The tricky part about addressing a political conference is that one faces a critical audience that has been prepared well in advance so as to tell if the speaker talks sense or just blowing hot air. Even if the speaker will not be engaged; audience will analyze and reach various conclusions.
On behalf of the South African Students' Congress we bring you revolutionary salutations and wish you well for your National Congress.
We choose to use the coincidence about both your and our congress. Delegates would know by now that the largest student forum, the 14th National Congress of SASCO had convened from 9-13 December 2006 at the University of Cape Town, Cape Town and that; our departure day was your arrival day.
The coincidence is the fact that whilst we chose to dedicate our Congress to the memory of Isithwalandwe Walter Sisulu; you chose to dedicate yours to the undying memory of Ruth First who gave one of the most accurate descriptions about the character of Walter Sisulu. The history of the two is well known. It is the history of two gallant fighters who fought in the forefront trenches to end the abhorrent system of Apartheid.
With the two congresses, one coming after the other we have witnessed a live conversation of the two. Comrade Ruth First had this to say about Walter Sisulu in 1982 and both were still alive at the time:
"Walter Sisulu was not a man for the public occasion, though he could rise to any. He was the man who made the public occasions possible, who behind the scenes had carried the burden of the organization's work.
If it was his earnest attention to detail, his patient persistence which carried the Congress and its campaigns through the country, Walter Sisulu had other, rarer qualities too.
He had the capacity to concentrate on the principal issues; by his own example of seriousness and dedication he had the ability to persuade those with doubts and those with differences that these should at no cost be allowed to prevail over the central objectives of the struggle.
Walter Sisulu did not command; he persuaded. His personal behaviour, free of malice and self-seeking, reinforced his political clarity. He was a revolutionary because he understood fearlessly the failure of the society in which he lived to produce any alternative life for his people. He was also a revolutionary because he valued and loved people; he despaired of any change except by the masses, and he lived in the hope and confidence that they would rise to the challenge. As he undoubtedly still does!". This is Ruth First communicating an important message about key values and characteristics that define a good leader.
This proves the point that our struggles are organic, interconnected and dynamic. The progressive student and more broadly; youth movement is not independent in absolute terms. It has been born through concrete challenges. Indeed we owe our being to the evolution of the South African revolution as it developed from one stage to the other.
The 1944 ANCYL was not born out of an ideal but; out of objective conditions which at the time had actually forced our glorious movement to adopt new tactics to advance the cause for liberation. The impatience of the likes of Mandela, Lembede and Sisulu was triggered by real conditions and not imagination as some historians want to make us believe. Indeed the same can be said of the origins and the evolution of SASO and the YCL then.
Both these Congresses sit at the time when we conclude the commemorations and celebrations of 30 years since the student uprising in June 16, 1976. If we take a moment to contrast both the 1944 and 1976 generation to our 2006 youth we learn very important lessons. The lessons we learn is the fact that our predecessors lived and struggled under different conditions but in those conditions, they maintained high levels of discipline, commitment to the cause and robust debates. We may want to ask why they conducted themselves in this manner; an answer of which we leave for delegates to find.
The point we are making is that the alliance of the progressive youth movement is a profound alliance that we must never take for granted and according to us for as long as we remember this, the relevance of the youth movement will never be put to question.
The issue about the co-existence and here we deliberately choose the word co-existence instead of launching is according to us a non-issue. Our branches would due to poor levels of political education fail to understand that our alliance is a principled and strategic one based on the objectives of the NDR. A student who needs NSFAS does not know that I am not member of the ANCYL or the YCL. He just wants his financial exclusion problem solved. So, why should our subjective weakness compromises the important task of delivering the goods to our constituency, why?
So, we must be careful that we don't spend more time pursuing narrow battles whilst the broad real battles are lost because we paid much attention on whose logo will be used for the SRC election campaign. Obviously the existence of all three structures of the PYA has redefined the political space in HE and we must not turn a blind eye to this.
In this instance we want to warn about the dangers of taking perception and mistaken them for facts. The perception that we are engaged in a battle to replace one another is further from the facts. The media is one of the key promoters of this perception. Why do we have to replace each other, why?
