Revisiting the ABCs of the decolonial paradigm of fallism


    The South African student protests of 2015, starting with Rhodes Must Fall at the University of Cape Town (UCT) followed by Fees Must Fall at Wits University, reignited conversations that have been doing rounds in Africa since a generation of intellectuals led the continent through independence. “Fallism” swept through the country then, and spread through the continent and the diaspora, reaching both Oxford and Harvard Universities.

    Before discussing the fallism of 2015, one must first recognise that students from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) were the first fallists. They were shutting down their campuses and calling for the removal of the barrier to entry known as tuition fees, many years before Wits and UCT’s social media hashtags. Scholars have argued that the fallist movement became a national hot topic only because of Wits and UCT’s proximity to whiteness. The movement initiated the “born free” generation into united activisms in service of social progress.

    But there is no single all-encompassing definition of fallism because fallists themselves, in their different sites of struggles, whether as activists, academics, blue-collar workers or members of civil society, have different interpretations of what the fallist struggle should be about and who it ought to serve first. The commonly understood definition is that fallism, as a paradigm, seeks to achieve the complete decolonisation of power, identity and knowledge systems.

    The search for individuality and a sense of belonging of black Africans in their own skin, land and continent, becomes absolutely essential to fallists. Fallism becomes a vessel for students and Africans to challenge coloniality where it lurks and exists destructively.

    Image of Shackville protest at UCT by Ashraf Hendricks
    Image of Shackville protest at UCT – by Ashraf Hendricks

    Contrary to the sentiments of its detractors, fallism is not divisive. In fact, it has stressed the opposite – unity. Fallism feeds off the attempted epistemicide of African thought such as decolonialityand Afrocentricity.

    Fallists would argue that one can’t be a fallist without observing both principles of decolonial theory as well as Afrocentric prescriptions. However, fallists transcend theory for immediate, uncompromising action – as we have seen in South Africa. The decolonial scholar Frantz Fanon referred to action as a mandatory generational responsibility.

    Fallism takes a unique twist on the decolonial mandate. Decolonial fallism focuses more on having a conversation with Africa and Africans, with and about themselves, before the desire to be understood by the western world. Essentially, students have shown how their decolonial goals move geographically, nationally and then globally.

    Fallism follows a bottom-up approach, from the masses on the ground to the privileged few in ivory towers. Fallists’ focus on fixing today’s injustices for future generations stems from the decolonial humanism of the movement. They acknowledge the doomed existence of the black body, if power and knowledge systems are not completely decolonised. They have taken on the responsibility to disrupt and deconstruct colonial legacies for a liberated future of South Africa.

    The geographic location of fallist protests was far from a coincidence. The protests began at institutions of higher learning because it is in the passages of these institutions where black bodies directly feel the hostility of the colonial legacy of white privilege violating their very existence.

    The youth of 2015 are not unique in their challenge of the system, through calling for a decolonial overhaul of the environments and systems that black bodies are subjected to. What is unique about the fallist generation is that they are able to unite under ideas of scholars and decolonial thinkers, like Biko and Fanon, and produce results.

    Image of writing outside a building at Wits, by Mohammed Jameel Abdulla
    Image of writing outside a building at Wits – by Mohammed Jameel Abdulla

    Education has been identified as one of the powerful sources of colonial imposition on Africans since the beginning of imperial conquests in Africa. Institutions of higher learning thus become a site of struggle to emancipate the minds of students from neo-colonial Euro-western modes of thought, teaching, learning and knowing. As one of the placards seen during campus protests read: education in the hands of the colonialists is education reproducing the colonised.

    Fallists observe a particular mandate in the struggle to emancipate black bodies from white suffocation:
    – Revisiting and revising the Freedom Charter, with a special focus on realising free education;
    – Reclaiming the indigenous knowledge systems of Africa;
    – Educating for the advancement of the African, not of the colonial empire;
    – Remembering that the African is a human with faculties that extend past maintained white narratives;
    – The total destruction of economic and political legacies of colonial domination;
    – Calls for full redistribution of resources from the hands of the coloniser to the hands of the formerly colonised natives;
    – The total transformation of thinking from the parasite of whiteness to transform the world to be free of anti-blackness, patriarchy, queerphobia, self-hating white systems; and
    – A total decolonisation of systems of power, knowledge and being.

    In problematising preserved systems of white privilege, democracy – as the pride of the global world, bestowed on South Africa – has been critically revisited. Fallists have taken the decision that, contrary to the neo-liberal narrative perpetuated by Euro-American superpowers, seeing democracy as an end to the African condition is inaccurate. As one student leader addressing the mass meeting of students at Wits said, the struggle against colonisation is one for full African liberation before anything else.

    Returning to observations of a generation relegated to the grave and to intellectual obscurity, the students have said many times that total decolonial liberation is the closest South Africa can get to finding an end to poverty and underdevelopment, but also to the violence the black body is subjected to in white-controlled society.

    UCTShutdown_RP_2 [slider] protest
    Image of protestor at UCT – by Ra’eesa Pather
    The legacy of fallism will not be one of completed activisms, but fallists can achieve a great deal of progress in moving forward the agenda for global decolonisation. One particular achievement of the fallist struggle so far has been the success of its consciencentising campaign; South Africans are becoming more aware of what the fallist student struggles are about. Education institutions will continue being the primary location for fallist struggles and fallism will continue to grow globally.

    A luta continua!


    1. Colonizing the mind? What does that mean?
      Does an education in Physics colonize the mind? Does working hard to get your degree colonize your mind? Does the mind become more colonized at every moment a person doesn’t decide to shut things down and subsequently break them apart?
      It’s true, rubble is very pre-British colonization – but it hardly seems a thing an educated person – black or white or otherwise – would want out of a University.

      You see what you’re doing is using the old propaganda trick of introducing as much pleasing jargon as possible without explaining or rationalizing it, and then using that jargon to explain and rationalize other things. It does indeed allow you to not think about what you’re doing too deeply, but you shall to continue to fail convincing the majority of WITS students who do.

    2. That’s all fine and well but attacking something because it’s discovery came from outside of Africa is backwards. For instance Japan, China and India don’t reject the study of Thermodynamics because it originated in Germany.

      The truth of the matter is we are a part of a globalized society now and concepts built around ethnic identities no longer have merit. Especially considering that we are entering a phase of technological human enhancement which will ultimately lead to the creation of entire new types or species of people.

      • uhmmm…. before colonialism black people couldn’t even write. so if you’re calling for decolonialism of the university will it be a university where no one writes? #justasking

    3. Lots of unnecessary fancy words which most people in the target audience will not understand – and which do not really make sense in any event. Further, I think countering (former) white supremacy with such absurd and dangerous agendas will set-back the country even more, especially in terms of higher education.

    4. Wandile

      Tell me how your project turns out.

      Whatever you do, don’t borrow money from the banks as then you really will be in chains.

      Good luck with your journey, you are going to need some on that road.

    5. Then let us hope nothing you, Wandile, ever engage in is one day declared “un-African”… one never knows who (or rather, what) will end up with a monopoly on violence in the future. Or perhaps you are bargaining on yourself being one of those who self-righteously decides what is African and what isn’t?


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