Theme: “Building a modern student movement to deepen the national democratic revolution and for the attainment of working class power”.
William Butler the poet, immediately after the first world war authored a poem titled “The second coming” which depicts a picture of a world at war with itself, a world with no certainty and where the centre cannot hold. He deliberately speaks about the second coming so as to reflect on the return of Jesus Christ. Today as the giant student movement we are yet again confronted by yet another moment of despair, as the world, a world with no certainty of future prospects, a world confronted by a the novel virus and a world suffocated by capitalism.
– Commander in Chief President Cyril Ramaphosa.
– COSATU Deputy President ~ Cde Micheal Shingange
– SACP General Secretary ~ Dr Blade Nzimande
– NEHAWU General Secretary ~ Cde Zola Saphetha
– SADTU General Secretary ~ Cde Mugwena Maluleka
– YCLSA National Secretary ~ Cde Tinyiko Ntini
– ANC NYTT ~ Cde Sibongile Besani
– COSAS National Leadership
– SASCO Structures, Friends, Supporters and Members.
Receive fraternal greetings from the 21st National Executive Committee of SASCO, on this special day where we gather to celebrate the strides made by this revolutionary student movement’s.
It is very unfortunate that I speak to you in this 29th SASCO anniversary celebrations from a virtual platform and I do so at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic which has robbed us of many of our people. May their souls rest in peace.
You can mention comrade Lufele, Prof Pepeta, the old and the downtrodden people who died due to lack of access to basic health care. Post covid-19, the NHI must be adopted and implemented as a matter of urgency.
10 seconds of moment of silence in honour and respect of all frontline workers who died on their boots on while serving our country. We must take this moment again to bid farewell to the convener of Free State which the NEC has taken a firm decision to co-opt him to be part of the 21st NEC.
The turning point:
The 16 June 1976 Uprising that began in Soweto and spread countrywide profoundly changed the socio-political landscape in South Africa. Events that triggered the uprising can be traced back to policies of the Apartheid government that resulted in the introduction of the Bantu Education Act in 1953. The rise of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and the formation of South African Student Organisation (SASO) raised the political consciousness of many students while others joined the wave of anti-Apartheid sentiment within the student community.
When the language of Afrikaans alongside English was made compulsory as a medium of instruction in schools in 1974, black students began mobilizing themselves. On 16 June 1976 between 3000 and 10 000 students mobilized by the South African Students Movement’s (SASM) Action Committee supported by the BCM marched peacefully to demonstrate and protest against the government’s directive. The march was meant to culminate at a rally in Orlando Stadium.
On their pathway they were met by heavily armed police who fired teargas and later live ammunition on demonstrating students. This resulted in a widespread revolt that turned into an uprising against the government. While the uprising began in Soweto, it spread across the country and carried on until the following year. The aftermath of the events of 16 June1976 had dire consequences for the Apartheid government and set the tone of what was to transpire into the 80s to lead into the ‘94 political breakthrough.
The agitation of the young lions organised under the banner of students culminated into the imminent formation of the Congress of South African Students (COSAS).
Their revolutionary perspective also informed them that they were members of the community before they were students. Hence, members of COSAS were found in community structures like civic organisations. For that matter, they were at the forefront of establishing these mass-based formations.
And their members were also found in the underground structures of the ANC and in the most forward trenches within the formations and detachments of our People’s Army, uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK).
In essence, COSAS became the container of young revolutionaries who were politically versatile to be students during the day, community activists after school and combatants during the night. It is therefore not surprising that members of COSAS organized two historic commemorative campaigns – the 1979 hanging of Cde Solomon Mahlangu and the centenary of the people’s victory over the colonial British troops at Isandlwana.
