South African Students Congress

A brief history of SASCO and the student movement: An ABC of the organisation

1. Introduction.

This document covers the history of the Student movement in South Africa and gives a brief overview of specific challenges and campaigns that were undertaken. It also provides a conceptual understanding of SASCO's location in the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) as led by the ANC. The document also captures the challenge that the organisation face today given its historical mission.

It is a document that is intended to be used by all cadres and members of the organisation to understand SASCO, its role and its vision as it relates to the transformation of tertiary education within the context of the unfolding National Democratic Revolution.

2. The formation of NUSAS IN 1924.

The year 1924 marked a great step in the history of the student movement in South Africa when students from all Afrikaans and English speaking campuses, met in Grey College to form the first student organisation in the country, the National Union of South African Student's (NUSAS). It is this conference that began to determine and set pace in the development to the student movement in the South Africa.

NUSAS was a co-ordinator of SRC'S and it was able to exert progressive outlook to student organisation. This conference witnessed the walkout of conservative Afrikaner students to form the Afrikaner National Student bond.

3. Formation of South African Students Organisation (SASO).

NUSAS, whilst progressive in outlook, was dominated by white students who were removed from the reality of African Communities. African students felt that they were marginalized within NUSAS and sought to express their voices and influence the student movement.

Leaders like Steve Biko, Barney Pityana, Aubrey Mokoena, Patrick Lekota, Saths Cooper and countless others who become exponents of the Black Consciousness Movement lead a breakaway from NUSAS and formed the South African Students Organization (SASO) in 1969.

SASO linked students protests and their activity with community programmes by encouraged students become involved in community activity. This was done through the establishment of community health centres, advice offices and literacy classes. The leadership was put on trial for treason. This had the effect of weakening the student movement, but nonetheless new leaders who had their roots in community based organisations emerged to fill the vacuum.

SASO was banned in 1977 as part of a national crackdown in the aftermath of the June 1976 uprising. Whilst the dominant though within SASO was Black Consciousness, many of the leaders of the leaders of SASO had outgrown this philosophy and had moved towards the leaders of the leaders of SASO had outgrown this philosophy and had moved towards the more inclusive ideological school as represented by the Congress movement and the adherents to the Freedom Charter.

4. AZASO \ NUSAS Alliance

The AZANIAN Students Organisation (AZASO) was launched in 1981 to fill the vacuum let by the banning of SASO. It brought together the SRC's of the Black campuses. NUSAS was less affected by the 1977 crackdown and it was still felt that black students had to organise separately to cater for their own specific conditions.

There was a strong alliance between AZASO and the Azanian Peoples' Organisation (AZAPO), which represented Black Consciousness. AZASO moved towards the non-racial outlook of the Freedom Charter which set it on a collision course with AZAPO which felt that the Freedom equal citizens in a future democratic South Africa.

AZASO was however coming under the influence of charterists who forget greater with NUSAS to defend the rights of students and to co-ordinate their struggles against apartheid. Campaigns like the anti Republic collaborated also to wage a campaign against the tricameral parliament, starting in 1983 as affiliates of the United Democratic Front (UDF).

Both organizations linked up with local UDF affiliates and undertook door to door visits to educate people about the dangers within the proposed new constitution. An intensive campaign was also waged in support of an education charter, which was to ensure that education becomes open to all.

5. Formation of SANSCO

AZASO become increasingly aloof from its Black Consciousness origins and sought to reflect the jettisoning of this baggage by changing its name to the more representative South African National Students Congress (SANSCO) to also reflect its complete adherence to the Freedom Charter and the congress movement lead by the African National Congress which was stll banned. SANSCO identified closely with community organizations was an active affiliate of the UDF.

SANSCO closely co-operated with NUSAS, against De Klerk's Education Bill that intended to reduce subsidies to politically active Universities. In February 1988, Both government banned a wide range of organizations including the UDF and SASNCO. By this time there was increasing joint action by both SANSCO and NUSAS, recognizing the need for a single national students organization to articulate student aspirations.

6. The merger of SANSCO and NUSAS - Post 1990 era

In February, the banned liberation movements were un-banned and leaders were freed form prisons. This new political dispensation in the country led to SANSCO and NUSAS engaging in talks about the formation of one non-racial student organization

A launching congress was finally on the 1st to the 6th of September. This was the most emotional congress as SASCO was now a single non-racial student organization and became the biggest in the country, which remains the only organization for student interest across the racial lines.

7. SASCO - A new fighting force was born!

On the first week of September (1st -6th) 1991, 600 black and white tertiary students from 129 Universities, Technikons and Colleges gathered at Rhodes University grounds to launch the South Africans Students Congress (SASCO).

