The President of SASCO has recently been elected as the chair of the Southern African Students Union (SASU) an organization in charge of student affairs in the continent, this occurrence happened at a time when SASCO is celebrating 26 years of existence. This positive development is essentially important and requires the giant student movement to celebrate. It is essential to celebrate because one of our own from our ranks emerged at continental level with a task of uniting the student voice out there. SASCO, for the past 26 years of existence have heard some victories amongst them the increase in the
SASCO, for the past 26 years of existence have heard some victories amongst them the increase in the enrollment statistics and increase in student funding opportunities that came about as a result of the struggles waged by the student movement. A significant question may arise as to, what does the election of the President of SASCO to lead African students beyond South African borders mean to us all in universities and colleges? What needs to be done when SASCO is 26 years old this year in relation to higher education struggles? Perhaps before answering this let us contextualise what Lenin said of the young generation likewise in SASCO. In a speech delivered to the third all Russia congress of the Russia Young Communist League on the 2nd of October 1920.
Vladimir Lenin spoke profoundly about the task of the youths in which amongst other things he said
“…in dealing from this angle with the tasks confronting the youth, I must say that the tasks of the youth in general, and of the Young Communist Leagues and all other organisations in particular, might be summed up in a single word: Learn”.
What we yearn to discover is what can we learn from African leaders as well as what kind of lessons can we draw from this rich history of SASCO in the past two decades and beyond. The South African Students Congress is the biggest student organisation in the African Continent. This is attributed to the fact that it exists in a space where more institutions of higher learning exist, therefore its market share is wider but most importantly its ability to mobilise many students behind its banner is key to its growth. Section four of the constitution of SASCO talks about principles of the organisation amongst these are democracy, non-racialism, non-sexism, equality, academic excellence and African Leadership. Over the years the organisation has been focussing mainly on its internal strength and local dynamics with little or no effort to revitalise its outlook and approach to African socio-political and economic environment. SASCO as
Over the years the organisation has been focussing mainly on its internal strength and local dynamics with little or no effort to revitalise its outlook and approach to African socio-political and economic environment. SASCO is the biggest student organization and it’s always under scrutiny, so as to understand if its expansion is also reflective of qualitative growth in terms of its approach to a number of issues including that of its principles. The article is therefore aimed at giving some insights on SASCO’s advancement of the principle of African leadership in the contemporary Africa.
The student movement exists within a space in which intellectual debates are very high and the battle of ideas is the order of the day. However, little is being done to contribute superior ideas for the rejuvenation of the limping African Union and decaying governance systems in African countries. The AU is tasked with a responsibility to ensure peace, unity, economic development, education for all Africans etc. It is a body entitled amongst other things to help eradicate poverty, unemployment and inequality in the continent. Universities being a site of the struggle is where SASCO needs to fight more for the production of best ideas that will assist the African continent to realise these goals.
In advancing the principle of African leadership, SASCO must locate its role in advancing the objectives of the AU because such objectives symbolize what the African Leadership has always wanted to achieve in the struggle. The following are amongst key objectives of the African Union;
- To achieve greater unity and solidarity between the African countries and the peoples of Africa;
- To defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of its Member States;
- To accelerate the political and socio-economic integration of the continent;
- To promote and defend African common positions on issues of interest to the continent and its peoples;
- To encourage international cooperation, taking due account of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
- To promote peace, security, and stability on the continent;
- To promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance;
- To promote and protect human and peoples’ rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other relevant human rights instruments;
- To establish the necessary conditions which enable the continent to play its rightful role in the global economy and in international negotiations;
- To promote sustainable development at the economic, social and cultural levels as well as the integration of African economies;
- To promote co-operation in all fields of human activity to raise the living standards of African peoples;
- To coordinate and harmonize the policies between the existing and future Regional Economic Communities for the gradual attainment of the objectives of the Union;
- To advance the development of the continent by promoting research in all fields, in particular in science and technology;
- To work with relevant international partners in the eradication of preventable diseases and the promotion of good health on the continent.