During the 1980s and at the height of resistance against the inhumane apartheid system that was declared a crime against humanity by the United Nations, students especially at high school level were at the forefront of the struggle against Bantu education, particularly and the apartheid regime generally. Due to its militancy and the correctness of its politics, student formations bore the wrath of the apartheid regime’s repression. Hence, the detention of almost the entire leadership and charging with furthering the aims of the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP) of our first president, Cde Ephraim Mogale, who ultimately served time in Robben Island.
Hence in 1984 that students made five key demands that were championed at schools and supported by our communities. The demands were:
1. The establishment and recognition of Student Representative Councils (SRCs) to replace the discredited prefect system:
2. The removal of the age limit rule
3. An end to corporal punishment
4. That teachers stop sexually harassing female students (how sad that this menace is still with us today and we need to fight it relentlessly)
5. That the racist and repressive police and army be withdrawn from schools and townships.
It was against this background that students began to mobilize in different townships across the country. We were addressing bread and butter issues whilst involved in the broader struggle for emancipation of blacks in general and Africans in particularly with emphasis placed on African leadership. They understood that we could not achieve our objectives outside of the broader liberation of our people. They also recognized the importance of education, albeit in an oppressive and demeaning environment of the time.
Even though there were school boycotts, student leadership assisted one another to catch up on schoolwork – giving a true meaning to COSAS slogan: Each One, Teach One. This also translated to political education to sharpen our revolutionary consciousness. Mrabulo, Maqabane! Hence, it was difficult for the enemy to infiltrate and divide the forces since they understood the objectives of the National Democratic Revolution and their role in achieving them.
Without fear of any contradictions, student activists generally played a central role in organising resistance to the apartheid regime. They were instrumental in the formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Congress of Trade Unions (COSATU) amongst, a plethora of mass-based organisations. Hence, students became a key force within UDF structures. Students organised school boycotts, mobilised for campaigns like stay-aways (the famous 1985 strike led by FOSATU, the predecessor of COSATU springs to mind), and provided support for regional and local campaigns. Whilst comrades were disgusted by students banning during the State of Emergency of 1985, it came as no surprise as students were a thorn in the flesh of the racist regime.
The year of 1985 signalled the beginning of the end of apartheid society and governance in South Africa. Following an upsurge of violent and non-violent resistance to the racially-exclusive system of apartheid – which had seen the minority White population of South Africa exclusively govern and control the social, economic and political mechanisms of everyday life for 37 years – the apartheid government, under PW Botha, declared a partial State of Emergency on 20 July 1985.
This moment of draconian law enforcement against the majority Black, Coloured and Indian population of South Africa proved a focal moment in the struggle against apartheid, as the international condemnation of the apartheid regime and other internal factors contributed to the rejuvenation of the grass-roots resistance inside and outside the country. The apartheid government’s use of extreme force as a means of governance was justified in ways that ranged from the belief of an imminent external Communist (Die Rooi Gevaar) attack; to ‘maintaining peace and order’ which was threatened by the increasingly ‘ungovernable’ nature of the Black townships and radical Black nationalists throughout the country.
The genesis in Tunisia;
A 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi was getting ready to sell fruits and vegetables in the rural town of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. Bouazizi was the breadwinner for his widowed mother and six siblings, but he didn’t have a permit to sell the goods.
When the police asked Bouazizi to hand over his wooden cart, he refused and a policewoman allegedly slapped him. Angered after being publicly humiliated, Bouazizi marched in front of a government building and set himself on fire.
His act of desperation resonated immediately with others in the town. Protests began that day in Sidi Bouzid, captured by cellphone cameras and shared on the Internet. Within days, protests started popping up across the country, calling upon President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his regime to step down. About a month later, he fled. The momentum in Tunisia set off uprisings across the Middle East that became known as the Arab Spring.
Esraa Abdel Fattah, an Egyptian democracy activist known as “Facebook Girl” for her social media-savvy, fought for a new Egypt. She was also an organizer for the major protest in Tahrir Square on 25 January in 2011. An Egyptian anti-government protester holds a defaced poster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, with the words “Mubarak, get out” written above, during a demonstration in Cairo in January.
