#RhodesMustFall was an international movement to decolonise universities which began in 2015 at the University of Cape Town (UCT). The protests were sparked by a black, working-class, male student throwing faeces at Cecil Rhodes' statue. Rhodes founded the British South Africa Company. He was an imperialist and colonialist who brutally dispossessed indigenous South Africans and privatised their land, including the land on which UCT was built.

Following Chumani Maxwele's evocative act, black UCT students joined the protest to form the #RhodesMustFall movement; then, other universities followed. UCT responded with militarised and structural violence: brutalising and evicting students, and imposing sanctions on student status.

Despite this, #RhodesMustFall sustained decolonial struggle against UCT. They resisted institutional racism, fought for education reforms, and improved educational access for poor black students. UCT's #RhodesMustFall occupied the university's Bremner building. Upon occupation, it was renamed Azania House and established as a site of decolonial consciousness-raising and radical political education.

#RhodesMustFall UTC's mission statement elevated Frantz Fanon - Algerian psychiatrist and anticolonial theorist - as a principal ideological influence. It declared the Rhodes statue 'an act of violence' which glorified colonisation, and embodied UCT's institutionalised 'alienation and disempowerment' of black students and staff (2015). Consequently, the movement centred 'black pain' and, in line with Fanon's teachings, they framed decolonisation as a necessarily violent process.

To Fanon, colonisation is a process of dehumanisation that is thoroughly violent. Through occupation and theft, colonisation suspends the time, space, and history of the indigenous population to construct a 'petrified, motionless' world (2004, p.37). It instills a deep inferiority complex within the souls of the colonised, and extinguishes the 'local cultural originality' of the colonised nation (2008, p.9). Therefore, to counterbalance this extensive violence, decolonisation is 'always a violent event'. However, it is a conscious, deliberate violence; one without reason (Xaba, 2017). To Fanon, violence sheds the colonised of their manufactured inferiority, helping to reistate self-confidence. It demonstrates that coloniser and colonised are equal; they both bleed the same.

Student activists protested by staging demonstrations, marching and shutting down roads, and occupying the university's Bremner building, which they renamed as Azania House. When the university responded violently, as Fanon predicted, by deploying militarised police, students responded in kind. They set alight a UCT vehicle, colonial paintings, and the Vice Chancellor's office (student account, Xaba, 2017), using violence to reclaim their humanity.

From one perspective, Azania House may simply have been an occupied building. However, black colonised student activists who took part in the occupation described it as a 'caring home and heal space'. They transformed the site into something that physically represented and upheld their oppression, into a communal space for cultural production, political education, and community organisation (Daniel & Platzky Miller, 2022).

Through the occupation, student activists reclaimed stolen indigenous land or, what Fanon describes as, 'the most essential value' upon which the dignity of the indigenous people hinges. They creatively rehabilitated a colonial site, and transformed it into a 'free liberated space for black people' (student account, Daniel & Platzky Miller, 2022).

In Azania House, students spoke and listed to one another, exchanging ideas and strategies for organising the movement. They asserted their belonging, their right to just be - complexly and completely human. However, while #RhodesMustFall facilitated access to this fuller, more liberated sense of humanity, not all members felt valued within the decolonisation struggle.

Initially, #RhodesMustFall publicised intersectionality as a key organising principle. Intersectionality is a Black Feminist framework which rejects looking at oppression or oppressive systems in isolation. Kimberlé Crenshaw observed that systems of marginalisation (i.e., race, gender, disability, class, sexuality etc.) intersect. They continuously interact and produce unique experiences of oppression for people existing at the intersection of multiple overlapping systems.

The #RhodesMustFall mission statement read:

We are not only defined by our blackness, but... our gender, our sexuality, our able-bodiedness, our mental health, and our class.

However, many multiply marginalised activists involved have subsequently shared that it was frequently dismissed during #RhodesMustFall.

#RhodesMustFall interpreted Fanon's use of violence as a highly masculine method of protest. While necessary, hypermasculine decolonial acts and attitudes often weakened the intersectional focus. A 'rigid loyalty to patriarchy, cisnomativity, heteronormativity, and the gender binary' embedded paternalistic, colonial paradigms within the movement, despite its inclusive image (UCT Trans* Collective, 2016). As such, violence was deployed to legitimise the perpetation of violence internally.

