It was impossible to ignore the news surrounding Fees Must Fall towards the end of 2015. The issue of access to education came to the forefront after a wave of protests swept across South African universities following the announcement of fee increases by more than 10 percent.
The #FeesMustFall hashtag generated more than 1.5 million tweets during the height of the protests. Unlike much hashtag activism, #FeesMustFall had a solid structure outside of social media, mobilising students to protest the university legislature against fee increases, beginning at Wits University in Johannesburg before spreading nationwide within just a few days.
The 10 percent increase wasn’t implemented, but the struggle for student rights continues. For some, the past two months have been bittersweet. Final year students across the nation graduated after months of fighting for basic student rights. One of them was the award-winning rapper Gigi LaMayne. Known for her razor sharp tongue, the 21-year-old graduated at the top of her class at Wits, earning four distinctions in addition to a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Media and Anthropology.
On the day of her graduation, LaMayne released a new single, “Fees Will Fall.” The song highlights the sentiments shared by many of the rapper’s peers.
In the conversation below, the recent graduate and award-winning artist shares her thoughts on Fees Must Fall and the struggle of her generation.
Ncumisa Makhonjwa for Okayafrica: Why was obtaining your degree so important to you? Particularly as someone in the music industry?
Gigi LaMayne: I have always been an individual driven by success. The industry I am in deems education as being “uncool” and not really important. I wanted to show myself and young kids who look up to me that it is possible to use education within your creative process––writing music––as well as strategically in learning about music as a business.
Last year was a tumultuous time for students across the nation. Seeing that you were in your final year at Wits, how did the events surrounding #FeesMustFall affect you?
I was an active part of the movement and it was my duty to vouch for those students who find it difficult to finish their studies. These events made me strive more to attain my degree. I fought hard because I was not particularly advantaged in comparison to my fellow students. We protested by day, whether on the streets, on campus or on social media, and then studied by night. It was worth it. It was an awesome time to be alive. This is the struggle of our generation.
Obtaining a tertiary education in SA is incredibly expensive, hence the rise of #FeesMustFall. Can you share some of the challenges you faced leading up to the completion of your studies?
My mother struggled to pay for my fees as we were self-funding. She is a single parent and a nurse. She battled with the fees, let alone the additional resources for the courses. There is nothing as frustrating as an uncertain future.
On the day of your graduation you released “Fees Will Fall.” Do you see this happening soon considering the politics behind it?
“Fees Will Fall” was merely a premonition of what I see to come, whether in our lifetime or thereafter. There will be a time that we all understand that the acquisition of any qualification is largely dependent on our social positions which is further dependent on our historical positions. This is a modern day song relating to the youth of our day. I hope it will serve as motivation for perseverance and zeal.
How in the world did you juggle your studies, which produced four distinctions, alongside your career as an artist?
I believe that if you do something you absolutely love, it isn’t easy to fail. I sacrificed my social time but I did enjoy what I was studying. It was just a lot of focus and discipline.
The sound on your Ground Zero mixtape has evolved and your lyrical content has matured with it. What was the influence behind that?
I have always believed that I am a product of society. The Ground Zero mixtape was a reflection of this through sound. I told the stories of youthful parties, struggles, displacement and even love. Nowadays it’s difficult for the youth to get the right messages where the dominant ideas are around partying, gold teeth, cars and objectified women. I felt obliged to go against the grain.
What’s next from you? Any projects we can look forward to later this year?
My debut album, iGenesis, drops towards the end of 2016 and features some of the country’s heavyweights. It is an amazing time to be alive.