Friday, 8 June 2012

Critique of "15 Years Of The Student Movement's Revolutionary Struggle: Marking PASMA's One And A Half Decade of Mobilisation"


Comrade Vusi “Oldman” Mahlangu’s document titled “15 YEARS OF THE STUDENT MOVEMENT’S REVOLUTIONARY STRUGGLE: MARKING PASMA’S ONE AND A HALF DECADE OF MOBILIZATION”, which he delivered at the 15th anniversary celebration of the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania (PASMA), co-hosted with the Free State provincial congress in April 2012, is undeniably one of the most important contributions to the on-going national dialogue on the struggles for education in post-apartheid South Africa. It is especially poignant for the critical questions that it raises in the second decade of a democratic dispensation that has brought about a decline in struggles geared towards the improvement of the provision of free quality education for the working-class majority in South Africa.
Eighteen years into a dispensation revered for its democratic principles, the working-class majority of South Africa continues to be on the receiving end of the brutality of the legacy of apartheid, an ideology whose roots are located in colonialism and scientific racism. Children of working-class parents, in particular those of the Black race, continue to be victims of this heinous legacy. When they are not having the doors of learning shut in their faces as a result of their inability to mobilise resources needed to access an education that has been commoditised, they are frustrated by subliminal institutionalised racism which is designed to create colossal barriers to their academic excellence. It is for these reasons stated above, and many others that I have not mentioned, that student activism is as necessary today as it was during the apartheid regime. And it is this necessity that dictates the importance of young people, the motive force of a revolutionary dictatorship, engaging in constructive dialogue aimed at the annihilation of constructs designed to retard their human progress and potential to change the working-class narrative that is defined by systematic soporification and structural subjugation. While as comrade Vusi correctly puts it, “Students on account of social disposition do not constitute a class...merely learning strata in a transitory period of their life”, there exists a direct link between student struggles and the struggles of our broader society, for it is in institutions of learning that societal constructs are reflected and in fact, in institutions of learning that the ruling class ideology that is the nucleus of working-class oppression finds its agents and legitimacy.
However, comrade Vusi stands charged for his failure to critically dissect certain questions whose necessity in any dialogue on student struggles is pivotal, among them, the role of student movements in the struggle for gender equality. In a country defined by heteropatriarchal racist foundations, where the subjugation of women has been systematically legitimised and naturalised within most cultural, economic, social and religious spaces, there is an urgent need for student leaders to re-write the gender narrative. After all, these agencies play a significant role in the normalisation and reinforcement of particular ideas about gender and sexuality. As a result, the messages that they manufacture are a direct illustration of the colonialist liberal ideology, the nucleus of all societal ills that the African continent and the world in its entirety is engulfed by.
 What is also lacking in the comrade’s paper is a coherent interpretation of the cause rather than the factors, of philistinism, which is necessary to dissect if we hope to create a significant paradigm shift in the education discourse. As Edouard Bilong, a Cameroonian scholar and current president of Vision Africa Changers so aptly put it:
You can have all solutions in the world but if you do not know what your problem is, you are simply wasting your time. Knowledge comes through information. If you are not informed, you are deformed. However, if you are informed you become reformed. Again, knowledge brings discovery. If you do not discover, you will never recover. Africa has lost so much in so many ways; but if we do not discover the cause of our problems, we will never recover” (2008:14)
PASO era: Genesis of PASMA
The falsification of the history of student struggles and the history of South Africa in its entirety has birthed a disturbing culture of struggle privatisation, where student organisations and political parties wrestle one another for the title of struggle champion. The struggle has ceased to be a reflection of a war waged by the oppressed majority of our people, instead becoming an event that one political party or student movement claims as its own creation.
Comrade Vusi is thus correct in his assertion that “NSFAS is a product of fierce struggle fought by revolutionary student movements in the country”. There is, however, an element of malicious spitefulness in the comrade’s assertion that “It was PASO and organisations like AZASCO and others who advanced the struggle that gave birth to TEFSA that was to be later called NSFAS”. This spitefulness is not only part of a chromatin network whose nucleus is an attempt to isolate ordinary non-partisan students from the historic struggle for free and quality education, but it tethers on the brink of economising with the truth. By 1987, two years before the formation of the Pan Africanist Student Organisation (PASO) and four years before the formation of the Azanian Student Convention (AZASCO), students were already waging a war against the capitalist machinery throughout the country. At the University of Bophuthatswana, for example, learning was brought to a halt for three months between April and July when students protested against the administration. A month later, at the University of Natal in Durban, students boycotted classes in protest against the institutionalised racial streaming that saw White students receive better resourced facilities and privileges which Black students were not afforded. These are two of many examples that illustrate the role that was played by ordinary students, aligned to no political organisation, in the pursuit for the de-commoditisation of education. They informed the formation of the National Education Crisis Committee (NECC), formed in 1986 with the objective of coordinating education struggles. The NECC launched a campaign in January 1987 to force institutions of higher learning to take in deserving Black students who did not have the financial resources to afford tertiary education.
 In a quest to emphasise the role played by PASO in the fight for free education, comrade Vusi commits the same error that “rival student organisations” commit, that of claiming the victories of the struggle without the inclusion or even the mere mention of ordinary people, whose contribution is just as significant as the student organisations’. This fatal flaw must not be neglected, lest PASMA assimilates into struggle privatisation.
Degeneration of the student movement in the country
