South African Students Congress

Notes by SASCO Secretary General Lazola Ndamase for the Winnie Mandela Lecture

20 August 2010

Who is Winnie?

As the South African Students Congress (SASCO) we are grateful for having been given this opportunity to address a special breed in the university populace, a breed of what we term organic intellectuals in the making!

The task you have set us today I must confess is a difficult one and we shall do all in our best to rise to the occasion. The lady whose ideas you have asked us to talk about was of a special breed. To us she is a revolutionary intellectual not a revolutionary and intellectual (we shall come back to this point later), she is an activist, a rebel, a community worker, but all in all she is our hero.

When we were asked to make a presentation In a Lecture about comrade Winnie Mandela, we nearly argued that we are busy attempting to avoid this difficult task.

Who is this lady, and who must claim her?

But, "During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them... After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons... while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it."2

Winnie a democrat?

In 2007 Winnie Mandela was elected as an additional member in the National Executive Committee of the ANC. She was not elected to the top-six. She is now led by leaders she is far too senior to. But thus far, we have not heard stories that she demands special treatment in the NEC. She is not a member of cabinet although she is a member of parliament. Even here, she has not demanded to be in the executive otherwise she will resign from parliament.

We make note of this factor to underline what we will focus on which is the gist of your theme here "deepen democracy in education through student activism. Allow us to go deeper into the issue of democracy and its relevance especially in the post-1994 politico-social dispensation.

Democracy is such a complex term, such that it has also acquired the same complexity in its application. We are not about nor are we prepared to venture into a debate of what democracy is, for whom, when and how. All we can say is that, to us, democracy is represented by two strands, and that is representative democracy and participatory democracy. The former must never been allowed without the latter, however, at some point the former may prove useless under true democracy (Communism).

Allow us not to digress. Representative democracy is signified by the continuous election of representatives into various bodies in our case by the student populace into structures such as SRC, Faculty Councils, and Sport Unions etc. In order for democracy to flourish, these elected representatives must report back timeously and refresh mandates from their constituency.

However, if there is a gap in knowledge between the leaders and the led, the participation of the led is only at the level of clapping hands and singing songs, and that is not democracy. We may not claim as student leaders to be leading truly democratic student organizations so long as the represented is left with no choice but to uncritically swallow what is brought by the leaders as a result of lack of information and knowledge.

"Meaningful participation should always be at the centre of democracy and political governance. Democracy goes beyond casting votes once every year. Democracy means that people should be able to impact, in an ongoing manner, on decision-making processes, mainly on issues that affect them. If the people of a country are able to meaningfully input into the way decisions are made at different levels of governance; that begins to give the word democracy meaningful content."3 (My emphasis)

From what we have observed as SASCO, SRC's and student leaders in general are much happier as archives of information rather than disseminating it to their constituency so as to ensure intellectual equality between the leaders and the led. This is particularly so because, student leaders are overjoyed by the attention they receive from ordinary students as a result of the information they have!

What student governance needs are students who aren't our uncritical cheerleaders, but rather revolutionaries whose duty is to participate actively in structures of governance both intellectually and physically!

Steve Biko the revolutionary and intellectual

Winnie Mandela developed from a young lady into a revolutionary and an organic intellectual. "Organic intellectuals are distinguished less by their profession, which may be any job characteristic of their class, than by their function in directing the ideas and aspirations of the class to which they organically belong."4 G.N. Smith and Hoare tell us in an introduction to Antonio Gramci's work on intellectuals.

So lazy are student leaders these days that they can't even construct a paragraph of what shall form the basis of their argument on any agenda especially with managers. Even worse, you will find that student leaders are happy to attend meetings without even knowing an agenda of the meeting they are attending! To us as SASCO, this is a major lacuna.

Winnie Mandela the activist

Dedication, hard work and selflessness are what qualify as a tailored description of an activist. Revolutionary intellectuals are not merely immersed in intellectual work such as writing; however, they understand very well the necessity of working hard, with and among those that are termed the masses. Winnie Mandela is one of these.

If she was not up and down the dirty streets of Soweto working hard among the masses and participating in community projects, she was ensuring that she assists underground operatives of the movement in doing underground work. She did all of this right under the nose of the apartheid regime. This she did not do to gain popularity or to gain celebrity status.

The student movement these days faces the challenge of transforming mini-Gods which have organically developed from the post-1994 democratic dispensation into activists. These twenty first century student leaders are so big that they cannot reduce themselves (as they call it) to door to door campaigns.

