Scrutinizing Hashtag Activism in the #MustFall Protests in South Africa in 2015

What role did media play in hashtag activism during the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall protests in South Africa in 2015?
  • Glenda DanielsEmail author


The #hashtag in Twitter is hailed as a powerful tool for interaction. It can, for instance, spread and deepen democracy via citizen engagement through the inclusion of new voices into public spaces, and in fact can help create new public spaces. This research is a critical analysis of journalists’ and media personalities’ use of Twitter during the #Rhodes Must Fall campaign in South Africa. The article examines social media practices by analysing responses to the University of Cape Town’s #Rhodes must fall campaign in 2015. The methods deployed are both quantitative and qualitative. First, tweets are extracted via an innovative API extraction method to assess how many people in South Africa engaged during the debate using the hashtag, and of these how many were media personalities and mainstream journalists. The commonplace assumption here is that the hashtag is used to engage with people and provoke responses. However, the question here is to what extent did this occur? Theoretically, the article is embedded in democratic theory, accepting participative democracy as a foregrounder but moving beyond this to the radical democracy model, which asserts that the more diverse voices in the various disparate publics, the more expansive and deeper democracy can be. Deploying radical democracy’s theory vis-a-vis agonistic struggle in robust and clashing spaces and views, this research scrutinizes how the new media platform Twitter, is fulfilling this potential. The article will delineate what the Rhodes Must Fall campaign was about, how the hashtag was used during the campaign, and how mainstream journalists and media personalities engaged, or did not engage, with the various publics during the campaign which captured the national and international imaginations.


Social Medium Public Sphere Black Student Digital Divide Traditional Medium 
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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