By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
After President Jacob Zuma declared a moratorium on fee increases for 2016, student leaders negotiated the terms for the re-opening of universities.
Nonetheless, at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg some students did not want to return to lectures and preparations for rescheduled examinations on October 28. Intense discussions took place between student activists and Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib over the use of the police on campus following the cancellation of tuition and other fee increases. (SABC TV, Oct. 27)
The recent outbreak of student unrest came to the notice of people in South Africa as a result of the demonstrations at Wits resulting in the closing of the campus. Over the following week students went on strike at campuses across the country marching on the Union Building in Pretoria and the Parliament in Cape Town.
By October 26 an agreement had been signed at Wits between the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Tawana Kupe and Student Representative Council (SRC) outgoing President Shaeora Kalla and incoming leader Nompendulo Mkhatshwa paving the way for the re-opening of the regular operations for the University.
The agreement read in part that “The University of the Witwatersrand and the Students’ Representative Council has reached resolution on a series of proposals,’ Wits said in a statement. In light of this, the academic program and all University activities will commence on Wednesday, 28 October 2015. We have agreed to postpone the examinations and a new examination timetable will be shared with students before the end of the week. We recognize the achievement of the student movement to place on the national agenda the issue of affordable, quality higher education. We sincerely apologize to all staff, students, parents and all those affected by the recent protests. We thank you for your patience during this trying time.” (Citizen, South Africa, Oct. 27)
Issues related to outsourcing of staff were one unresolved problem as well as a commitment by the ANC government to institute free education. At the University of Cape Town a plan for in-sourcing of staff workers was presented.
At Wits, Vice Chancellor Prof. Adam Habib said he would look into in-sourcing of maintenance and janitorial staff.
Political Forces Take Varying Positions on Education Crisis
These developments are unfolding amid a wider debate on the overall economic crisis inside the country impacting the mining and postal services as well as the decline in export revenue and the value of the rand (national currency).
How to respond to negative growth, rising joblessness and discontent over the performance and access to education, public services, and power generation, has revealed political and ideological differences both within the Tripartite Alliance as well as between the forces aligned with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) against opposition parties such as the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). The student movement behind the #feesmustfall movement has been portrayed by elements within the South African media as being independent of and in opposition to the ANC and its allies.
The student demonstrations were explained to the public inside the country and internationally as being “leaderless” and as a rejection of the current political direction of the ANC government. Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr. Blade Nzimande, the Secretary General of the SACP and a National Executive Committee (NEC) member of the ANC, was targeted as being less than forthright in his approach to the student protests and the need to reform the education sector.
At the same time within the ranks of the student sector, the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), the Young Communist League (YCLSA) and the South African Students Congress (SASCO) were treated by certain sections of the media as being absent from or intrusive towards the demonstrations and demands put forward by the protesters. Concurrently, there were references to the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Charter, drafted by the ANC and the SACP along with their counterparts within the Indian and Mixed Race populations, which called in 1955 for free education and the nationalization of industry and land.
The ANC and the SACP reiterated their continuing positions on education and economic transformation. Nonetheless, Nzimande noted that the private sector would have to make substantial contributions towards a free education policy for the working class and poor.
With the appearance of principal disagreements between the ANCYL and the SACP on the role of Nzimande and other public officials, the Tripartite Alliance held a meeting on October 22 in order to iron out their differences and refocus the response to the present political situation in South Africa. A consensus was reached on the need to take a unified position on the student demonstrations and a tactical approach towards advancing the necessary policy changes that are in line with the traditional views of the revolutionary movement.
In a statement issued by SACP spokesperson Alex Mashilo on October 26, he emphasized
“The meeting agreed on the way forward. At present, that is where our focus as the SACP is, and on strategies to overcome the deep-rooted, historical, structural and systemic nature of the fundamental problem – which goes far beyond the mandate of a single government unit, the Department of Higher Education and Training and Comrade Blade Nzimande as the Minister.”
Following on this same point on the need for a unified approach, the Mashilo statement said “The SACP notes the recent ANC National General Council`s emphasis that the movement must decisively deal with the problems of factionalism. It is important for the rest of our leadership as a liberation alliance to move accordingly, regardless of how such problems are dressed up.”
In a statement issued by Malusi Gigaba, a National Executive Committee (NEC) member of the ANC and the Minister of Home Affairs emphasized “All these factors highlight the battering that black students in particular are facing and underscore the class and racial dynamics of the protest action sweeping our country. This is a legacy of apartheid-colonialism, and particularly of the system of white monopoly capitalism which has continued untrammeled during the past few years. It highlights the urgent challenges of our situation to answer the question, what exactly do we mean when we talk of racial socio-economic transformation! This urgent task of the second phase of the transformation cannot continue to be treated casually as a rhetorical academic exercise–itself an opium of the masses.”
