The students who will go home after marching in the baking heat outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria would have been heroes whether or not Jacob Zuma had given them a 0% fee increase.
Their sore feet, some with blisters, and others with scrapped knees from falling on the grass while running away from stun grenades will finally get some rest. The students wanted to have their message heard and they did. They came from all over Gauteng and further still, to deliver a message to the president that #FeesMustFall.
After two weeks of sustained protests throughout universities, big and small, all over the country and even a march to the ANC headquarters at Luthuli House, the protests ended in mass action on the lawns of the Union Buildings. The students started arriving at Burgers Park in the centre of Pretoria long before the agreed upon 10am. The revolution, it seems, could not wait.
They came in taxis, trains, buses, and some of the locals from Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria marched to the Union Buildings. The only way to describe the mood is that it was electrifying. Students were singing struggle songs, calling on Solomon Mahlangu to be with them.
Guests at the Sheraton Hotel across the road clicked away as they sipped on their drinks with the accompanying smell of burning rubber in the area. Clouds of black smoke covered the sky as some students burned plastic toilets provided for them to relieve themselves.
Other students, at the front of the crowd, decided that the wait was taking too long and tore through the gate that was supposed to keep them and their president apart. It was announced that the president would address the crowd. But by 4pm, he still had not come. Meanwhile students carried on protesting, singing as they moved through the front of the Union Buildings in song.
The large statue of Mandela, arms stretched out, loomed over all this protest action. Finally all the hashtags, from #RhodesMustFall, #WitsShutDown, #UJShutDown, #Uprising, #NationalShutDown were represented as a human embodiment of students who have had enough.
With smart phones held high to document a protest that students said was being reported negatively in the media, the students of the social media age became their own media organisation.
As Muslim students prayed, other students formed a human shield around them to protect them from stunt grenades, rubber bullets or whatever else the police had at their disposal.
The president finally heard their cries, with an announcement that there would be no university fee increase next year. But today would have been a heartwarming and historic, even if the president had not listened.
Image by Goabaona Mathibe