A simple look at the article, which appeared under the name of Comrade China Dodovu in the ANC Today of 2nd April 2015 with the title New Dynamics in Higher Education Institutions: Why is SASCO Limping,reveals a nihilist and spiteful attack on the student movement. It shows a former student leader who is so obsessed with rubbishing the name of SASCO and its current leadership to the extent that he fictitiously forces a malevolent connection between dots that do not connect, i.e. SASCO’s sudden degeneration and the collapse of the ANC Youth League rebuilding process.
I believe however that this article should be viewed as a cautionary note sent by a generation of student leaders to the current generation. Former student leaders should be allowed to deliver guns-blazing analysis of the prevailing situation in higher education and the role of their organisation in it. The responsibility of the current generation is to explain itself to the previous generations through struggle and in cases like these through simple clarification of the areas of concern. This is basically why the organisation has an open invite to its convocants for its congresses and councils.
This response should thus not be viewed as a rebuttal but a critical response to the criticism levelled against the organisation by the 90s generation of student leaders. The bulk of this generation is busy in government, civil and the private sector, as key players in the senior levers. We should celebrate that one of them gets the necessary time to pen an onlooker analysis of SASCO in its current form.
The organisation has taught us that under capitalism, institutions of higher learning are a super-structural phenomenon, which acts together with the church, the media and the civil service to reinforce the unfair production relations in the economic base. In the view of SASCO, education is the most conservative in the superstructure hence the saying ‘the more things change the more they remain the same’. It has been my observation that the interest of previous generations of student leaders in the organisation is because the challenges they sought to address are still pervasive across the system despite the change in struggle methods. There is nothing wrong therefore in the passion of the previous generations about various circumstances in our institutions. Architects of this organisation have a right to constructively critique this organisation for they want the challenges they left to be addressed. This overall proves the importance of the total destruction of capitalism in our land and the world over.
It appears that our body politic lacks critical discussion to the extent that we want to create polemical discourse out of cautionary engagement. Whilst there should be appreciation of the fact that a thesis and an antithesis produce synthesis, it should equally be understood that not all discussions are as linear as that. Whilst Comrade China Dodovu should be responded to, our responses as a current generation should not fail to acknowledge the necessary advice that is being given and thus properly isolate the destructive criticism from the article. President Makhombothi and President Maimela dealt deeply with the destructive denotations in the article of China, the task of this article is to at least explain the current state of the organisation and some of the challenges we face.
SASCO’s Strategic Posture and its complimentary Burden
Some of the challenges highlighted by Comrade China are based on the relation of the organisation with the various structures of the mass democratic movement. Our SPOT document correctly states that, “We locate our vision of a transformed tertiary education system within the overall vision of the NDR, and that vision rests on the following five principles; equality, democracy, non racism, non sexism and redress. Therefore education institutions must be based on these institutions so that they again nurture a society that is based on these institutions.”
This means that SASCO is not a student interest organisation but it is a student political movement. The organisation’s day to day work in fighting for students is therefore intrinsically linked with a broader objective of the resolution of the Class, National and Gender contradictions for the overall emancipation of blacks in general and Africans in particular.
Our utilisation of the NDR as a method of struggle automatically connects us with the various organisations that utilise it and thus makes us to be part of the MDM. We cannot deny that fundamental challenges have engulfed the various formations in the MDM since the democratic breakthrough. It appears that occupation of office has brought many progressive ways of advancing the policy views of the MDM but it has highly compromised its various organisations or at least placed them at contradictory positions.
The African National Congress, which is the leader of the revolutionary alliance, has been grappling with the question of being a National Liberation Movement whilst being a Political Party which is a governing party. The South African Communist Party is faced with two interrelated challenges, that of being a vanguard party whilst being a mass party and also that of being a communist organisation that does not contest state power but with its members entering parliament on a discipline and mandate of the ANC, which sometimes, if not always, advances policies that deviate from the fundamental tenets of communism. SASCO as an organisation is not immune to these challenges. President Makhombothi clearly indicates that our challenges should never be detached from challenges in the Mass Democratic Movement.
Our organisation primarily faces the challenge, in most instances, of being a student movement, that is meant to mobilise students on a mass whilst being a student organisation, that must contest and win SRC elections. When in governance in SRC therefore we face a further challenge of failing to separate the organisation and governance. We always try to isolate the failures of the institutional managers with those of the SRC and subsequently those of the organisation. This is due to the fact that sometimes we want to structure our SRCs as subsidiaries of management and students interpret failures of management therefore to be our failures. This is what happened at the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) and it is also what happened at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU). This is a complex dynamic that we are trying to address.
Our relation with the revolutionary alliance, which is governing in South Africa, further provides us with another problem. It places us in a position where we have to mediate between the aspirations of students and the conservatism of the state. We by all means try to avoid the temptation of understanding the manner in which government is functioning, because this will make us to tolerate its conservatism. This is why we always take to the streets to voice out our anger and frustration at the snail pace of government on delivering free education. At the beginning of last year, for instance, we were cautioned that we are weakening the ANC by striking on the year of elections and we refused to be pacified by such statements. So it is important for comrades to rest assured that we are not turning into a sweetheart student movement.
After engaging in mass activity against the state, our actions are always misinterpreted or deliberately connected to politics within the Mass Democratic Movement. The blackmail that was done by some comrades of the SACP against the 16th NEC of SASCO for running a Free Education campaign, saying the intention was to discredit is leader, is one indicator of this organisational contradiction. We have never been lulled by these allegations and we always ensure that our fight for free education is as aggressive as possible. This is why the Free Education struggle has at least won the public discourse with some of our attackers even retreating from their ill-informed views.
