South African Students Congress

A limping SASCO or An opportunity for Renewal: An unmandated response to Cde China Dodovu

Dear Cde China

Having read your article which was published on ANC Today Volume 15: Issue 12, one felt compelled to accept the open invitation to engage on a range of issues you raised in the article. I am not sure whether you will receive let alone read this contribution but one guesses that your intention was to spark a conversation from all those who care.

I could not be part of the watershed SASCO founding Conference of 1991, which you confess to be nostalgic about. I was only seven years old and has just started primary school which was happened to be stone throw away from Grahamstown where you were gathered. But even today one remains greatly inspired by your generation its vision and foresight gave birth to this glorious student movement SASCO.

In the same vein one must also appreciate the various SASCO generations post the founding Conference who have built SASCO into this gigantic fighting force it is today in the hands of students. The extensive transformation of higher education and the wide opening of the doors of learning cannot be ascribed to an accident of history but to the deliberate strides of the organisation that your generation and subsequent generations built.

In principle SASCO has always fought for representation of students in all decision making bodies which decide on matters of higher education and impact on student life with the sole purpose of pursuing student’s struggles within and outside those bodies. Therefore in principle students must be represented in Senates, Institutional Forums, Councils, NSFAS boards etc. and participate fully in these bodies as representatives of the primary stakeholders of education i.e. the students. In this regard one disagrees with your assertion that “While its leaders are basking in its past glory, absorbed and co-opted within the state machinery and the ministerial appointments to boards, councils and Seta’s, its members suffer from political poverty and lack the most elementary revolutionary discipline and commitment to serve the students and to protect their own interests".

At times out of nostalgia it happens with time for the predecessor to less impressed with current, notwithstanding it is difficult to understand how you arrive at the conclusion about political poverty, lack of revolutionary discipline and commitment to serve, are you using VUT as a case study or have you made a thorough assessment of the state of SASCO branches across institutions. I raise this because by the 5th of January 2015 majority of SASCO branches were already setting up their stalls assisting students to access institutions of higher learning while many of their peers were still enjoying their holidays. Is this not a sign of commitment, I would really be interested in the set of facts used to arrive at the conclusion that “its members lack the most elementary revolutionary discipline”. If members of any revolutionary organisation can be said to lack the most basic or elementary revolutionary discipline, really can we still call that an organisation, not to mention revolutionary organisation? Had you said maybe an erosion of revolutionary discipline, I would have understood but to speak about the absence of the most basic revolutionary discipline, this is either just alarmist exaggeration or if true then we should cry our beloved SASCO.

It appears that in the main you use the VUT SRC Elections loss as proof that SASCO has veered off into something you can hardly recognise from that of 1991, you assert that “By resoundingly trouncing SASCO at VUT, the students were unequivocally expressing a statement that something is wrong perhaps including in the political landscape of our country. The election results has fell like a ton of bricks to SASCO and for a moment, pulverizing it into tatters and dizzying it to evaporate into oblivion.’’ (Are you for real?) Drama aside loosing elections in VUT by SASCO to any organisation for that matter is a serious setback, not only for SASCO but for the whole congress movement, but the reasons put forward in your article are rather oversimplified and the impact thereof deliberately exaggerated.

Each and every year SASCO contests SRC elections in various institutions across the country, it has repetitively won overwhelmingly most of these elections and as such it remains the organisation of choice for students in many of these institutions. SASCO in its 24 year history has also lost few SRC elections some in a very spectacular fashion like the VUT loss, what is always interesting is how organisation reignite and bounce back having taken stock and corrected reasons behind these losses. All most all the losses have been out of a combination of the dynamics of each institution such as periodic weaknesses of the organisation (as leadership changes hands every year), conduct or behaviour of SASCO SRC deployees or popularity of candidates. Come to think of it there are moments in life of SASCO where SRC elections have been lost because students were unhappy with how the SRC end of the year bash or Miss What-what was handled or they did not get their share of meat and drinks as promised, we know these stories very well.

Without downplaying the VUT loss but we must ask, what makes the VUT loss an era heralding loss as you suggest when you say Secondly, the humiliating defeat of the ANC-aligned student formation, South African Student Congress (SASCO) at the hands of the newly formed Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFFSC) at the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) has not only heralded a new epoch and dynamic in the student body politic for the contestation of power but equally has profound and far-reaching implications for transformation of in post-school institutions”. What makes this loss different to the others, what are these characteristics that make this loss to so profound and far reaching for transformation? One ask these questions in order to ensure that we use your analysis to extract the necessary lessons from this loss. Unfortunately in answering these questions your article makes generalised assertions that do not appear to be backed by any factual and systematic examination of the factors involved in the VUT scenario.

In the past years one has not been part of SASCO as an organisation but follows from outside, but with confidence one can state that it is grossly mischievous to characterise the whole organisation (SASCO) as that ’Lately, the only time you see SASCO's presence is when it makes pronouncements about the ANC leadership preferences at national, provincial and regional level. In the process it is alleged that they even use underhand tactics and creating a bad culture of leaks and which-hunt, as well as engaging in public platforms to condemn the unwanted leaders and to glorify the wanted ones”. Whether how tempting or fashionable it was to pronounce preference of this or that slate within the ANC but organisation over years she has principled resisted, appreciating implications of such action and rather encouraged members to actively participate in those organisations as they should, not that it stopped some elements form being political silly but organisation itself has never been found wanting.

