5 Tips for Leaders around the Fees Must Fall Protests

The Fees Must Fall protests are seriously challenging the leadership in our government and higher education institutions in South Africa.

There are endless articles and debates on the topic. So this post can in no way do justice to the fullness of the debate.

What is obvious is that a lid has been lifted in our country. There appears to be so much anger and frustration with the Fees Must Fall initiative. The protests can be attributed to many factors: some historical but some current. Many of our leaders appear less equipped to deal with the strong reactions.

From a psychological point of view it is clear that few of the leaders understand the power dynamics around the Fees Must Fall protests. The role that some groups of students have taken on is that of the persecutor: with endless threats and aggression (damage to property, interrupting classes or intimidating other students who want to attend classes).

Somehow sanity needs to prevail somewhere in the Fees Must Fall initiative. The first step may be to allow the law to run its course. There needs to be consequences for students who damage property. As much as this may further fuel the anger, students need to know that certain behaviour will not be tolerated. Unless leadership puts a stake in the ground on this point, the power will continue to lie in the hands of the students.

The power struggle needs to be neutralised through strong leadership. Only then can there be any possibility of engagement and rigorous debate.


  1. Leaders need to be very clear on their vision and the values their institutions stand by and communicate this transparently.
  2. They need to acknowledge the needs of the students but also those of other stakeholders (e.g. lecturers, other race groups, funders, parents, etc.) and publicly state this.
  3. The framework and terms for engagement need to be negotiated with relevant stakeholders. Some leaders are actively consulting with students on whether classes continue or not. Whereas other leaders are shutting down the campus. Is there a need for all institutions to follow the same approach? This has become a national issue.
  4. Leaders need to clarify their proposed actions should anger and destruction continue.
  5. Most importantly they need to understand the difference between Power and Force. Force is about ego. It divides and demotivates everyone affected. True power is inspirational and aimed at doing what is best for the greater good of everyone. Advocate Thuli Madonsela and Minister Pravin Gordhan are brilliant examples of individuals who demonstrate true power in South Africa currently.

We are living in a complex environment. Many people are hurting in many different ways. It will take strong leaders, which there appears to be a dire shortage of, to guide us out of the current impasse.

The Fees Must Fall protests offer us an opportunity to take a good look at our own ability to control our emotions, handle differences and find ways to actively engage on issues.

The question you need to ask yourself: Do you demonstrate force or true power in how you run your business? If you would like to understand these concepts better, you will find the programme on power  insightful.

Posted in Current Affairs, Self mastery.