Fanon cautions against perpetuating gendered hierarchies 'that give prirority to men over women', as 'women shall be given equal importance to men' in decolonisation struggles (2004, p.142). However, due to the selective, masculine-centric deployment of Fanon, women, LGBTQI+ and disabled activists were often dismissed during #RhodesMustFall. Therefore, black feminists' decolonisation efforts were rarely discussed.

The Fall (2017) is a play which interrogates this internal structural violence. Dramatising the Rhodes' statue removal, one character argues

'By jumping on that plinth, you gave the media this big photo op! [...] They're not going to focus on these little statements we made as women.'

So, despite the statement codifying their intersectional approach, the contributions of multiply marginalised black students were systemically undervalued within the #RhodesMustFall movement. Their leadership was undermined, and recommendations put forward by the intersectionality audit committee were rejected. Furthermore, overly concerned with legitimising the use of violence, hypermasculine responses disregarded Fanon's discussion of its psychologically traumatic effects. Students who developed PTSD and whose existing mental ill-health was exacerbated by their involvement were often denigrated.

Therefore, #RhodesMustFall UCT selectively deployed Fanon's work, becoming, simultaneously, a site of liberation and exclusion.

Intersectionality was framed as somewhat of an internal obstacle, and women, queer, trans and disabled black students were erased and, eventually, blamed for fracturing the movement.

Queer and feminist activists were told that #RhodesMustFall was 'black first' and they should 'leave [their] gender issues and feminist politics at the door' (Ramaru, 2017). Despite Fanon's warnings, patriarchal leaders not only erased the significant contributions of many members, but also legitimised the perpetration of physical, sexual, and structural violence in UCT #RhodesMustFall spaces.

Ultimately, internal patriarchal violence undermined the movement's ability to realise the full humanity of black students beyond hyper-masculine cisgender men. Despite the author's own warnings, Fanonian rhetoric and ideology was deployed to perpetuate Eurocentric, colonial violence against its own members.

Throughout #RhodesMustFall, Fanon's work was both used productively, and abused. UCT students undertook a Fanonian process of decolonial 'transcendence' (2008): attempting to decolonise the university through political education, occupation, and violence. The use of his teachings helped mitigate the impacts of colonial violence on the land, bodies and mids of black students at UCT and beyond.

However, #RhodesMustFall utilised Fanon's teachings productively, yet selectively. Hypermasculine violence internally perpetuated structural harms against women, queer, trans, activists.

Since, many multiply marginalised #RhodesMustFall activists have advocated for increasingly creative non-hierarchical leadership models within decolonisation movements that can better meet the needs of the entire collective.

For decolonisation efforts to pursue a more comprehensive and inclusive liberation, movements must devise methods which interweave Fanonian violence, consciousness-raising, and creativity.

After all, decolonisation is a processual 'awakening [of] the mind' (Fanon, 2004). It is a process through which the experiences and decolonial efforts of the multiply marginalised should be included, by whatever means necessary.


Daniel, A., and Miller, J., P., (2022). 'Imagination, decolonisation and intersectionality: the #RhodesMustFall student occupation in Cape Town, South Africa', Social Movement Studies.

Fanon, F., (2004). The Wretched of the Earth. Trans. by R. Philcox. New York: Grove.

Fanon, F., (2008). Black Skin, White Masks. Trans. by C. L. Markmann. London: Pluto Press.

Ramaru, K., (2017). 'Feminist reflections on the Rhodes Must Fall movement', Feminist Africa, 1(22), 89-97.

Rhodes Must Fall, (2015). Rhodes Must Fall Mission Statement. Available at: https://www.lse.ac.uk/sociology/assets/documents/events/UCT-Rhodes-Must-Fall-Statement.pdf

UCT: The Trans* Collective, (2016). 'Tokenistic, objectifying, voyeuristic inclusion is at least as disempowering as complete exclusion, 10 March. Available at: https://humanities.uct.ac.za/agi/articles/2016-03-11-tokenistic-objectifying-voyeuristic-inclusion-least-disempowering-complete-exclusiontokenistic.

Xaba, W., (2017). 'Challenging Fanon: A Black Radical Feminist Perspective on Violence and the Fees Must Fall Movement', Agenda, 31(3-4), pp.96-104.