I am not sure where you see SASCO or where these pronouncements are made but surely in any fair analysis it cannot be the only time, just a month ago or two ago many poor students sought assistance in various stalls of SASCO in institutions across the country and now they are students preparing for their mid-year exams. Even this year as one referred many students on campuses across the country, one was met with the visibility of activists clad in SASCO t-shirts assisting students.

I am certain, you would agree with me that any organisation that takes itself seriously must always be in a state of becoming, meaning it must be in constant mode of renewal and adaptation, otherwise it would soon be redundant and subsequently irrelevant, SASCO is no exception. For me amongst the strategic questions that SASCO must confront is that the interventions of the ANC led government have resulted in the broadening and growth of the South African middle class, which has to an extent restructured student orientation. SASCO has overtime fashioned itself as champion of the poor, it has led many marches, strikes and successful campaigns demanding access for the poor. How does SASCO combine the struggle for access and with success, that is how do we make sure that those who enter the doors learning exit with qualifications. How far is the transformation of curriculum, institutional culture and institutional demographics including the growth of black academics?

How has SASCO been responsive to aspirations of students from a middle class background who do not necessarily need NSFAS and whose Model C education background makes access to Universities easy. Former ANC Chairperson in the Eastern Cape now Chief Whip of the ANC in Parliament Cde Stone Sizani in one SASCO Provincial Congress asked “what is it that SASCO can do for his child that his child cannot do for himself in university and SASCO cannot answer that question he will tell his child not to join SASCO”. The point is SASCO has to renew itself to become an organisation of today because if in its orientation it remains the SASCO of 1991 it will not stand the test of time. You may not realize but this then validates some of the point you make that the SASCO leadership role of the #RhodesMustFall, SASCO should use this and the VUT loss as a lesson as such SASCO should definitely not be limping but seizing an opportunity to renew itself.

Cde China I am sure you also agree that the famous founding congress of 1991 affirmed that students are members of society before they are students, meaning they must continue to identify and connect with community struggles in playing an active role in life of society beyond the gates of their university campuses. I am sure therefore you are not criminalizing that current and former SASCO leaders must take an active interest in the body politics of ANCYL and or YCL while students and if we ad idem on that question therefore in their own rights as members of those organisation they have every right to elect and be elected in those organisations not because of Entryism entryism but out of their activism in those organisations. Further their participation in these organisations they are not representing SASCO or a those organisations become faction SASCO but participate as full members of these organisations.

Turning to the rather unfortunate sentiment you make that: “With the re-establishment of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) structures after its disbandment, the current and previous SASCO leaders lined themselves for nominations like predators at the smell of blood, leading to the collapse of the National Congress because in the process, structures were not properly and duly established”. This assertion is problematic in many ways, firstly the challenges you have encountered in the many ANC leadership positions that you have occupied in your decorated credentials did not arise because you were a former leader of SASCO and as such one fails to understand as to how you attribute the perceived and real challenges of ANCYL to the participation of the former and current leaders of SASCO.

With doors of learning opening to children from poor and working families as product of the very same SASCO struggles, it then means many from this segment of society suddenly had opportunity to go to University or TVET’s to obtain qualifications. Many of these are members of ANCYL or YCL even before they are University students and when this happen it eludes one on how they become queuing predators.

The ANCYL as a leader of all the progressive youth in our society should represent the broadest cross section of youth starting from a 14 year old high school learner, the 21 year old University or TVET student and the 30 year old worker or professional. All these young people ideally should also be organised in their own sectorial organisations, leaners in COSAS, students in SASCO, young workers in COSATU Unions etc. It is therefore my assertion that actually the ANCYL should actively recruit from all these sectorial youth organisations, coming from an ANC leader your statement about the participation of former SASCO members in ANCYL is quite baffling.

But as for SASCO as an organisation it must remain an independent student organisation that primarily represents fearlessly student interests and it should deliberately seek to cushion itself from being drowned or tangled in affairs or factional groupings of any other organisation including the ANCYL. A real threat in this regard exists in that competing groupings within the ANCYL in order to bolster their standing may also declare their own wanting this or other preference within SASCO leadership elections and SASCO must be vigilant and strive to maintain its independence as an organisation.

In closing indeed the engagement is welcome you have raised many substantive issues which one hopes that the elected leadership of SASCO will note and where necessary act upon. Yes all organisations must constantly renew themselves but in this instance it will do good to heed to words of Chairman Mao on selected works that ‘’We should rid our ranks of all impotent thinking. All views that overestimate the strength of the enemy and underestimate the strength of the people are wrong’. It is my observation that in your article Cde China you make a number of serious generalisations and exaggerations and by such using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, although one trust that it is in good spirit and intentional in trying to magnify the problem and therefore provoke debate.

Thank you

Rune Mawethu obviously writing in his personal capacity