Programme Director; President of SASCO, Comrade Bamanye Matiwane;
Members of the National Executive Committee of SASCO; The leadership of the SACP, COSATU, ANCYL, YCL and COSAS; Comrades and Friends;
I convey warm greetings to you all on behalf of the National Executive Committee of your own movement, the African National Congress.
It gives me great pleasure to have been invited to be part of this virtual rally marking 29 years since the formation of the South African Students Congress.
Although we would have wished to celebrate this significant milestone with a massive rally at a stadium somewhere, we have to contend with and adapt to the new normal of social distancing imposed on us by COVID-19.
To this end, I commend the leadership of SASCO for embracing the new ways of organizing political activity and not allowing COVID-19 to render the organization completely moribund. Notwithstanding the absence of thousands upon thousands of warm bodies that we are accustomed to, this virtual rally does provide us with the opportunity to reflect on the important place and role of SASCO both in our society and in the Mass Democratic Movement.
SASCO is part of the progressive forces in our society pursuing the objectives of the National Democratic Revolution. Consistent with its historic mission of being the intellectual hub for the Mass Democratic Movement, SASCO asserts in its Strategic Perspective On Transformation (SPOT) Document that “we are members of the community before we are students”. I understand this to mean that SASCO seeks to produce thinking members who are concerned about the challenges facing society in general and are organic to the cause of the people.
The assertion in the SPOT document thus brings SASCO a step closer to being an organisation of organic intellectuals. And yet the overriding question that must be answered honestly is whether or not the rank and file membership of SASCO fully understands and appreciates the depth of the revolutionary content of such a simple sounding phrase.
I suspect that it is on the basis of this very phrase that you – as an organization – have ‘community work’ as one of the pillars of your day to day struggles. You were quite correct in this thinking and conceptualisation because the history of the student movement in this country, particularly in the sixties and seventies, is littered with best examples of how a student organisation can truly be committed both in theory and practice to community work.
Amongst these examples, SASO – the organization to which I belonged and which laid the foundation for the formation of SASCO – was very instrumental in the establishment of community health centres, advice offices, literacy classes, and other such areas of community development where students could volunteer their skills in service of humanity.
The progressive student movement in this country has always seen and appreciated its role and duty beyond campus boundaries.
It is for this reason that when the call was made during the ‘Decade of Freedom’ to render South Africa ungovernable and apartheid unworkable, the student movement formed part of the broader progressive youth movement organised under the auspices of the South African Youth Congress (SAYCO) whose 33rd anniversary we marked earlier this year. This united youth movement is what made the re-launch the ANCYL relatively seamless following the unbanning of the liberation movement in 1990.
The question SASCO must once again answer is whether or not there is any practical and coordinated work undertaken by the organisation in communities, amongst and with the people, consistent with the assertion of the SPOT document: “We are members of the community before we are students.”
I am asking these practical questions not with the intention of imposing an additional burden on SASCO but because I believe that they are important in order for the student movement to know and fully appreciate its role in the advancement of the National Democratic Revolution.
The ANC has determined that we are now in the second phase of our long drawn transition from colonialism of a special type to the National Democratic Society.
The tasks of the revolution during this decisive phase include educating and training a critical mass of ANC members ideologically, politically, academically and morally. It is impossible to imagine that this can happen successfully without the active involvement of SASCO because of the organization’s primary location in centres of knowledge production and consumption.
The CC approach employed by SASCO in its relationship with the ANC in that it will complement the ANC where it agrees and contradict where it disagrees is encouraged. It is indicative of the political maturity in the student movement and the deep understanding of constructive criticism as one of the basic tenets of our organisational philosophy.
It is however important to mention that contradicting the ANC on policy matters should not be the same as the headline and sound bite driven populism of shouting down from rooftops everything the ANC says or does. Your responsibility as young intellectuals who must shape the future of this country is to thoroughly engage the ANC on whatever matter through the available platforms and channels.
You must always remember that true to its nature as the real congress of the people, the ANC is as much yours as it is ours who happen to lead it at this moment. For the ANC to succeed in executing the tasks of the National Democratic Revolution, it needs an educated society with the necessary skills to build a sustainable and inclusive economy. Our universities and TVET colleges have an immeasurable role to play in this regard. We need young people who are conscious of the tasks at hand and who will participate both in the conceptualisation and implementation of our programme of fundamental socio-economic transformation.
SASCO also has an immense role to play in the creation of a conscious and mobilized citizenry upon which the success of the National Democratic Revolution is dependent.
You have a responsibility to conscientise students and ensure that our universities are never turned into incubators of only a particular kind of thinkers who not only harbour anti-ANC sentiments but also actively work to produce more and more who are opposed to the objectives of our revolution. You must pursue this mission relentlessly with the full understanding that our revolution is doomed to fail if we do not constantly win society over in the battlefield of ideas.
Beyond this, students have a responsibility to make use of all available opportunities and pass all their modules in pursuance of yet another objective of SASCO, which is, academic excellence. We must never have career student leaders or university veterans who become gatekeepers preventing others from accessing higher education.
Despite the well-known difficulties associated with political activism, SASCO members must lead by example and excel in the classroom. It is your revolutionary to get your qualifications and place your skills at the disposal your movement to better serve the people. The ANC relies on a strong and fighting SASCO to ensure that its progressive policies in higher education are implemented to the latter.
We need a strong SASCO to ensure that bursaries which are meant for the poor actually go to the poor. We need a strong SASCO to ensure that residences which are meant for students whose homes are far away from campuses truly serve their purpose.
We need a strong SASCO to ensure that conditions at institutions of higher learning are conducive for academic excellence and success. In this regard, SASCO’s success in doing all these things is inextricably linked to the ANC’s success in building an educated society based on the vision of the Freedom Charter.
SASCO must remain a united fighting force truly in the hands of students.
I wish all students well in their studies for the remainder of this academic year, especially given the challenges brought about by COVID-19.
I also wish SASCO well in the SRC elections in all institutions where they will still be held this year. May SASCO continue to grow in strength and unity over the next 29 years.
I thank you.