa.”

The law student, who was part of the leadership at Wits University during the FMF protests of 2015-2017, is a former Student Representative Council deputy secretary-general and is the deputy president of the South African Union of Students.

“It’s not something that was expected at all, it’s an incredible thing,” Hassan said in an interview with The Daily Vox. “It’s not about myself, it’s more about the movement and about every single student and young person who put their bodies on the line, their futures on the line in the name of free education. I think this award belongs to all of us and the entire movement.”

Hassan said the award is an affirmation of the FMF movement. “There was so much criticism against FMF, and now there’s this sense of it being recognised internationally,” she said.

Student leaders who are involved in the movement have criticised Hassan’s acceptance of the award. “If Fasiha accepts that award, it would be truly disappointing and a step back from all the work that the movement has done and continues to do,” Wits fallist Busisiwe Catherine Seabe told The Daily Vox.

For Wits fallist Nyiko Shikwambane, Hassan accepting the award misrepresents what FMF is about. “People miss the ethics of FMF,” Shikwambane said.

“For me, FMF was about how the black child is the most financially excluded student across all institutions. It was about how we go into the workplace as indebted people, sometimes without a qualification, because fees are not paid up. FMF was about how higher education is systematically – in its structure and through finances – keeping the black child out of the system,” Shikwambane told The Daily Vox.

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Established in 1999, the SPP is awarded every two years to students or student organisations working to foster peace, human rights, and democracy. It came about in recognition of students who play key roles in peace processes and in human rights work. It is awarded on behalf of all students in Norway, however an independent SPP committee makes the selection itself.

Norwegian Embassy Secretary Èyvind Fossum Vangberg confirmed to The Daily Vox that Hassan has a good relationship with the Norwegian embassy in South Africa. She’s worked with them in their efforts to reach out to South African youth leaders. The embassy also provided financial support to the National Education Crisis Forum, which attempted to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis in 2017. The embassy also put her in touch with the Norwegian students movement as they believed that Norwegian students could benefit from and be inspired by the South African experience.

The embassy have congratulated Hassan on the award. “Hassan and the South African students” movement has shown a whole world the political force that students and young people constitute. When young people unite in the struggle for social justice, there is no limit to what they can achieve,” said Vangberg.

Ten students and student organisations from countries including Libya, Burma, Zimbabwe, and Western Sahara have been awarded the prize in the past.

The political agenda

Hassan headlined earlier in August when, along with former Media Diversity and Development Agency chairperson Phelisa Nkomo, she joined the ANC communication team.

The FMF movement was hailed as a non-partisan movement, and some found it surprising that the former student leader was working for a party complicit in the conditions that FMF was protesting. But Hassan insists that there is no inconsistency.

“We were all ANC members before FMF, we were ANC members during FMF and we remain ANC members now. All of us had political affiliations: we were members of political parties prior and during. But there was a time in FMF where we understood that we needed to put that aside for the time being. It didn’t mean we were no longer members, it meant that for that particular campaign, we pushed mostly on the cause and less about where our political homes are founded from,” she said.

Hassan said it’s important that there is more representation of young people in the ANC. “We’re going to see more and more young people emerging through the ranks and it’s really exciting to be part of that. We’re learning a lot and it’s an incredible opportunity,” she said.

Hassan will be working with the ruling party until the elections in 2019.

Speaking about the disenchantment the youth have experienced with the ANC, Hassan said things are looking up for the party. “I wouldn’t have joined a team and a vision that I didn’t believe in. There’s a lot of rebirth of the ANC, it’s not the ANC of before. It’s about going back to what the ANC actually is which is about: social justice and a pro-poor agenda,” Hassan said.

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Hassan, who studied law, says she will always be politically involved. “For me, having a political career and a legal career are not at ends with each other can work very well,” she said.

Rekgotsofetse Chikane, a former University of Cape Town student leader, says many of the former students involved in FMF would have entered the political scene with or without fallism. “Even if FMF hadn’t happened, this path would have been followed. This is their goal. Certain people became political celebrities in the student protests, but a lot of the major student leaders were part of their political parties long before the protests, and already had that mindset of ‘this is where I’m going to go,'” he said.

When contacted for right of reply, Hassan reiterated her previous comments.”I was very clear to say the award didn’t belong to me, it belongs to the greater movement,” Hassan said .”It’s easy to find an individual, because the SPP is given to a person. But that doesn’t mean it’s mine, I know it’s not mine. It’s a manifestation of the movement because the movement isn’t physical or tangible,” she said.

Shikwambane remains skeptical. “I don’t mind people furthering their careers, it’s just awkward when its at the expense of a whole movement,” she says. “A movement whose politics they were too privileged to live, but are smart enough to speak on behalf of.”

According to Hassan, it is ‘unfortunate’ that divisions in the movement continue to play out.

The SPP will be awarded at the International Student Festival in Trondheim, Norway next year. “We are so honoured to work with Fasiha Hassan and it is with great joy we are inviting her to Norway in February to receive the Student Peace Prize,” head of the SPP committee Ingeborg Albert Rikheim said to The Daily Vox.

Featured image by Yeshiel Panchia