African Leaders played a critical role in the liberation of Africa. This liberation entails the advent of democracy in the form of political freedom. We are a generation benefitting from that political independence because we are now able to vote, we are now able to move from one place to another without any hindrance and we are now having freedom of association and speech. Such cannot be undermined but it needs to be safeguarded by this generation in the student movement and many generations to come.
The student movements in Africa such as Tanganyika African Welfare Society founded by the students of Makerere College in Uganda and the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS) formed in 1959 and NUSAS in South Africa and in Madagascar the Teachers’ Union (SECES) and the Union of Secondary School Students (SEMPA) were at the centre of the struggle against colonialism during the period before 1994. The strategies that the students adopted to attain their objectives at the time consisted of publishing books, periodicals, journals, newspapers and pamphlets; organizing meetings, congresses and conferences; holding symposia, debates, lectures and seminars; and, finally, organizing rallies, demonstrations and strikes. Then, in their objectives and strategies, the African student movements of the first period were very similar to the nationalist movements of the time, reflecting the mood of political resistance against oppression. The question is that, are we participating in the current struggle as reflecting
Then, in their objectives and strategies, the African student movements of the first period were very similar to the nationalist movements of the time, reflecting the mood of political resistance against oppression. The question is that, are we participating in the current struggle as reflecting of the current conditions or are we still doing the same as that pre-colonial era movements whilst we are in a post-colonial period? Such questions like these can best be answered through understanding the role of SASCO and understanding its principle of African Leadership. The assassination of Telahun Guizaw, Chairman of the Students’ Union at Haile Selassie University, killed by police bullets during a demonstration in the streets of the capital in December 1969, the movement acquired its own martyr. Before the fall of Haile Selassie, nearly thirty students and schoolchildren in Addis Ababa and provincial towns were to die in similar conditions or in attempts to hijack aircraft. Shortly after the death of Telahun Guizaw, a group of seven students succeeded in gaining control of an Ethiopian aircraft and forcing it to land in Khartoum. From there they made their way to Algiers to play a major role, This was also The assassination of Telahun Guizaw, Chairman of the Students’ Union at Haile Selassie University, killed by police bullets during a demonstration in the streets of the capital in December 1969, the movement acquired its own martyr. Before the fall of Haile Selassie, nearly thirty students and schoolchildren in Addis Ababa and provincial towns were to die in similar conditions or in attempts to hijack aircraft. Shortly after the death of Telahun Guizaw, a group of seven students succeeded in gaining control of an Ethiopian aircraft and forcing it to land in Khartoum. From there they made their way to Algiers to play a major role, this was also exacerbated by the establishment in Addis Ababa of the headquarters of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1964 and of many regional offices of the United Nations system was an important factor in the student movement. In South Africa, the assassination of Xola Nene, a student leader from the ranks of SASCO by the enemies of the NDR is reflective of how the student movement has always been at the fore front in the fight against the brutal colonial system.SASCO must draw some lessons from that past history of the student movement and create a program of action that does not betray the vision of the predecessors.
According to UNESCO (1994) The task of the African student movements, therefore, was to find the best form of organization, not only to defend the material and moral interests of their members, as any union must, but also and above all to fight against the overall situation of deculturation and depersonalization, to support, uphold and make known the African peoples’ struggle for emancipation and unity, and to expose and denounce all forms of domination imposed on the peoples of the colonial and dependent countries, the plundering of their wealth and the denial or ridicule of their cultural values, traditions, languages, history and so forth. It is the duty of SASCO to take forward that task and achieve what is left by previous generations. Advancing the principle of African Leadership means amongst other things the following for us in SASCO;
- Create consciousness amongst fellow students to understand the history of Africa.
- Upholding the values of Ubuntu, integrity and honesty as epitomised by former African Leaders.
