South African Students Congress

Input at the BGM of the ANCYL in the University of Pretoria

18 May 2007

1908-2008 Turning 100 years: Fighting for a 21st Century Identity
Locating the role of the Progressive Youth Movement

My discussion with you today will be on a range of issues that I hope to put in a context that will explain their interconnectedness and thereby provide you with some insights on the strategy (policy approach) to deal with them. These will however not be absolute analysis.

Next year in 2008, the University of Pretoria popularly known as Tukkies will be 100 years old. Already quite expectedly, the University authorities and virtually all departm-ents are preparing themselves and the ‘City of Hatfield’ for a series of grand festivities of varying scales to mark the birthday of the University something that is at face value welcomed by all. We learn that these festivities will run throughout the year, next year. There is a rumour that registration will be free next year (Joke).

Context

The University of Pretoria emerges almost 100 years ago and has evolved to be what it is today out of a South Africa fraught with injustice, dispossession, Apartheid and racism, inequality and oppression and in general the distortion of the essence of human beings, human society and what human society should and must stand for.

The University of Pretoria is a microcosm of the larger South Africa. Its history and evolution resembles the history and the evolution of the South African society in general. Tukkies was formed in 1908 just two years before the English and Afrikaner could formalise their pact in what became known as the Act of Union of 1910 after the defeat of the Boer in the Anglo-Boer War in what could be termed as the historic compromise between the two settler groups. It is at this point of our history that the English and the Afrikaner formally connived to subjugate the African masses with a view to consolidate colonialism of a special type in a now systematic and guided fashion.

Growing up in the old South Africa meant different possibilities for whites on the one hand and black people on the other. To be white and Afrikaner meant automatic access to socio-economic opportunities such a good education and this increased prospects of a better life for the minority. To be black or rather African meant extreme exclusion from socio-economic opportunities, poor or no education at all and the prospects of a life of misery loomed large. And later in the 1950s Verwoerd the propagator of Bantu Education defined the life of a black child as "hewers of wood and drawers of water".

National oppression was the philosophy of Apartheid but in the process; the policy of segregation translated wittingly so into the deliberate creation of an exploited working class which was predominantly African. When the Nationalist Party took over power in 1948 national and class oppression was intensified in the University just like it was in the country.

At this time a university which started as an English institution and later became bilingual was now meant to articulate narrow Afrikaner nationalism. Afrikaans was introduced as the language of instruction, institutional culture reflected a Boer mentality and nationally; exclusive Afrikaans universities were consolidates and the language managed to develop into the scientific language we know today. And for approximately 50 years Tukkies served this narrow agenda. The government of the time was clearly creating two societies in one at the highest intellectual level. Therefore both black and white universities were designed to serve the political and ideological interests of the Apartheid discourse in a mutually exclusive fashion.

Education is always at the disposal of contending social forces in any society. This is the reason why curriculum content transformation is an intensely contented terrain in the education fraternity. There is a value system, ethos and ideas that education serves depending on the dominant social force or discourse. The extent and intensity of the struggle to transform the curriculum is informed by the level and intensity of the struggle to direct the course of human development.

Historical background of the UP

There are some developments that must be noted in the evolution of the University of Pretoria. Perhaps a quick timeline will summarise these developments better:

This is the chronology of how the university expanded over the years to have 9 academic faculties and in 2006 the university has 28 206 contact and 6884 distance students (35 090 in total) undergraduate only and with postgraduate the number totals 49 226 and black students which includes Indian, African and coloured amount to a mere 40%.

Historical background of the progressive student movement in UP

In concrete terms the first generation of the progressive movement started to emerge in 1994/5-1998 (the launching and mass mobilisation years) represented by the launch of SASCO at the height of general political tensions in the country and in the campus. Apartheid injustices were still fresh in the minds of many young people entering higher education. Most of them had experiences of being arrested, tortured and teargased or any other related experience. This generation produced President Jacob Mamabolo other outstanding leaders of the youth/student movement such as Leeto Matshidiso, Lucky Thekisho, Godfrey Nkosi, Hendrick Makaneta and others. It was in this period that the ANCYL was relaunched in institutions of higher learning in SA and Tukkies was among the first campuses to relaunch. During this period the campus had many protests and racial clashes between black and white students.

Then from 1998-2001 (the years of decline and growth) the cadreship of Wilson Mangayi, Kim Catherine, Lindiwe Masikane, Patson Khumalo, Cassius Ndlovu and others led the student movement during the time when we were experimenting with various models of student governance; attempting to transform student affairs.

