• Students protest during clashes with police outside the Union buildings in Pretoria last year. Picture: AFP PHOTO/JOHN WESSELS

  • Students protests outside Luthuli House in Johannesburg. Picture: THULANI MBELE

  • Disturbing images flooded our computer and TV screens, newspapers and cellphones as heavy-handed police officers respond to a determined student movement. Picture: DAILY DISPATCH

  • Some of the protesting students and youths from political parties gather by a security fence at the Union Buildings. Picture: EPA/KIM LUDBROOK

  • Some of the thousands of students and youth from political parties that gathered at the Union Buildings to demonstrate against fee increases at universities. Picture: EPA

  • Some of the thousands of students and youth from political parties try to break down the security fence as they gather at the Union Buildings in Pretoria during another day of demonstrations against fee increases at universities. Picture: EPA

  • Students protest over planned increases in tuition. Picture: REUTERS

  • Some of the protesting students and youths from political parties that gathered at the Union Buildings to demonstrate against fee increases at universities. Picture: EPS

  • A protester gestures as portable loos blaze in the background during student demonstrations at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Picture: EPA

  • Protesters march against university fee increases outside the Union buildings in Pretoria in October last year. Picture: AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA

  • A protester brandishes a wooden stick as students clash with police during protests against an increase in university fees outside the Union buildings in Pretoria in October last year. Picture: AFP PHOTO/JOHN WESSELS

  • A demonstrator looks through a fence during a protest over planned increases in tuition fees outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria in October last year. Picture: REUTERS

  • Students across the country protested over fees and outsourcing at universities last year. Picture: REUTERS

  • Students protest outside Parliament in Cape Town on October last year. Picture: EPA/NIC BOTHMA

  • A student prepares to hurl a stone during a scuffle (not picture) with Witwatersrand University security guards during a protest against the outsourcing of services at the campuses in Johannesburg last year. Picture: AFP PHOTO/ZINYANGE AUNTONY

  • Protesting students forced a backdown on fee hikes. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

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THE event that gripped the nation’s attention the most in 2015 was the rise of student-led protest movement #FeesMustFall, which began in October last year in response to fee increases at SA’s universities.

#FeesMustFall was on Saturday night named as the National Press Club’s 2015 Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University Newsmaker of the Year at a ceremony in Pretoria.

This annual award‚ made by the press club since 1980‚ awards a newsmaker in a calendar year based on the amount of media coverage received as well as the impact thereof. Nominations and motivations are received from press club members and a final decision made by the executive committee of the club.

"The decision to name #FeesMustFall as the newsmaker for 2015 was unanimous‚" says club chairman Tanya de Vente-Bijker. "This was a major game-changer in our country. There is no doubt that tertiary education in South Africa will never be the same again.

"The last time the students of our country were united in a common cause like that was in 1976 when they protested against Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.

"However‚ this time around‚ #FeesMustFall received support across many sectors of our society‚ including students from across the globe‚" she says.

"What the #FeesMustFall movement has brought to the fore is the plight of many poor South Africans whose ambitions of studying at our universities remain unrealistic due to the rising cost of higher education. Also notable with this movement‚ is how the power of technology can‚ in no time‚ bring people together in a common purpose."

She says the role of the social media‚ complemented by widespread reports in traditional news media‚ was instrumental in the success of the campaign.

"The #FeesMustFall campaign spread across all university campuses like wildfire and dominated the news environment for at least three weeks.

"With the message spreading on social media‚ protests across the country grew rapidly and the country witnessed a parliament invasion by students who stormed the South African parliament precinct. In central London hundreds of people gathered in front of the South African High Commission in solidarity with the campaign before marching through the city.

"For the first time in South Africa‚ the University of Cape Town brought an interdict against a hashtag. This demonstrates the huge influence that social media continues to have in South Africa.

"The fact that it led to President Jacob Zuma announcing that there would be no increase in tertiary education fees for 2016 illustrates the success and impact of the campaign."

"Despite the fact that the significant damage to university property can never be condoned‚ regardless the circumstances‚ the #FeesMustFall campaign should be recognised for its significant contribution to shaping the higher education agenda and priorities‚" says Prof Chris de Beer‚ Interim Vice-Chancellor of the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University.

"By associating with this event the university wishes to confirm its public commitment to join and support all efforts to finding a comprehensive solution to these challenges.

"The actions taken by government‚ university leadership and business‚ to jointly find solutions for these imperatives‚ are well documented and the final outcomes are awaited with great expectation. As the future of higher education‚ and in effect our country‚ is at stake‚ I remain confident that a lasting solution will be found to the diverse challenges‚" he says.

Previous recipients of the award include President Jacob Zuma‚ former presidents Nelson Mandela‚ FW de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki‚ Hollywood star Charlize Theron and outgoing public protector Thuli Madonsela. Last year the award went to the Oscar Pistorius trial.

TMG Digital