Songs At The Gate

An emergent video repository by students participating in the Fees Must Fall movement.

“The most haunting space is Solomon Mahlangu House…” Anzio Jacobs (2017)

Songs At The Gate


Many students were traumatised by the brutality of the police and private security during Fees Must Fall. Due to either the stigma of mental illness or lack of resources, most have had no counselling or psychological treatment. The aim of this project is to facilitate an online space for people to come together and share stories. Songs at the Gate is an acknowledgment of the damage that was done.

Launch Project


We conceived of an interactive map as the departure point for the project. We felt it was important to highlight and name the places where traumatic events had taken place. Our choice of using video interviews is an assertion of video as an emotive communication tool, and as a means for the viewer to experience the events through the words of the activists themselves. There are no “subjects” only storytellers.

Part of our intention was to create an online user generated video repository that would be housed on the micro site itself. We soon realized the challenges of hosting large files and decided to use YouTube. A section of the site will allow for curated user generated videos. This phase of the project will be on-going and grow as more entries come in. This methodology is in part informed by the work of American media scholar Henry Jenkins and his work on YouTube as a site of participatory culture, defined as one where the participants of that culture are actively involved in the creation of it.

The project started as a documentation of the planning that went into Fees Must Fall by the organisers. Through interviews and interactions with many students involved in the planning process it became clear that what was actually at the heart of the formation of the Fallist movement, was pain.

The team originally comprised of Sumeya Gasa and Shameelah Khan the initial phase of the project had begun through the idea of documenting trauma through the notion of space at WITS. The aim was to have the students discuss their stories and position them within the spaces where the trauma had been experienced through the visual representations of a map. The project then expanded when Dylan Valley joined the team. His work was heavily influenced by the re-centring of trauma as a collective experience through an archive.

Ultimately the project then consisted of two layers. The first layer being documenting the trauma of some students; and the second layer being an opportunity for other students to contribute to the discussion through user user-generated participation.

In the end the process was as significant as the outcome. The real essence of the project was the creation of dialogue. The filmmakers were participants in the dialogue and exchanges that had occurred, as supporters and active participants in the movement.

We were aware that listening was more important than directing the outcome. There comes with this a deeper reflection of what it means to assume a position - on what side of the conversation you wish to be on and how best do you begin to edit a story.

When you enter the site, you will be presented a map (the map is no longer active since 2021) with five markers on it. Each takes you to a story witnessed and experienced in that space. Instead we share the videos here directly: