Collaborative social movements beyond political affiliation

An interview with Nothando Hlophe

By Kay-Dee Mashile

Nothando Hlophe is an academic scholar, Activist and student leader from the University of the Free State, where she is also currently employed. She holds a Master’s Degree in which she explored the collaboration of various political student organisations in social movements such as #FeesMustFall, #ShimlaPark and other campus wide demonstrations.

We asked her a few questions to better understand how and why these collaborations took place in efforts to learn and educate other social movements. 

Briefly explain the study:

My student focused on collaborative student movements such as #FeesMustFall that saw student leaders from various social and political groups come together for a common purpose. I explored the experiences of these leaders, their perception of collaboration as well as why and how they chose to collaborate. 

Why did you pursue this study?

As a student leader, I wanted to make an accurate contribution towards the narrative of student leadership. I also wanted to know what other people’s experiences were of the social movements that emerged on university campuses and whether the events that took place after the movement itself were worth the trouble. I wanted to explore the topic beyond my personal experience while contributing to a better understanding of student leadership in the greater public. 

The first thing to acknowledge is that the various political student organisations do not naturally work together.

What were some of the common challenges expressed?

The first thing to acknowledge is that the various political student organisations do not naturally work together. They actually exist to compete for the same power and have different ideologies around governance. This is usually the biggest challenge. Because, while seeking to reach common ground, the various ideologies often clash. While some organisations may seek peace and want to follow processes, others may be more radical and want to forcefully demand change. Moreover, the public perception of student leadership is very distorted and often diluted by news reports and responses from local government and university management. So, over and above the internal challenges, these collaborative movements are also usually met with an equal share of systematic challenges. 

With all these challenges, in your opinion, how did the social movements continue to succeed? 

In essence, the collaborating organisations had to agree on a common goal and, to some extent, sacrifice their ideologies for the sake of the set goal. This played an important role as different constituencies only listen and respond to their respective leaders. Therefore, in order to have a collective effort, all student leaders need to speak a common language and share common goals for the movement. When students address the systems as a collective unit, it becomes easier to challenge the systematic challenges as various strengths and expertise are combined and the numbers also back the tabled proposal.

Having had done this study, what advice would you give organisations that want to enter a collaborative agreement?

Plan, plan and plan! That is my biggest recommendation. You need to ensure that you have a detailed plan of action with timelines and responsibilities attached. You also need to communicate effectively and regularly throughout the collaboration process as things may not always go according to plan and therefore require an alternative plan. However, in all that you do, make sure that all the parties involved are well informed and on the same page at all times. Lastly, always remind yourselves of the goal. This will help you remember why you started working together in the first place and thus help you determine how much you’re willing to sacrifice for the sake of the collaborative movement. 

When will your study be published and where can people find it?

My study has been completed but is yet to be published. Should people want to know more, they can reach me at

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