Comrade Vusi’s request that “We should reflect on the emergence of uncharacteristic populism and co-option into inherent corruption” is corroboration to my assertion that there is a need for African student movements to engage in honest introspection that will lead to the removal of systematic imposed myths and limitations that are the building-block of the soporification of students from working-class backgrounds. PASMA and indeed all student movements in the country cannot afford to remain imprisoned by notions that undermine their revolutionary potential in the driving of the country towards a destination of a non-racial, non-sexist and classless society.
To achieve fruitful introspection that will produce critical solutions to the problem of the degeneration of the student movement in the country, it is vital that there is less lamentation and more employment of mental and physical energies in the implementation of coherent revolutionary programmes that will amalgamate the struggles of students with those of the broader society to which they belong.
Comrade Vusi once again raises important questions around the participation of students in structures of institutional governance, which as he correctly puts, “is not an offence on its own and if used correctly can play a revolutionary role for the advancement of our cause”. Over the years, we have witnessed the exponentially increasing cunningness of the system in the neutralisation of students through the dangling of privilege in their faces. Many attempts have been made by university managements to “bribe student leaders into accepting the co-option into institutional forums and thus being part of the reaction and counter-revolution that are dominant in our institutions and represents deceptive mechanisms by which the dominant forces of bourgeoisie academia and bureaucracy, whose ideological and institutionalised political hegemony is unquestionable, attracted to the ranks of the student movement elements of populism, opportunism and pure careerism that are not motivated by passion to serve interests of the destitute masses of our students from the exploited working-class backgrounds”. Institutions of higher learning, having decided to apply a definition synonymous to that utilised by the corporate world in the definition of itself, have become no different in operation to mega corporations that survive on the exploitation of the proletariat.
We have seen the introduction of Student Representative Council (SRC) benefits by tertiary institutions’ management. Theoretically, these benefits are supposed to ease the burden of financial constraints on student leaders in their revolutionary ventures of fighting on behalf of the student population. But in reality, these benefits serve as a tool for the creation of a buffer between management and students. Student leaders who sit in SRCs can no longer drive the vehicle of student struggles as a result of the fear of losing resources that many of them, because of their own material conditions, need desperately. Their vulnerability is used by management to neutralise them and in that way, capital’s objective of demobilising ostracised students from working-class backgrounds is achieved.
Comrade Vusi’s call for the boycott of SRC benefits and the intensification of campaigns for their abolishing is indeed the most revolutionary, albeit controversial, call that I have heard expressed by anyone from the rank of the student movement. This progressive call will accomplish two important things: exposing the ugly face of capitalism and arming students with tools that will help them in the fight for the survival of their own civilisation.
Part of the dominant view of students and youth today presents them as helpless, disorientated and a “lost generation”. For those who sit in the corridors of power, this is a convenient view which achieves the strategic aim of reinforcing passivity in the face of enormous social problems facing students and youth. But if student leaders can boycott SRC benefits, they will be strategically exposing the fallacies that are cemented by capital, which operate on a false premise that young people do not possess a sense of how their specific concerns are part of the concerns of the new social movements that exist in the country today. They will be forced to create linkages with these social movements that are involved in a myriad of local struggles and organisations. This move is guaranteed to create and accelerate a domino effect of societal change that is not only needed, but is long over-due.
Relations with the PAC and sister component structures: A call for one youth movement
There is a tragic irony in the reality that the pan Africanist bloc in South Africa, in the African continent and in the Diaspora is the most divided of all existing political blocs. One of the fundamental pillars of the philosophy of pan Africanism is unity among Africans. But over the years, we have regrettably witnessed the decay within this bloc. The pan Africanist bloc’s division is a result of both internal and external factors, among them the emergence of a culture of careerism and opportunism that has found a home in elders who were once drivers of the revolutionary vehicle of Socialism. This has resulted in the crisis state that many pan Africanist organisations, including the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) find themselves in. The battle against neo-colonialism, as though it is not herculean on its own, has been amalgamated with the one against a dictatorship of the comprador bourgeois elite that calls the pan Africanist bloc its political home.
Frantz Fanon haunts us with his words, which are most apt in the discourse about the future of the pan Africanist bloc in South Africa, which is undeniably left in the hands of the giant student movement that is PASMA. He says:
 “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it in relative opacity”.
It becomes necessary that the membership and leadership of PASMA engages in crucial organisational introspection. Two solutions are immediately available: either PASMA drives a massive campaign to have generational mix that is inclusive of young people from the ranks of the student movement or it explores the question of autonomy from the PAC. The former will achieve the vital aim of allowing new ideas to filter into an organisation that finds itself in the hands of a leadership still afflicted with pre-1994 factional nostalgia while the latter will make allowance for PASMA to define itself outside the confines of what could become a Titanic whose sinking is inevitable unless urgent and drastic intervention is made.
 The current generation of PASMA must decide which solutions is best suited to be employed in the quest for the salvation of the soul of pan Africanism, a philosophy that us students in the Environmental Science discipline would undoubtedly declare an endangered species. But this is a discussion for PASMA and indeed, all components of the PAC.

Malaika Wa Azania
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1 comment:

  1. "I belong to no political party or student formation.I believe that party politics are counter-revolutionary" This i quote from your profile daughter, and i have read a lot of your articles were you encourage a lot of political participation to the youth, are you saying you are encouaraging us to be conter revolutionary? if you think affiliating to any student movement nor politival party breeds that in a cader