In uncertainty about whether the dream of a single non-racial progressive tertiary student organization will ever come true, than the excitement that they were marking a new era in South Africa's educational and political history,

Gathered under the banner: "Towards a single non-racial student organization", delegates from SANSCO and NUSAS spent long and arduous hours of heated theoretical exchanges culminating in the launch, on 6th September, of a gallant student organization which has since then been at the cutting edge of the struggle for the fundamental change of tertiary education.

Since the launch of NUSAS in 1924, a new chapter of true non-racial student politics was opened.

8.Guiding Principles of SASCO

SASCO is committed to working towards a democratic system of education in a democratic South Africa.

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.

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.

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.

9.SASCO Today

The launch of SASCO signalled an end to sixty-seven years of turbulent historical and racial legacy, of separate organizations for progressive black and white students. SASCO continues to draw its political orientation from the MDM as led by the ANC.

The Marxist-Leninist influence of the South African Communist Party has also been strong in the ranks of the organisation, as could be found in the Marxist tools that the organisation applies in its analysis and in its Strategic Perspective on Transformation.

Students being potentially a very critical stratum in society need to be guided by the militancy and traditions of SASCO. SASCO has emerged as one of the most critical components of the MDM and progressive Youth Alliance (PYA).

SASCO is seen by many as the intellectual and skills reserve of the progressive movement and our country. Its task being to build organic intellectuals.

10. The future is Strategic Student Activism

Since 1994, SASCO has been doing a rigorous review of its role in the current conjecture. A new perspective about the role of student organizations in society is emerging within our ranks. Our Strategic Perspective on Transformation (SPOT) as adopted at the fifth annual congress, redefines the concept of "radical strategic student activism within the new context of the liberation movement having won state power.

To SASCO this signalled victory in a major battle but the ‘war' is still not over. The winning of this battle was merely a prelude to the struggles for social transformation in which the youth and students still have a significant role to play.

After the 1994 breakthrough, the strategic perspective of SASCO defined its relationship with the ANC government led state as being both complimentary and contradictory (Strategic Perspective on Transformation).

This was based on the recognition that the state in its untransformed condition may also be a source of restoration of the old order or resisting the new order. In terms of policies and action, in this respect, the approach of SASCO would be to contradict the state and even government by applying pressure from below.

In the instance where the State and government advance a perspective that is consistent with that of the NDR our response would be to complement. This general perspective also appreciates the possibility of strategic tensions arising in the progressive movement that requires sectors with the movement to engage the state and government. The perspective also appreciates that the sectoral interests of the student movement would have to be subjected to the broader objectives of the NDR.

10.1. Actual Challenges of the Present Period

SASCO's vision is the establishment of a single and non-racial, non-sexist
coordinated system of education in a democratic South Africa. Great strides have been made in this regard with the merger of various departments of education that existed prior to the new dispensation.

Aside from the constitution of the country, a body of law has been put in place,
such as the Further Education and Training Act (FET) and the Higher Education Act (HEA) to ensure that there are necessary systems and structural changes that are brought about in the education sector. The establishment of the National Students' Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has brought some relief for students who still bear the brunt of financial burdens caused by Apartheid.

However a lot still has to be done. Whilst addressing local needs as a priority, it is
crucial that we are able to forge a new culture of Internationalism to deal with the challenge posed by Globalisation.

10.2. Key Strategic Tasks

  • Establishing a Single coordinated system of Education

The inequalities of the past are still apparent, particularly between historically black and historically white institutions of learning. There is still general poor coordination within the system from admission policies, curriculum and qualifications.

Furthermore the FET sector and HE sectors respectively do not share any common approaches. The challenge is to harness these internal contradictions within the system. This requires a revolutionary student organisation that is at the cutting edge of the transformation discourse leading all elements in the sector; particularly at the level of policy formulation and articulation.

  • Building a Democratic System of Education.

The call from "Ivory Towers to Peoples Institutions: remains relevant. Whilst the democratic government has been able to establish democratic parliamentary and ministerial approaches and bodies, such as the Higher Education Quality Committee, much still needs to be done at an institutional level.

Institutional Forums. Which are themselves a watered down call of SASCO foe the establishment of the Broad Transformation Forum (BTF) in the mid-nineties, are not yet in place in some institutions or inclusive enough in others.

Major decisions continue to be taken by undemocratic governance structures without consultation of stakeholders such as ‘ordinary workers' and students, particularly as this relates to retrenchments and student fess amongst other issues.

The challenge is to ensure that our education system and institutions are democratically governed and therefore serve the interest of the majority of the people. Another important struggle that SASCO has to continue engaging in is that of making sure that the democratic values within institutions are upheld and that the people truly govern.

