South African Students Congress

Speech by the President of SASCO Cde David Maimela at the relaunch of the Branch of SASCO at Stellenbosch University

23 August 2007

Walter Sisulu our Honorary President was a Visionary, Revolutionary Intellectual and an Architect of our Nation!

Master of Ceremonies
Provincial Chairperson and the PEC of the Western Cape
Forerunners in the relaunch of our branch
Fraternal organisations
Distinguished guests
Comrades and Friends!

I take the singular honour to greet you all on behalf of the National Executive Committee and the whole being of our glorious mvement; the South African Students' Congress!

I'm extremely privileged to be here. SASCO has been waiting for this historic and august occasion of the Relaunch of our Stellenbosch Branch. Here tonight we can proudly and confidently declare that:

Stellenbosch will never be the same again; SASCO is awake, the giant is alive. The years of indecisiveness are over; our cause is access and success, indeed our cause is transformation; let the story of this generation be told; that today we reiterate the incisive statement: "Wathinta'bafundi uzoyibona i-SASCO!"

I wish to send our deepest gratitude to all the comrades who made all the preparatory work for the success of the relaunch of or organisation on this; the oldest town of our country.

Historically, the years 1685 to 1918 can be regarded as the formative years of Stellenbosch University and today the institution is 89 yearsold. And when looking into the future; the question must be asked; after 90 years of existence; is Stellenbosch University South African, let alone African? This is a challenge we throw at the face of every SASCO member in this branch and whatever response you decide on, the next question must be; what is to be done?

Programme director; tonight I will speak about Walter Sisulu, our Honorary President who was a Visionary, Revolutionary Intellectual and an Architect of our Nation. I felt that Walter Sisulu above everyone else; epitomises all that SASCO should and must stand for and most importantly, an exploration of his legacy is quite necessary as the ANC, the oldest liberation movement in Africa, tries to reshape society well beyond its centenary in 2012.

Walter Sisulu, our Honorary President died exactly 10 years after the death of yet another colossus O.R Tambo in 2003. This year marks the fourth anniversary of his passing. In 2007 Cde Walter Sisulu would have celebrated 95 years of life with his organisation the ANC had he been alive.

Born in 1912 Cde Walter Max Ulyate Sisulu was the founding treasurer of the ANCYL, he later became the Secretary-General of the ANC and later served as Deputy President, he spent six decades serving the ANC and the people of South Africa and the ideal of a free, democratic and just society. Notably he was awarded in 1992 the highest honour in the ANC; he was declared Isithwalandwe! One of the few honours he ever received in his life and; in 1995 SASCO was honoured when he accepted the nomination to be our Honorary President, after which we made him the Lifetime Honorary President of SASCO ten years after, in 2005.

Dear comrades; but exactly how do you define a person who spent more than sixty years fighting for freedom and serving as a father of our naton? Walter Sisulu practically lived all his life in the struggle; indeed in the ANC. There are no words to define this rare extraordinary immortal being!

In a book that I believe every South African should read before dying; the biography of Walter & Albertina Sisulu in the foreword, President Nelson Mandela writes:

"If we as a liberation movement and a nation were to be given the choice of one life story to be told; that story would have to be Walter Sisulu's. In his life and the work of his life are captured and demonstrated the best, the noblest, the most heroic, the most deeply humane that our movement and our country represent and seek to represent…The telling story of Walter and Albertina is more than a record; it is a lodestar for our future…The cardinal attributes of Walter and Albertina remain as important to emulate today as they ever were…It is time that this story of our nation be told".

Earlier in 1982 our heroine, Cde Ruth First wrote:

"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 tat 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 alternativ 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!".

Right in prison in Robben Island, Cde Mac Maharaj recalls the intellectualism of Cde Walter Sisulu of Honorary President:

Cde Walter "would plough through many books on his own, but for speed he would say: "just read this chapter and tell me what it says". He would help you understand the chapter through his questions. He would cut through a problem by always getting to its essence whereas, many of us who came from an academic background wanted to work around a problem, mulling over every phrase, every sentence and forgetting what is the main content. It is suppose to be the basic for any good education to summarise a chapter in ten sentences. Many of us chaps never succeeded in doing that. We write a summary longer than the chapter itself".

Mac Maharaj goes on to say: "I remember reading a book on Historical and Dialectical Materialism…a highly philosophical book…We discussed it with Walter. He asked us questions about the book. His questions showed that his grasp of those philosophical problems was such that it was beyond the level of we who had read te books. I overheard one of those "intellectual" prisoners discussing with a fellow prisoner saying, "This man Walter. He's a bloody intellectual giant!". And the "intellectual prisoner" was someone from another political school who often despised people because they didn't have the necessary education. Within a year of knowing Walter, even this particular individual was going to Walter for guidance on theoretical problems".

So if this is who Cde Walter Sisulu was, then who are we as SASCO?

Before getting his BA degree in prison, Cde Walter our Honorary President was in a revolutionary school and himself, as we can claim today, was an institution in his own right and certainly he still is. This revolutionary school was the struggle itself, his and the people's daily life experiences and indeed the school of the ANC.

Walter Sisulu and his comrades; envisioned a better South Africa. A South Africa where the worth of your being would be solely based on your being as a human being. A society where the colour of one's skin will not determine his or her place in society. Indeed a country where the highest ideals of human freedom, human solidarity and human dignity will prevail over evil as represented by all manner of oppression and exploitation. A place where we are all each other's keepers.

