The EFF has scored critical Student Representative Councils (SRC) victories across universities in the country over the last two weeks. These include UCT (from DASO), CPUT and UKZN Durban Westville campus, Mangosuthu university of technology and University of Zululand from SASCO among others. This is a big blow to SASCO which has dominated universities since the early 90s when it was formed.
This victory is critical for EFF for one major reason. EFF is now seen, at least in rhetoric, to be exactly what SASCO was or should have been in both its Ideological posture and the programmes in its earlier years. EFF is therefore now in a position to test its high minded ideas on the hard reality of higher education system and see how they measure up. Students will therefore be able to see whether the university system is generally hostile and even punitive to revolutionary ideas and attitudes, whether students get sucked into senates and councils where they are powerless to do much, or generally, student leaders lose their way once elected.
This is also crucial because EFF as an organization has avoided governing responsibilities and this has helped them to stay Ideologically pure and untested, so that they can keep screaming idealism and populist rhetoric without the burden to implement or govern or take responsibility in any way. In less than 12 months, they will be evaluated when another round of SRC elections come around. It is no exaggeration that once they fail in this university space of dreamers and high expectations, they will struggle to convince the parents outside university over similar ideals. The next 12 months will therefore be very crucial for EFF.
It is important, at a time like this, to look back at the founding of SASCO, the principles that forged its alliances, and the vision that drove student activist of the time. More often than not, when an organization loses its appeal from the people, it has either deviated from its founding mission, and or its founding mission has been accomplished and the students community sees no reason for its continued existence. Given the current students challenges, the latter is unlikely.
In September 1991, SASCO was formed. Amongst those who played a significant role in the formation of the organization was ‘Robinson Ramaite who became the first President of SASCO, Kgomotso Masebelanga who became the first Secretary of the organization, David Makhura, Mfundo Nkuhlu and many others’. Many of these leaders have gone on to accomplish great things in their post university life and this speaks to SASCO’s ability to develop future leaders.
Naledi Pandor remembers the vision of SASCO at its formation this way; ‘The primary mission for SASCO was “to locate the struggle against apartheid on South African campuses, in student residences, in lecture halls, and in teaching programmes.” This made the main vision for SASCO ‘to be the creation of a democratic system of education in South Africa’.
This would necessarily mean ‘SASCO had to fight for access to education, for free education, change of curriculum, transformation of Higher Education and democratization of Higher education…’.
Did SASCO achieve its goals and if not, what has it learnt. Firstly, SASCO has learnt that the countries higher education and university system is strongly tied to the neoliberal global formula and market fundamentalism that there is very little room to pull the system from the jaws of the capitalist class without collapsing the whole higher education system. By its design, its funding model, its international rating agencies, A-rated scientists, and world-renowned researchers, the system is interlinked so that if u revolutionaries it in any way all the other elements will disintegrate and leave you naked, alone and empty. When this happens, even those who supported you initially begin to wonder whether as an organization you did not simplify a very complicated problem and destroyed a good thing. I saw this happening at UCT when students with Bursary obligations, rich family excpectations and Financial Aid started seeing SASCO’s disruptions of the academic year for the interests of the vulnerable and poor students a great inconvenience, making SASCO their enemy. In the countries oldest university, no body wanted to listen.
The current education system is unashamedly neoliberal, creating winners and losers without any care how the playing field is tilted and rigged to pre-determine who rises and falls, and marches on with winners dropping the losers into the belly of the cruel world. Students from poor families go for days without food, fail, and lose their shelters, fail more and lose their futures and the system barely even notices.
Young people arrive at university and make all sorts of mistakes, on their own away from the firm hand of parents, fail and without any real support structure, fall by the way side. The university marches on with winners without ever noticing.
It has always been the duty of SASCO to watch over those students, to ensure the dreams of their parents do not disappear for lack of university support. SASCO has done all it can to ensure that the poor students, the struggling students, the unfinanced students, do not have to fold their dreams because they are poor. Despite SASCO efforts over the years, including securing private funding and setting extra support structures for students, the problem has only persisted.
What has been the problems? EFF is about to find out.
The problem is that the system cannot be overthrown so that all students organization with a socialist posture must try to improve the system where they can, creating what now is called ‘inclusive capitalism’ in the university space. It means a student organization must accept the legitimacy of the current university system, which is governed largely by white professors for the benefit of white students, thereby affirming the values of a divided university space inherited, and and try to govern student affairs within this system.
After a while, the EFF will realize that the university system, and whatever the promises of EFF, the system is too powerful and too hostile to. With broken and a system that continues to serve one group more than the other, EFF will lose legitimacy and students will realize that after many years of trying its best within the system, SASCO is better positioned to lead student affairs than any newcomer with untested radical statements.
The next 12 months will define the beginning or the end of EFF student command and by extension, the EFF.
Yonela Diko is the ANC Western Cape Spokesperson