Gigaba continued saying “This is no populist call nor is this the time for populist and opportunistic calls. Of course, there are those who see in these protests the opportunity to score political goals, but yet live comfortably with monopoly capital whose interests they happily serve.”
The Daily Vox weighed in on the question of leadership within the student movement illustrating that the demonstrations could in no way be separated from the existing youth structures within and in alliance with the ANC and the SACP. To some extent, the Daily Vox implies, the student protests may have been a reflection of the ideological struggle within the Tripartite Alliance.
In this analysis it suggests that “There have been several accusations of interference by the ANC in the Wits student protest. In a voice recording that was anonymously sent to The Daily Vox, one student says that the PYA meeting was proof that the movement had been infiltrated by the upper echelons of the ANC. Let’s not forget that the ANC, after initially ignoring the protest, has now hailed the PYA for providing leadership in a protest that was aligned with the ANC’s values. But the PYA – which is an affiliation between the ANCYL, Young Communist League (YCL), Muslim Student Association (MSA) and SASCO – is, above all, an ANC-aligned organization. Analyses that hail the protest as a de-legitimization of the ANC tend to miss this fact.” (Oct. 28)
This same article continues quoting political analyst Ebrahim Fakir when he said, “Many of the PYA leaders, leaders of this protest, are aligned in one or other way with the ANC. So this protest has been quite particular, quite specific in its demands but once it goes beyond this, once it become about other issues, it will splinter. The PYA will continue in this vein to be perceived as anti-ANC when it comes to issues like fees, admissions, transformation and the like but broaden it beyond those issues and the PYA is unlikely to budge because they are already aligned with the ANC.”
Two of the opposition parties sought to utilize the student demonstrations to build their own political bases. The EFF organized a demonstration to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) on October 27.
Julius Malema, the president of the EFF who was expelled four years ago by the ANC, wrote in the City Press on November 2 that “On Tuesday, South Africa witnessed the Economic Freedom March, a protest by 50,000 young economic freedom fighters, whether members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) or not. The people are growing conscious of the consistent message we have preached: that political power without economic power is meaningless and South Africa should move from the Nelson Mandela era of reconciliation towards economic justice. This calls for an end to the economic apartheid politically administered by the ANC.”
The EFF demands call for the nationalization of industry and land redistribution. These calls obviously have an attraction when advanced as an oppositional position to the ruling ANC.
The DA also sought to utilize the student demonstrations to their political advantage. Helen Zille, the former leader of the DA in parliament, now a Western Cape Premier and still the party’s guiding figure, visited the University of Stellenbosch where demonstrations were being held. She wrote an extensive letter on her experiences at the campus of being essentially run off the premises. (Oct. 23)
In their attempts to apportion blame for the economic problems in South Africa to allegations of mismanagement and corruption within the ruling ANC, the actual program of the DA would advance an even deeper line towards neo-liberalism and imperialist domination. The DA promises of jobs during the 2014 elections won some disaffected voters from the middle classes. However, there can be no formidable employment program in South Africa without massive state intervention through the expropriation of capital.
The South African Students Struggle Within a Broader Pan-African and International Framework
Of course within the rapidly unfolding mass youth and workers struggles in South Africa much focus has been placed on the developments inside the country. With South Africa being the most industrialized state on the continent, there is a tendency by those on the outside to view its political trajectory as setting a standard for Africa as a whole.
Nonetheless, the bulk of analyses put forward by those organizers and activists interacting with and observing the current situation inside the country there is almost no examination of the political situation as a reflection of the overall continental and global economic crisis. Workers are demanding a higher return on their labor power from capital while students and youth want the realization of the stated goals of the Freedom Charter some six decades later under an ANC government.
Moreover, the youth and workers of South Africa are not alone at all on the continent or throughout the world. Austerity, the decline in wages, joblessness, household and national debt are the order of the day within capitalist societies internationally.
Massive reforms and revolutionary transformation towards socialist ownership of the means of productions would require a struggle that would be international in scope. Just as the movement to end apartheid colonialism involved billions throughout the world in opposition to racial capitalism and imperialism, the seizure of wealth and the transformation of the social relations of production would be met with the wrath of capital globally.
These struggles are all-encompassing and provide a platform for workers, farmers and youth in both the “emerging economies” as well as the industrialized states of the West. With the increasing concentration of the ownership of capital, billions of people are thrust into a direct mortal confrontation with the status-quo. From South Africa to Egypt and from London to New York, the demands are increasingly converging and the ruling classes are intensifying their repressive measures to halt the inevitable world revolution that will set the course for a fundamental advancement in the history of humanity.