When President Honsi Mubarak stepped down, it was thought that Egypt had completed its revolution. But now, as Egypt starts its first round of “free and fair elections,” Fattah tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz that she isn’t so sure the work is over. “Always I am optimistic for the future of Egypt, but now I have some worry,” she says. “I think maybe the result of the revolution will take longer than I expected.” And, we argue as the 21st NEC that the revolution that we are leading is not an event and some will feel that our efforts are taking forever and will not result to anything positive. To them, we say, the right time to start any revolution is always now. What is necessary is to identify motive forces and soldier on in pursuit of the total liberation of our people.
Fattah says Egypt is already having major setbacks during this period of transition. And despite Mubarak stepping down, she says, the country is still in the “Mubarak regime” and life is not better than it was a year ago. Fattah is among those who say the real transition in Egypt will happen when a civilian leader is elected. The elections of 2011 put the Muslim brotherhood and that perhaps is not exactly what secular activists had in mind.
And, we agree with Shahid Amid that the pitfalls of the Middle East will not be seen through the rise of the Islamic brotherhood over the displacement of the Christian community. No domination of one group must be encouraged but the co-existence of all contending forces must be promoted.
In the year since the beginning of the Arab Spring, leaders have been ousted in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen. At the start, it would have been hard to imagine how much the movement would spread throughout the region, Hamid says, but it certainly can’t be said that it came out of nowhere. The revolution had been building up for decades in Egypt. Youth and education, the large share of young people in the population and high levels of youth unemployment are identified as particularly important in the Arab Spring context. While earlier generations of youth benefited from the then economic set up, those born after 1980 were no longer guaranteed these same institutions and high living standards.
The unemployment rate among those between the ages of 15 and 24 was 25.6% in 2003, the highest in the world. The number of unemployed youth in the Middle East increased by 25% between 1998 and 2008 (this compares to 14.7% in sub-Saharan Africa).
The rise in youth unemployment in Arab Spring countries came about despite improvements in education. Education levels increased significantly in the Middle East in the past three decades and were, on average, higher than those in countries with similar development levels. Over the period from 1980 to 2010, the average years of schooling for those over 25 years old in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia at least doubled, and in many cases increased almost threefold. There was also significant improvement in higher education attainment. Increased education made people unwilling to take the low-skilled, low-paid jobs that might be available to them; most still craved the security of public sector employment.
A 2009 survey found that 80% of Syrian graduates reported a preference for public sector jobs, with nearly 60% saying they would only take such a job. However, the quality of education in Arab countries has also been identified as contributing to high youth unemployment: the education systems largely prepared students for employment in government bureaucracies – where opportunities were limited – and did not provide them with the knowledge and skills needed for the modern world. ‘The skills mismatch in turn increased pressure on the public sector to absorb graduates unable to find jobs in the private sector.
While the causal nexus between education and democracy is debated, studies show that education – in particular primary schooling – can be a strong predictor of democratisation. One study of Arab countries plotted scores for a commonly used indicator of democracy against average years of schooling: it found the democracy index scores to be considerably lower than those corresponding to their education levels.
Thanks to their higher levels of education, as well as globalisation and ready availability of information, this generation of the Arab spring differed from previous ones in having greater awareness of how people elsewhere lived and higher expectations for themselves. ‘The increased capacities of Arab youth…and their inability to translate these human development gains into higher incomes and political participation explains why the middle class shifted allegiance and took to the streets’. The same situation can be said about the youth economic climate in South Africa, more literate and less employment opportunities.
The global economic crisis of 2007-08 hit the Middle East and North Africa especially hard because of their high dependence on imported food. Most Arab countries buy half of what they eat from abroad. This means they ‘suck in food inflation when world prices rise’ – in 2007-08, they spiked, with some staple crops doubling in price; in Egypt local food prices rose 37% in 2008-10.6 There was a region-wide 32% increase in food prices in 2010. Prices rose despite increases in government subsidies in some countries: Tunisia’s governmental expenditures on subsidies tripled between 2000 and 2010, but even this was not enough to maintain the prices of basic foodstuff and energy products.