- Defending the freedoms and sovereignty of the continent against neocolonialism.
- Taking over the button and lead the struggle for radical economic transformation forward.
- Fight hard against capitalism and exploitation of the poor.
African Leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe, Oliver Tambo, Thomas Sankara ,Samora Machel, Albertina Sisulu and Amilca Cabral fought successful for the right to education, liberation of Africa and to achieve that, the struggle icons had to sacrifice, to suffer and provide servant leadership. Some lost their life during the struggle whilst others spend years incerarated in colonial prisons. African Leaders such as Joshua Nkomo and Kenneth Kaunda always preached unity and development of the continent; it was always their hope to see every African child at school one day. The question that one may ask is that if all these leaders are to rise today, will they be happy with the Africa that we see where some cannot go to school because of not having money to study, some are dying in large numbers due to many diseases, and criminal and corrupt activities are so rife in our continent.SASCO ought to remind the world of the kind of Africa that African Leadership dreamed to see being created.
The South African Students congress must move out of the comfort zone as start realising the need to live up to the principles of the organization as indicated in the constitution to which African Leadership is one of them. It is the duty of this generation in SASCO to try with all means necessary to turn theory and ideas into practice. If we are to be loud that we believe in African Leadership then we must act and practise in a way that African leaders expected in developing the continent. When a question is asked that where was SASCO when Africa was disintegrating we must be able to proudly provide answers that we provided an intervention within our own space in education and production of new progressive ideas. In providing solutions, I think SASCO must continue to uphold the principle of African leadership and in order to do that the following are the proposals that can assist the student organization and these are;
- Advocating for establishment of the African Student rights charter that will speak on student right in the continent.
- Lobbying for the setup of a student forum within African Union.
- Accelerating the struggle for free quality compulsory education in the continent so that every African child is found at school.
- Revival of the collapsed All Africa student Union (AASU) for a well-coordinated student struggles.
- Embark on job creation campaigns that include entrepreneurial skills development and maximum involvement of the private sector in employment created to complement government efforts.
- Make the loudest voices for curriculum transformation in order to have African Universities and colleges that respond to the needs of the continent.
- Intensify the campaigns in graduate alive programs to deal with various diseases that are bedevilling our students and our continent.
In conclusion; I would agree with all those who say that at times winning does not always mean victory and losing does not always mean defeat. This is so true of our African continent because African leaders won political independence but in many instance, economic freedom is yet to be realized. In many areas such as job creation, gender development and good governance we are struggling but we are not yet defeated because the struggle will have to continue unabated. All formations from labour unions, government organizations, youth organizations, and civic organizations and students organizations must work together for a one Africa free of poverty, inequality and unemployment. SASCO must be part of the solutions to African problems and that can only be achieved when the principle of African leadership is advanced forward in line with the objectives of the African Union. Joshua Nkomo once said, “the hardest lesson of my life has come to me late, it is that a nation can win freedom without its people becoming free”. It is that lesson to which SASCO must scrutinise and advance the struggle for total socio-political and economic liberation of Africa.The task of the older generation was to overthrow the colonial domination, but the new generation is faced with a far more complex task for total economic liberation and to us as SASCO, the fight against Israel Apartheid is part of our agenda, the emancipation of students and the people of Swaziland is our struggle too. Perhaps if we to agree that for all these revolutionary tasks outlined above are to be executed successfully we need organic intellectuals and a reservoir of revolutionary intelligentsia whom will guide the struggle forward and ultimately inherit a literate socialist society in the future, then Lenin was correct that as youths we must learn. To me, the best way of doing what Lenin advised us 97 years ago is to learn from history, learn from African leaders and learn from all existing ideas in available literature to enhance our thinking and approach to our everyday struggles.
Misheck T Mugabe is Masters student at the University of Fort Hare and also the Treasurer General of SAUS. He writes in his personal capacity. He can be contacted at email@example.com/0760942850.