  • Non-racial System.

The struggle to establish a non-racial society is a continuing challenge for the organisation in the education sector. Black people and Africans in particular continue to graduate in disproportionate numbers to both the demographics of the country and their registration figures in tertiary education.

  • Non-sexist System.

The system of education is not immune from the patriarchal relations found in our society and a conscious effort required to put in place knowledge systems that undermine patriarchy. Pedagogy still exist that in a cultured way exclude women from particular fields. Black women, especially African rural young women remain the most hopeless to enter the system because of their social reality.

The system must be transformed to serve their interests and ensure that there is equality of access and process as it relates to gender issues. To achieve this, the organisation must build a core of gender activists at each institution. SASCO has the obligation to ensure that institutions of learning become critical centres in the struggle for gender emancipation.

  • Development System.

The curriculum content of the education system must be one that forges a sense of social responsibility as a new paradigm of our democracy. This has not yet been achieved. The education system is still about the production of self-centred minds. It is only when we achieve the latter that we would be able to forge a new sense of internationalism in the struggle for a better and more humane World.

10.3.Our Approach to Activism

The following five Pillars underpin the perspective of "Radical Strategic" Student activism:

10.3.1. Campus work.

This pillar is aimed at ensuring that SASCO continues to be the leading force in all structures of student democracy in our campuses. We need to make sure that we win SRC elections overwhelmingly.

The popularity of our organization should be tested in winning majority votes in mass meeting, student assemblies, faculty councils, residence councils, sport and cultural councils, student parliaments and senates. The challenge here is to also build progressive alliances, which will accelerate and deepen the fundamental transformation of institutions.

10.3.2. Community work.

Our intention is to take students back to the community. Through campaigns such as literacy brigades, legal aid, building community infrastructure, "We are members of the community before we are students." Developing critical social consciousness in today's students in a major challenge of our time, because the conditions under which are currently struggling make political education very challenging.

Of importance is to also strive for an integrated curriculum content, which recognizes the value of community service in all fields of study. Faculty council should be central in demanding this form of curricular through representations in Ifs, senates and faculty boards. Community service should further be viewed as a focus attempt to defend vulnerable communities against powerful forces of neo-liberal capitalism.

10.3.3. Policy Work.

This pillar of our work is aimed at ensuring that the organisation can participate meaningfully in policy-making processes. It is our belief that high education should be central in meeting the tasks of reconstruction and development of our communities. SASCO is consolidating its strategic capacity to input into the education policy formulation.

We have participated in the process of legislation of higher education amendment act as well as the process leading to the enactment of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme act. We have also geared ourselves to start doing work in areas such as the economy, housing, rural development, labour market policy, foreign policy and other areas of public policymaking.

We should continue to strengthen our policy capacity by making submissions to various policy forums including Ifs, Senates, Councils, Parliament, ANC education study group, PYA etc.

10.3.4. International Work.

Our work in international relations rest on the praxis of defending marginalized and poor majority nations, mostly found in Africa and third world in general, as opposed to defending interest of rich and powerful nations in the west.

SASCO international relations perspective acknowledge the big disparities that have been perpetuated between rich and poor nations, development and underdeveloped, continues unabated even at the level of human development.

Further, we should continued with our proud traditions of association and co-operation with various progressive student formations in the world, which include but not limited to amongst others, LSVB in Netherlands, Asian Students Association, SYL in Finland, SASU, AASU and IUS. It is clear that many changes face student movement of our time.

It is critical to engage our membership on discussions around globalisation and the impact it has in education. These should be viewed as part of strengthening and clarifying our social base.

10.3.5. Building strong student youth movement.

Building a strong student and youth movement is a challenge of our time. SASCO appreciates the fact that youth development is subject to statutory provisions through the youth commission in government.

These however presents to us both tangible opportunities as well as strains. Whilst it offers the youth an opportunity to advance their objectives throughout the corridors of power , it lacks necessary vibrancy and dynamism. In this regard, the government should move swiftly to pass legislation enacting NYS.

Progressive Youth Alliance constitutes the backbone of progressive youth politics in our country. It is therefore our obligation to strengthen it at all levels with the intention of it championing youth struggles from the ground.

We should continue giving recognition and relevant political content to 16 June (SA Youth Day) and use it to conduct visible campaigns and programmes as PYA partners.

The student movement is critical fro the survival of dynamic student politics in this country. SASCO continues to lead various student formations on the form of SAU-SRC, SATSU, SACSA etc. Part of building a strong and consolidated student movement involves accomplishing and implementing our long standing resolution to build an SRC federation for tertiary students.