We are also affected by the various struggles, mostly factional, within the alliance. Whenever there is a conference of the ANC or the ANC Youth League, people quickly try to make SASCO their political base. The organisation has a strict resolution against making pronouncement on leadership preferences in the ANC or the broader movement. We do this whilst appreciating that most of us are members of these organisations and thus reserve a right to express our views like all other members. I suspect that the allegation in the article that SASCO is always making pronouncement on ANC leadership is based on this reality.
Overall, we have been taught to properly navigate the complimentary burden that is resulting from our strategic alliances. We have also mastered the art of leading a dynamic organisation, which is capable of constructive criticism and self-criticism. I do not think that it is a problem therefore when problems are identified, more so when these are challenges that we have ourselves identified.
The role of the Organisation in the Transformation Discourse
It is granted that the organisation did not play an initiating role in the Rhodes-Must-Fall debate and but it is not true that we did not play our vanguard role. We believe that there are a variety of things that ought to fall now that the statue of Cecil John Rhodes in UCT and these include the institution’s exclusionary academic admissions policy and the composition of the university’s academic staff.
Ever since the start of the programme, we have given the campaign the national posture that it deserves so that it does not become a simple issue about UCT and the Rhodes Statue. Structures of the organisation were mandated to audit symbols of white privilege and arrogance in our institutions and take up actions against these. The resurfacing of the Rhodes University name-change debate and the defacing of the statue of King George in the Howard College of the University of KwaZulu Natal should be interpreted in this light.
We cannot be relegated to the dustbin of history for a perception that we did not play a significant role in the campaign. Recent campaigns on racism and discrimination in our institutions were led by SASCO. Important to note is the manner in which we led the campaign against the University of Pretoria’s blackface incidence, the University of Free State’s racial assault incidence against Gwebu and the Nazi Salute at the Potchefstroom campus of the North West University.
Beyond all these, we have been engaged in the questions of systemic questions by first voicing out our comments on the findings of the Report on Racism and Discrimination in South African Universities. Recently we have made a point that whilst we welcome interventions such as the Committee on Transformation of Universities, we believe that the committee is structured in an unworkable manner. With the committee in existence, universities such as UCTs are still designing racists’ academic admissions policies and the committee is not empowered to deal with them.
We also believe that our participation in bodies such as the Council on Higher Education is aimed at dealing with the systemic questions such as curriculum transformation, programme recognition and accreditation, qualifications audit and higher education legislative review. It is basically why the 90s generation of student leaders fought and won the battle of students sitting in the Council on Higher Education (CHE) as an independent statutory body governing higher education.
Hegemony of the Organisation
The organisation fairly leads in a variety of institutions across the country. Of the 26 universities, the organisation can claim full control of 19. This has been a consistent trend throughout the past 5 years as we win some institutions and lose some. The case is colleges is much better as we currently preside over 53 of the 55 colleges, with only 2 led by independents. This is not boasting but an attempt to explain to the 90s generation that the organisation is still hegemonic in South African universities and colleges.
We have recently lost the, University of Limpopo (UL), Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), University of Pretoria (UP) and the recent case is the Vaal University of Technology (VUT). Sad as the situation is, we aim to contest these institutions, with a clear aim of winning them back from the opposition. I believe that this should be done with the most care as possible, so that our focus in them does not lead us to lose in other institutions we are currently leading, as often happens. Last year for instance we dedicated all our energies in reclaiming Mangosuthu University of Technology from Inkatha and we did not notice that the opposition was all out at NMMU. We believe that leading the day-to-day struggles of students is what will make us reclaim the campuses we have lost. This is why we have a radical campaign on access and free education called the Right to Learn Campaign (RTLC).
Whilst we can give the architects of the organisation the right to critically analyse it and its leadership they should know that no one has the right to destructive criticism. SASCO cannot be blamed for the collapse of the ANC Youth League rebuilding process neither should it be declared dead due to a sad loss in an SRC election. A tactical defeat of the organisation should never be nefariously interpreted to mean the limping of the organisation.
Many former leaders of the student movement in general and SASCO in particular have opinions about the organisation, but none has authored an article that is clearly meant to cause harm than build the organisation. I am hoping that the unsavoury things that were in the article of Comrade China Dodovu were not deliberately intended at causing pain to the organisation.
Just recently we received scathing criticism from Comrades Lulu Johnson, Hope Papo, Sonwabile Mancotywa and Mondli Gungubele about the failure of the organisation to recruit white students. Some of them were even saying maybe it was not a good decision to disband NUSAS altogether, but we had nice engagements that enlightened us about why the decision to merge SANSCO and NUSAS had to be taken. When we meet them, we always know that we have a deal; that of creating an organisation that is appealing to all races in the land. Articles such as the one authored by Comrade China should engender such feelings of generation connection and responsibility to us but the various innuendos in the article makes it to be less worthy of such standing in our institutional memory.
Be that as it may, I have tried to explain in words what we have done in positioning SASCO as an agent of transformation at the hands of students. What is lacking now is our practical struggle in implementing some of the things that have been reproachfully raised against the student movement. We commit to struggle for the attainment of the various aims and objectives that are critical for the transformation of the education system. This is in essence a second part of us explaining ourselves to the generation the article appeared under. So China must relax, SASCO is not Limping!
SASCO’s Strategic Perspective on Transformation (1995).
Comrade Luzuko Buku is the Secretary General of SASCO