New doccie focuses on #FeesMustFall activist Bonginkosi Khanyile

2018-05-27 00:00
Fees Must Fall

FILM REVIEW: #FeesMustFall as told by Bonginkosi

Showing at Encounters South African International Documentary Festival                            

Free Education: The story of Bonginkosi Khanyil

Director: Michael van Niekerk

. . . 

When watching a documentary narrated by the person it’s about, there is less room to speculate, reframe or distort what may have been their experience. This is a good thing, and something that helped to set the record straight about Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in the documentary Winnie.

Like in any struggle, there are those who are chosen to stand aggressively and resolutely behind a cause; who are marked as leader, voice and representative of the rest.

Similarly, Michael van Niekerk has directed the beautifully told story of Economic Freedom Fighters member Bonginkosi Khanyile, a student at the Durban University of Technology who became an activist and the face of the #FeesMustFall generation.

Because of the impatience, anger and frustration felt by black people in South Africa, and thanks to his efforts and with the support of his peers, he became an advocate for #FeesMustFall in tertiary education institutions.

What makes his story stand out from the others is the fact that, despite being detained for months because of his activism during the protest movement, he managed to continue his studies in prison and graduated cum laude.

The documentary is an authentic telling of his experience and allows other people, including his friends and comrades, to share their reactions to his arrest and to speak about the cause they were fighting for.

It also exposes the shortcomings of the ANC government and how the police became violent in an effort to force the protesting students to abandon their cause.

The documentary includes scenes of police brutality reminiscent of the apartheid-era chaos on June 16 1976, when pupils took to the streets in protest and were gunned down by police.The #FeesMustFall movement was a turning point for a generation of young people who were supposed to be the beneficiaries of a democratic dispensation.

Through #FeesMustFall, the lack of access to quality tertiary education for everyone was confronted and it became part of the national discourse.

From a general framing point of view, the film is quite limited as it only delves into Khanyile’s story and his experience. Had the documentary been about the #FeesMustFall movement, we would have been able to see the bigger picture and experience the voices and faces of other students – women, queer students and students from other organisations such as the SA Students Congress or the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania. The documentary also fails to get comment from the police on Khanyile’s arrest.

For Khanyile, though, this is a good story that tells the lived reality of a black student in South Africa. It dismisses the idea that many who took to the streets were lazy students who didn’t want to attend classes.

Khanyile reminds us that his generation is angry, determined and will refuse to back down. – Zamayirha Peter

The festival runs from May 31 to June 10 in Cape Town and Joburg. For tickets and the full programme, go to publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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