In 2001 our generation took over the baton with comrades like Abner Mosaase, Thabiso Lekoana, Mlimandlela Ndamase, Aaron Mashele and others under very difficult conditions. We continued to fight many battles and the right-wing reaction was pushed back to some extent. Of course some of the leaders overlapped between the generations.

Although conditions would be slightly different at times but; in essence these generations faced the same challenge: to transform the UP into a truly South African university accessible to all. The contribution of these young people cannot be quantified in numerical terms but; their commitment to the cause of the national democratic revolution is registered and one day when the University truly transforms to reflect the aspirations of the majority of our people; we shall count their efforts amongst those who stood for a better education, comrades who stood for access and success, students who fought for the ideal of a better society.

Contemporary challenges

Today your generation still faces the same challenge as the previous student leaders but under new conditions and it is your duty to identify these conditions and therefore craft a political programme that will deal directly with the challenges of the day. Our role (as the old) now is to ensure that you have the correct tools of analysis, that you are able to study and interpret your own challenges but it is your responsibility to identify contradictions, choose the best tactical methods and create a way forward. We do not stand as the judges of your thinking, actions and attitudes because; if we do so we will be unduly taking the position of history, the real arbiter of your efforts. One thing is for sure though; the right-wing has reversed many of our gains and therefore enjoys a position of comfort comparatively speaking and this situation is undesirable!

Of course other student organisations such as AZASCO, UDESMO, PASMA and other pretenders used to exist along side the progressive camp as wanna-be opposition to SASCO and the ANCYL but the real forces that stood opposed to our agenda for transformation were and still are the conservative right-wingers represented publicly by the Freedom Front-Youth, TAS and recently the Solidarity Youth and the DA-Youth. These are the real enemies of SASCO and the Youth League simple because of their positioning in the broader scheme of things and the backward ideas they represent. Their extent of influence is not merely measured through the SRC elections (including even under the new system), it is rather measured through the broader university community which has always been its constituency for many decades. Virtually all sections of the university have in one way or the other elements of conservatism, racism and a backward culture and tradition. And this is the same sphere that must be contested by the ANCYL and SASCO and it is not an easy sphere to penetrate, it has never been and it is not about to be easy.

Some of the challenges that you face today are the following amongst others:

At the end you will realise that the SRC is but one small area of interest to the organisation. In SASCO we refer to as one of the things we do as part of our campus work. Having said that it does not mean that the SRC is not important. It is important and strategic in so far as it is a vehicle to further the interests and programme of the organisation. The election of the first black president complimented by the first black RAG queen (perhaps we should marry them) does not serve any significance beyond the symbolism that it represents. At the end of the term of the SRC students will be worse off and in any case we don’t expect individuals to perform miracles.

The temporary defeat of the progressive movement on the issue of the structure of the SRC is only a reflection of the strength and weaknesses of the organisation. The management will always succeed in forcing their will on the students relative to amount of strength we possess to oppose and challenge such agendas. Whereas this is a temporary defeat we also note that there is a systematic attempt nationwide to do away with the party-based system and our branches must be the first line of defence in this regard. The undesirable situation (atleast in strategic terms) of being out of the SRC presents us with a unique opportunity to build the organisation and educate our students about the role of SRCs in campuses and in the ongoing project to consolidate democracy in the country.

Towards this end

As a parting shot; it is important to recall the one challenge that faces the progressive youth movement in South Africa post-1994. The question must be asked: Have we sufficiently satisfied ourselves with answers to the questions: What is the role of the youth movement in a democratic South Africa, how relevant are we to the interest and concerns of the youth of today? What fundamental changes has the 1994 breakthrough brought forward? What are the best methods to mobilise young people today?

We ask these questions because the youth of any country is the future of that society. Surely we must be worried if today’s youth is defined by some as lost generation, Kwaito Generation, Boom Shaka and Yizo-Yizo generation or recently Wewe generation. Is this the essence and the value system that defines young people?

The challenge of access and success in the university remains. After 1994 the systematic tendency to preserve education as a privilege for the few continues contrary to our strongly held view that education is a right. Every January our students mostly African, rural and poor face the indignity to beg for access to education whereas their counterparts from well to do families gain entry to university at the comfort of their arm-chairs in their homes where they just press one button and arrive on campus in February ready for tuition. This divide must be ended.

Indeed the University of Pretoria is turning 100 next year; so what? The question is: are we all going to suddenly and unanimously celebrate without question? What is there to celebrate really? Is the UP different than what it was hundred years ago if yes; how so?

In this regard the challenge must be posed to you. How will you engage with the centenary celebrations of the University? What is your role starting from now?