With all this which he was dear comrades, we are therefore justified when we say; he was a visionary, a revolutionary intellectual and an architect of our nation!

SASCO is usually defined as a place where the young progressive intelligentsia of society is produced. In line with this characterisation, the glorious tradition of many decades of student activism must continue in the new South Africa with even more vigour. The relaunch of our branch in Stellenbosch should mean growth for SASCO and the continuation of the rich tradition of critical thinking.

SASCO and students in general must not allow themselves to take things as God-given. The students must question things. Once we stop questioning, we cease to exist. Our duty must be to help produce progressive and alternative ideas for a better and humane society. Our education must not make us conservative. We must all go to school with a clear understanding; to understand science and put it to the service of humanity. We must occupy the forward trenches in the fight against ignorance, illiteracy, decease, poverty and underdevelopment.

I think this is what Cde Walter Sisulu would have said SASCO must be!

In his leadership , Cde Walter Sisulu could demonstrate in words and deeds that leadership is not only about position. Comrade Walter is the man. The wisdom, knowledge, skills, creativity, foresightedness, courage, sacrifice dedication, discipline, selflessness, ability to listen and persuade makes Walter Sisulu admired by his peers and respected by his foes. These are the rarer qualities that Ruth First spoke about in 1982 when she described the extraordinary nature of Walter Sisulus character.

As a student of life Walter Sisulu almost became everything in terms of skill, knowledge and area of work, from being a delivery-man, domestic worker, baker, packer for a tobacconist, bank-teller, miner, journalist, estate agent, salesperson and unionist. But ultimately on Robben Island, he completed a BA in art history and anthropology. His pursuit of formal education even at an advanced age and under difficult conditions in prison is an outstanding sign of couage, determination and commitment in search of knowledge and, the zeal to fight against all odds to have access to education. Although he was already a graduate of the university of life he nonetheless completed his university studies through corresponence.

Fellow comrades, if this is who Walter Sisulu was, then who must we be?

In our classrooms these days we lack critical engagement with our lecturers. In the campus media, we lack serious debates and discussions. In the public discourse, we lack critical engagement, we accept mediocre journalism in South Africa like in the recent case of obsession and unwarranted attack on the health ministr, we continue to fault at the altar of liberal media propaganda on issues like Zimbabwe, Palestine, Iraq, Cuba and so forth. Our universities have become conservative, serving only as conveyors of conventional thinking; academic culture has become less engaging, less thought provoking and less appealing. What kind of young academics do we produce today if any? How do we articulate academic freedom and institutional autonomy, what is this anyway?

We accept when we are referred to as clients, we see it as an innovation, a stylish and cool thing, indeed, a higher standard of student life which must be celebrated. We accept when people say we are born-free. We accept when people say we are apathetic. We accept when lecturers fail us just because; we don't agree with their point of view in an essay type question. We accept all this as if our task is not to think but, to accept things as God given.

Walter as Mac Maharaj said; used to ask questions that clarified the essence and the content of what was read to him and the reader could only understand fter the questions that our Honorary President asked. He did this not because he was a rare breed, not because he was trying to be smarter but because, he understood his place in society. This was Walter Sisulu!

Today we accept when people define moral values for us. We accept any type of leadership. Today we behave like a society without history, morals and values. The moral values that Cde Walter Sisulu espoused are moral values born out of struggle and concrete experience; they are not imposed from on high. They are progressive, humanist and universal and yet relevant to the kind of society we want to build in South Africa. Our moral values are values of compassion and human solidarity built over centuries of struggle, indeed the values of Ubuntu!

The content of our morality is captured in an inspiring recollection of Ronnie Kasrils on the similarity of the South African ad the Vietnamese revolution:

He speaks of the Fighting Factors and he says; "These Fighting Factors emphasised the need to develop a united and determined people, correct theory and leadership, a just cause and higher morality and international solidarity…".

Given this understanding should we not ask what kind of leadership character should a leader of SASCO possess, what kind of character should a community leader, Vice-Chancellor, SRC President and even the President of the country possess? What kind of character really? Can we learn anything from Cde Walter Sisulu's character and still we must ask; who was this man anyway?

In conclusion; we hope that this relaunch is not just an event to elect a leadership and thereafter derive satisfaction that our work is done We are not here for that. We are here to relaunch an organisation for all students of the University of Stellenbosch. We are here to unite all of them to speak in one voice. Therefore we need a living and strong organisation henceforth!

In our 14th National Congress in December 2006, a conference held here in the Mother City; we gave Stellenbosch an award: "The Most Hostile Institution Against our Agenda for Transformation", we hope we will not bring yet a similar award in the future!

I know that I gave a boring speech. Who cares anyway; about an old man who no longer lives with us, some of you may ask? But I believe it is exactly the WHO part of the question that is important!

Who was Walter Sisulu and what is SASCO? If this is who our Honorary President was, then who do we want to be?

Is it enough though, to say: Walter Sisulu our President was a Visionary, Revolutionary Intellectual and an Architect of our Nation!

We wish you all the best in your work here at Stellenbosch!

As the NEC we know that Stellenbosch will never be the same again; SASCO is awake, the giant is alive. The years of indecisiveness are over; our cause is access and success, indeed our cause is transformation; let the story of this generation be told; that today we reiterate the incisive statement: "Wathinta'bafundi uzoyibona i-SASCO!"