Never before has it been so complex to serve in the ranks of the youth movement like it has been for particularly the past fifteen years. The 1994 breakthrough meant that we are moving from confronting a visible enemy into engaging with a not so visible enemy. It is in the ideological trenches that this enemy can be clearly identified and we never doubted that this enemy existed then like it does now. The question has largely been about the best tactics to confront this enemy. The precision we must demonstrate to close the gap between theory ad practice. And this has never meant that we are absolved of our responsibility to characterise our transition and therefore the changing nature of the enemy, hence, the need to constantly define our role, identify the tasks at hand and then produce new ideas to propel society forward progressively.
It is in this context that we must always caution against the idea and illusion that we must stop to theorise about challenges facing society and just act to eradicate them. It is in this context that we must stop speaking about the struggle because the revolution is over. This is sheer right-wing opportunism and we must fight ruthlessly to eradicate such thinking within our ranks; the constituency we organise and the communities we live in. Therefore, the debate on the role of the youth movement in the post-apartheid South Africa is far from over, the past fifteen years represent only the beginning.
Today we are confronted by hostile ideas which have become a lifestyle and identity of young people. The t-shirts they wear would be written: "I THINK THEREFORE I AM", "MY GIRLFRIEND IS OUT OF TOWN", "TRUST NOBODY" and others would wearing t-shirts written "revolution" and one wonders if these youth understand the meaning of these messages.
The youth should always serve as a reservoir of the broad intellectual life of the movement. We are young, energetic, it has the time and space it must produce new ideas. And this task needs a dedicated, disciplined and honest cadre.
If the youth must bring about fresh and sharp ideas to propel our revolution forward then we need to ask: what makes the YCL communist, what makes the ANCYL the youth league of the ANC and what makes SASCO and COSAS bias to the working class? The question is more harder when put to the communists because, the communists must always try harder to prove that they are different.
The challenges of our transition including the recent subjective challenges within our movement require a critical youth movement. The youth movement must put its intellectual abilities at the disposal of the broader democratic movement and occupy the forefront trenches to provide the much needed answers. Our Congress has correctly resolved that common approaches and thorough consultation on major government policy, the tripartite alliance must act in concert.
Amongst others the challenge of corruption is what we must combat vigorously today. In the SRC, in government, private sector and everywhere. We need to combat corruption primarily because the values and morals that underpin our struggle are clearly opposed to those of corruption. At the end; the people who suffer most are those who look up to us; the poor. And here perception and fact is sometimes twisted.
The demand for free quality public education remains as relevant as ever. As a building block and transition to free education for all, we call for free education for the poor. When we said we want people's education for people's power; we understood that this education must be accessible to the majority of our people who are poor. We know that this demand is reasonable, possible and we want to achieve it in our lifetime.
Our Congress has challenged government to convince us with a concrete scientific study if at all they believe that this demand is not practical. They must tell us the real cost of education, conduct a comparative study and tell us how many destitute students are in the system. Education is a socio-economic right and not a privilege and we believe this does not necessarily amount to sectarianism on our part. We know all the reasons why some sections of society fear free education!
Our Congress has reiterated our previous policy position on HIV and AIDS with new added ideas. We continue to hold the view that this scourge is not an exclusive health issue but a socio-economic challenge. We welcome the new imaging national consensus between civil society and government. Finally everyone realises the correctness of the ANC policies on HIV and AIDS. In this regard we then made a special resolution that we have confidence on the ANC-led government on this matter and Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.
The challenge remains that of political education in our ranks. Writing in the Wretched of the Earth in 1963, Frantz Fanon had the following to say about political education:
"To hold a position in an under-developed country is to know that in the end everything depends on the education of the masses, on the raising of the level of thought and on what we are too quick to call ‘political teaching'…"
"In fact we often believe that with criminal superficiality that to educate the masses politically is to deliver a long political harangue from time to time…"
"To educate the masses politically does not mean, cannot mean making a political speech. What it means is to try, relentlessly and passionately to teach the masses that everything depends on them; that if we stagnate it is their responsibility, and if we go forward it is due to them too…the magic hands are finally the hands of the people…"
Towards this end we hope your congress achieves its objectives. And that you will try harder to produce a cadre defined by Chairman Mao as: a person who has Marxism-Leninism as tools of analysis, is capable of being an independent thinker and committed to the social emancipation of our people. And as you so; remember the words of Ruth First when she described who Walter Sisulu was!
In 1968, General Secretary of the Communist Party Cde Moses Kotane has this important message to the youth:
"At this hour of destiny, your country and your people need you. The future of South Africa is your hands and it will be what you make of it"
May hundred flowers bloom and hundred schools of thought contend!
We thank you!