Sunday, 6 May 2012

*(Written for ACTIVATE newspaper, a Rhodes University publication)
This past week of activity (and lack thereof) at Rhodes University begs for reflection. On the 30th of April, the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) held a seminar at the Psychology major. The purpose of this seminar was to discuss the question on the nationalisation of mines. The seminar was a platform for all of us to engage this call made by the African National Congress Youth League. Those of us who participated in it gained a lot of insight from presentations made by ANCYL representatives and professors from the Politics and International Relations Department. After hours of debating and challenging problematic schools of thought, we stayed behind to tackle the issues more robustly and indeed, grew our understanding on the subject. Unfortunately, despite the attempts by the PIR Department and the PYA to mobilise the student population, few students attended.
 On the 4th of May, the South African Students Congress (SASCO) and all students across institutions of higher learning embarked on nationwide protests calling for free education. These protests took place in all provinces across the country. In the Eastern Cape, the march was held at the University of Fort Hare in East London. These marches are an important and necessary step in the direction towards addressing inequalities that exist in South Africa. They must be understood in their proper context, devoid of opportunistic rhetoric that seeks to claim that SASCO and South African students in their entirety are simply holding the government hostage by playing into some undefined factional agenda. If indeed the youth of this country is holding the government at ransom (for it is not only SASCO protesting), it is not for the sake of appeasing any political faction, but for the preservation of our generation’s potential contribution to the betterment of our country and the progress of the entire African continent. This potential is being suffocated by the refusal of government to prioritise free education and its insistence to provide us with an inferior quality of education that we are receiving.
South Africa finds itself facing a crisis of great magnitude. Where in the apartheid era people were stratified on the basis of race and along tribal lines, the democratic dispensation sees people continue to be stratified on the basis of class position. This result in a situation where children of working-class backgrounds are perpetually thrust at the receiving end of the brutality of the system that seeks to marginalise them from economic activity by shutting the doors of education in their faces, or at best, systematically retarding their human progress. SASCO, and indeed the entire student population that took part in the protest and those that support the principle of free education, are aiming to annihilate this unjust reality and to obliterate the constructs that make it possible for the injustice to manifest.
I have had the opportunity of engaging a number of students here at Rhodes University about their thoughts on this call, in particular the residents of Hobson Hall, which includes Milner House, where I am a resident. I have also engaged a number of DASO members and leadership, a move I saw necessary since DASO is dominating the political scene on campus. For the purpose of this article, I have highlighted the main reason that was given to me as to why students do not support this campaign and thereafter, provide my understanding as a form of clarity where necessary.
SASCO is using students to fight its own battles. It can make the ANC give us free education if it is truly serious about doing so
The notion that SASCO is using students to fight its battles with the ANC is popular among student organisations of opposition political parties throughout the country. But more tragically, this fallacy has found root in the minds of ordinary non-partisan students too. Here at Rhodes University, this fallacy is vehicled through subtle propaganda spread by the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (DASO) which enjoys majority support. It would be criminal for us to sit back and allow DASO to plant toxic ideas in the minds of students. This notion that SASCO-organised protests are driven by opportunism is an attempt to demobilise students who deserve a space to voice their discontent with the structural injustices to which they are subjected and it must be challenged.
Contrary to popular belief, SASCO is not a student-wing of the African National Congress (ANC), but rather, a component of the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM). The MDM was a loose alliance of anti-apartheid groups that formed in 1988 when the apartheid government placed restrictions on the United Democratic Front (UDF) and other activist organisations. The MDM, made up of UDF and ANC supporters, then emerged as an even wider, more amorphous front to resist apartheid. It also had strong links with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Simply put, SASCO’s link with the ANC lies in the National Democratic Revolution (NDR), the cornerstone of policy analysis in the tripartite alliance. The strategic aim of the NDR is to create a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa. The role of SASCO, therefore, is to ensure that objectives of the NDR are met at tertiary level, by following these principles that guide it:
SASCO is committed to working towards a democratic system of education in a democratic South Africa.
  • Non-Racialism
SASCO is at the forefront of the struggle for a non-racial system of education in the context of addressing the racial inequalities that exist as per the vision of the NDR.
  • African Leadership
This gives expression to the NDR that identifies the African people as the main motive force that must lead the struggle for change and development.
  • Working Class Leadership
SASCO is committed to supporting and reflecting in its programme of action the progressive aspirations of the working class and other sections of the economically exploited people of South Africa.
These principles are an indication that SASCO’s role cannot be reduced to that of being a wing of the ANC. Its loyalty and commitment is to students from working-class backgrounds and thus, directly to the oppressed peoples of South Africa, whatever race they may be, but for historical reasons, “Africans in particular” as is articulated by the NDR. To fight for this realisation, it is vital that SASCO’s biasness is to students, and it is, as clearly explained in that:
“SASCO is a student political organisation that draws influence from organisations of the Mass Democratic Movement led by the African National Congress (ANC). SASCO applies Marxist-Leninist philosophy as tools of analysis. In the new democracy the role of SASCO is to complement and contradict the exercise of power and authority, whatever the source, especially where it affects students...” [Emphasis mine]
SASCO understands the location of the oppressed in society and understands too that at times, this location will be cemented by policies, actions or inactions of the ruling party. It further understands that “education is a site of struggle”, a theme it used for its National Congress held at the University of the Free State (UFS) in Mangaung last year. It is for these reasons that SASCO’s own location is at challenging “power and authority, whatever the source, especially where it affects students”. In order for this power and authority to be challenged, it is necessary that all those who are affected by its constructs are mobilised and organised. It is not a pre-requisite that only students who are SASCO members participate in these protests, because it is not only students with SASCO membership who are on the receiving end of the brutality of soaring tuition fees, appalling residences and the apathy of management towards the struggles of students from working-class backgrounds is concerned. These issues affect all students whose parents are not sitting on level ten salaries and in the South African context that is more than 50% of the population.
In fact, if SASCO is a student wing of the ANC as is projected, it must be explained to us why that same SASCO would hold an ANC that it serves hostage. Surely, this senseless logic itself should be an indication to students that there is no truth to the assertion that SASCO bows before the ANC. It is simply a ploy by DASO to make students apathetic to the plight of our fellow peers, because fighting for our rightful places in institutions of higher learning has NOTHING to do with political affiliation and everything to do with the fact that we are young people and we have a right to learn.
As a student at Rhodes University, the pain of being taught under severely difficult conditions as those witnessed in institutions such as Walter Sisulu University, is not one that I can directly identify with. And yet, as a Black child, I understand only too well the brutal reality that my peers are subjected to. It is a savage reality to which no-one must be condemned. There is something very wrong about a society where some people are feasting while a majority starves; a country where some students are able to study in conducive environment while many others are forced to live in residences that are not fit for human habitat and are taught under conditions that are created to accelerate their retardation process. This society must be condemned by all those who believe in justice and equality; all those whose claim to patriotism is legitimate, for it is only true patriots who tremble with indignation at the abuse and dehumanisation of fellow human-beings.

Malaika Lesego Samora Mahlatsi**
1st year BSS (Earth Science and Geography)

**Malaika is not a member of SASCO. She writes in her capacity as an agent of anti-liberalism.

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