Beyond academic criteria, SRC’s should co-exist within and be influenced by the broader liberation movement in advancing the National Democratic Revolution to its ideological conclusions (a response to Prof. Chris de Beer, Student Affairs Vice-Principal at the University of Free State, City Press 20 April 2009)
The insistence on the significance of our history has always been part of incisive revolutionary inspiration for it continues to afford the logical and dialectical content to our course for total liberation of humanity. That is why it remains an inescapable fact that the historical background of the majority of South African students (particularly African) can not and should not be isolated from its correlation with the political and the economic subjugation of our country since the aftermath of what came to be known as the discovery of the Cape in 1488 by the odious European marines under leadership of Batholomeu Dias.
Henceforth, it is tempting to partly agree with Prof de Beer when he says “Historically, student governance manifested in (…) extreme forms that had a strong political and geographical basis.” In this assertion de Beer accordingly attempts to divulge the political role of both the student and youth movements within the mass democratic movement in waging a relentless struggle against colonialism and apartheid. He further acknowledges the emergence of Students Councils as “form of protest” within what he calls “part of a strategy of resistance against apartheid.”
However, it should be admittedly noted that in the recent past there has been an unavoidable vociferous eulogizing of our hard-won democratic breakthrough by various traditional and armchair analyst-cum-intellectuals. This eulogizing seeks to perceive the anti-apartheid struggle as a myopic program which is or was an end in itself. Instead of viewing anti-apartheid struggle beyond protest and resistance, some among these intellectuals succumb to a tendency of undermining the elementary content of this struggle in building, defending and deepening our very democracy against the ensuing elements of counter-revolution. The ANC led Alliance and the mass democratic movement has always- implicitly or explicitly – identified the dialectical interconnectedness between the ‘class content of the national struggle and the national content of the class struggle’. It is from this political milieu that the students and youth of South Africa have to embark on the unyielding struggle in all sites of power and social conditioning including in the universities for the total liberation of the downtrodden workers and the poor of this country
A glimpse to our history with ‘education’
Among the key instruments of influence and social conditioning during the early stages of colonialism was the introduction of ‘institutionalised’ education system.
It was the British colonizers who forcibly took the Khoisan King, Autsumayo to England where he was taught English for the loathsome purpose of being used to interpret and translate on behalf of his colonizers in their course to subvert and dispossess Africans (Khoisans and the Sans) of their indigenous land and livestock long even before the beginning of the 18th century. It was the introduction of missionary schools in South Africa that fundamentally contributed to the ideological and imperialist consolidation of dispossession even in the latter part of the 19th century and beyond.
The aftermath of the 1948 electoral ‘victory’ by the Nationalist Party was directly resultant to the promulgation of Bantu Education which was used by the apartheid regime to neutralize and dilute the revolutionary potential of the oppressed masses, hence the historical resistance of the youth of 1976 against this unfortunate indoctrination. Not so long ago within a new terrain of struggle, specifically in 2000-2001 and thus far, during the introduction of the controversial National Plan on Higher Education, the South African Student Congress continued to lead the struggle for the transformation of the Higher Education System beyond dichotomous amalgamation of ‘Historically’ Disadvantaged with the ‘historically’ advantaged institutions of higher learning.
The struggle for social emancipation shall never be out-dated…
Contrary to what Professor Chris de Beer calls “out-dated ideologies”, the South African student movement still and should unceasingly galvanize the ideals of the Freedom Charter, of the 1948 Policy Document of the ANCYL, of the ANC’s 1969 Morogoro Conference Resolutions. Already, the South African Communist Party in its 1929 January Conference coalesced and abided to the binding decision of the 6th Communist International and coined the concept of the National Democratic Revolution as a program to wage and mobilize all democratic forces to unite against national oppression. It was none; but the wide-ranging understanding of building a non-racial, non-sexist, united national democratic society; that inspired the revolutionary commitment towards the program of the National Democratic Revolution (socialist-orientated).
In her inspirational extract, the late Secretary of the Young Communist League, Ruth First, had this to say in relation to the role of young revolutionaries towards changing society: “We are not content to be handed our life on a plate by the older generation. We have seen what heritage of mass unemployment and misery they have passed on to us. We must be determined to go out and build our own new world for we …know what will satisfy us.” Though written in the latter part of 1943, this extract still finds its revolutionary relevance even today as it did in six decades ago.
Sleeping in the same bed but not craving for one dream
Resisting and fighting racism and conservatism in the University of Free State cannot be detached from the aforesaid call to build, defend and deepen our democracy against the elements of counterrevolution who continue to disguise their defense of white supremacy and historical stereotypes abusing our own hard-earned expressions like “the freedom of choice”. It is the duty of all South Africans; African, Coloured, Indian or White to denounce any form of racism regardless of who perpetrates it. But it is amazingly worth mentioning that the silences by the Professor on the recent insular and potentially racist behavior by white students on African workers in his University leave so much to be desired. Regardless of the unfolding legal processes against this sinister behavior, Professor de Beer, especially as Student Affairs Vice-Principal at the very University, would have done more good than none by (in more ways than one) denouncing this unfortunate act in his article.
In search of a morale gambit, de Beer advocates for a “sound partnership between students and management.” He says that this is “indispensable” yet in the same vain he chooses to be dumbfounded on outlining the nature and the modalities of such indispensable partnerships.
There is nothing so demeaning like that of masquerading as a loyalist to the regulatory framework while intrinsically yearning for the contrary. The Professor is very much aware of the material contradictions that exists between the interests of students and those of management. Indeed, to a certain extent student movements and management could generally share a similar vision on the provision of tertiary education as the constitutional mandate of the South African Universities. But to put this shared similar vision on a pedestal as an all-encompassing phenomenon on how it should be accomplished is to incite conceptual confusion.
Much as we should not overlook the multidimensional challenges faced by student movements in terms of capacity, especially with regards to the issues of management but we need not to downplay the existent conditions which contribute to such challenges. Given the fact that their lifespan in the institutions of higher learning is determined by the duration of academic work which is generally due within more or less 3 to 4 years; it will not be always easy to informatively engage management on a number of pertinent issues relating to student interests. Among these challenges is hostility-entrenched attitude towards transformation by some elements within institutional management.
Besides, even though student movements might foster some tactically similar positions with management but the fundamental fact remains that the majority of the students are sons and daughters of the working class whose interests are inherently divergent from those of management.
The transformation of the Higher Education System shall always remain the function of the broader agenda which fundamentally seeks to eradicate all forms of social inequality and class exploitation. In essence with the Progressive Youth Alliance call for free and quality education what is also critical is concerted ideological engagement with the intellectual reproduction role played by our universities as one among many pillars in our course to build working class hegemony in all sites of power.
In the words of the Commander of the Cuban Revolution, Cde Fidel Castro, the young South African revolutionaries should tirelessly do “all and everything for the Revolution and nothing against It.”