They feel so big that they cannot take taxis. They need to be driven around in cars as if luxury were part of leading. They may not stay in residences with students in a multi-sleeper because this may reduce their public status.

This has permeated the student movement to such an extent that it has become tradition. We need to guard jealously against things that are bound to produce and reproduce opportunism, especially those that are of material gain to a group or a person.

Winnie Mandela the rebel

Throughout her youth and adult life, comrade Mandela has always had a zest for rebellion. She would not submit to the system even when that action threatened her own life. Nowadays, the student movement and student movement is still faced with a situation wherein student leaders are deregistered, suspended and expelled from their Universities. The saddest part is that, these days, student leaders decide to submit rather than fight to the end. Mangosuthu is one example where student leaders have the tenacity to say they won't challenge Institutional managers for fear of victimization.

Worse still, if student leaders are not silenced through force, less coercive means are employed to buy their minds. At the University of Johannesburg you have an SRC that is literally on the payroll of the University, Medical aid and all. We need to take lessons from Winnie Mandela. Here is a lady who could have simply submitted to the apartheid regime and its laws and she would have studied, got a job and became a respectable middle class Kaffir, but she refused.

The capitulation of some comrades at the DUT, TUT and ManTech when threatened with repression and victimization is a low point in the history of student movements. The situation at the TUT is of particular importance because it is still underway. Here, you have an SRC that sits down and even contemplates siding with managers on the issue of worker rights and salaries; such opportunism begs more questions than answers. Of course, this is not to allege that all the SRC members in this institutional are intellectually homogenous, however, the quietude of the SRC on the ongoing worker strike is conspicuous! Post-1994 South Africa requires rebellious student leaders of the Mandela mantra.

Neither must the above be read as that we are saying, student leaders must uncritically tow the party line, all we are saying is that criticism must be constructive, and for that to occur, criticism of a particular structure must be taken to that structure and not opportunistically raised in structures or organizations which have nothing to do with that criticism.

The World Cup

South Africa has done tremendously well in hosting the FIFA Soccer World Cup defying doomsayers and Afro-pessimists. Rather than be proud, it is the pessimists who should be ashamed of themselves for even thinking that an entire nation would not be able to host a World Cup simply because it is located in the African Continent.

Apart from the pride and joy we ought to ordinarily feel for hosting this World Cup we also ought to be particularly ashamed that we spent billions of public funds on stadiums that will immediately turn into white elephants after the World Cup and whose maintenance will be costly for years to come. It is not just wrong but naked carelessness to starve the country simply for the prestige of hosting a World event.

Instead of wasting money on stadiums and other related luxurious infrastructure, we could have used the same money, energy, zeal and enthusiasm to provide water, electricity, houses and free education for millions of poor South Africans. Never before have we seen the state as efficient as when meeting FIFA deadlines, while on the other hand, carelessness, scapegoat-hunting and sheer laziness are the order of the day in providing basic services. We hope this efficiency would reflect itself in the manner in which basic services are provided.

Now that the World Cup is over, it is clear that the mobilization of the South African population to support the World Cup bid on the basis that it will benefit the poor was based on a naked lie. The poor have not benefited financially nor have they enjoyed the honeymoon of the past month except on TV and Fan-Parks. Match tickets were far too expensive while street vendors could not even muster enough funds to sell products at the Fan-Parks.

Once more, the capitalist class has accumulated, and the working class has been left empty-handed but has been frog-marched to celebrate accumulation of the capitalist class.

Media Freedom

"The press not only has the right but the duty to keep a close watch on the conduct of the people's representatives... Is it really the intention to deprive the press of the right to judge the parliamentary activity of a representative of the people? What then is the purpose of the press?" (Karl Marx)

Conclusion

If you remember very well, we said, the negatives of Steve Biko are not so much for our presentation, and we do not want to make as if they are not there hence we found ourselves having to delve a little unto them.

Thankyou very much

Footnotes

  1. Vladimir Lenin. The State and Revolution (August - September 1917), Collected works Volume 25, Progress Publishers Moscow, 1970.
  2. Blade Nzimande SACP Umsebenzi (a presentation on the IEC symposium on Democracy), August 2007).
  3. Antonio Gramci. The Intellectuals (Selection from prison writings published 1949), International Publishers New York, 1971.
  4. Karl Marx. The Eighteenth Bruimaire on Louis Napoleon, Progress publishers Moscow 1852.