It is the task of revolutionaries to assess their decisions over time. This is more so when it comes to the fulfilment of the historic mission of the liberation of African people from the bondages of oppression and exploitation.
We therefore feel obligated as the student movement to assess our role and character in relation to this task, hence the political program of “building a modern student movement to deepen the national democratic revolution and for the attainment of working class power”.
We can only do that as SASCO if we have a particular understanding of our history. We cannot shy away from the fact that ours is a history of deep inequalities between the rich and the poor, white people and Black people, men and women, and of oppression and exploitation.
As we seek to build a modern student movement to respond to the historic mission, these are the realities that we need to take into consideration lest we miss the tree for the woods.
We must fight a neo-liberal capitalist order that every time attempts to commodify the basic necessities of life. The capitalist imperialist forces constantly seek to shape every aspect of our lives, including education. We must wage a relentless war against reactionary forces locally and globally.
This is what SASCO must understand, and tackle without any hesitation. As we do that, we need to offer alternatives. We need to think beyond the current malaise and offer hope to students and young people in general. This is part of what it means to build a modern student movement, deepen and defend national democracy and pursue the hegemony of the working class.
We should have nothing to fear since we do not start from scratch; SASCO has a sound history of waging struggles for the benefit of poor students and workers.
We need to learn from such history and fashion out a radically advanced imagination that is responsive to the modern eras’ needs and challenges. Every branch of SASCO must see to it that it strengthens it’s fighting capacity for the realisation of these noble historic mission.
As part of the working class struggles, a student movement and it’s politics must never be found wanting on matters of justice and equality, or lack thereof. It is our structures and their capacity to pursue our mission and defend our gains that SASCO can be referred to as a modern student movement. In this, modern day technology can used for progressive change, and therefore a key aspect of building a modern student movement.
By cultivating our capacity from the branch level to the national nothing can stop us to realise what we set ourselves to achieve.
A Continuing Battle
As we celebrate yet another milestone, let us forward the following primary demands;
1. We demand the increase of the NSFAS threshold from R350 000 to R600 000 per annum,
2. Dissolution of all Councils of Historically Disadvantaged Institution’s who have failed to transform their institutions,
3. Speedily appoint the NSFAS board,
4. Deliver laptops to all poor students from working class background,
5. Transformation of the TVET sector to be institutions of choice,
6. Build student villages to directly respond to the housing and students accommodation crisis,
7. Development of a student bank to administer student finances and directly confront monopoly capital owned and control by old white males in particular,
8. Immediate pronouncement on the commitments made by President during 2020 SONA of the timeframe for the building of the 9 TVET Colleges and University of Ekurhuleni that we want to be named after comrade Chris Hani,
9. Immediate appointment of the NYDA board that is dominated by the pro poor and working-class youth,
10. Creation of a 24 hours economy that will stimulate demand and create more employment for the working-class youth,
11. End corruption with an immediate effect!!
12. Adoption of the GBV policy by our government
13. Implementation of NHI
14. Unburn the ANCYL and place Youth Development as top priority,
15. Establishment of a Student Bank, Centred at heart of the Student Community and Economy,
From Tiananmen Square to the Kent, the White revolution of Germany, the Arab spring, the Velvet revolution into the Fees Must Fall movement the students have always been at the centre of driving the socio-politico-economical change in the world.
From here henceforth we must remind the world of the wise words of Paulo Feriere when he said, “Liberation is a childbirth, sand it is painful one. The man or woman who emerges is a new person, viable only as the oppressor or oppressed contradiction is superseded by the humanisation of all people. Or to it another way, the solution of this contradiction is born in the labour which bring into the world this new being: no longer oppressed, but human in the process of achieving freedom.”