A Perspective on Fees Must Fall
By Precious Banda
"When things go badly wrong (Whether it be a movement or a Country), it is inevitable that some who have ulterior motives jump on to the bandwagon. When a gap develops between the leadership and the led, it always provides openings for real enemies. But to deal with the gap in terms only of enemy conspiracies is an ancient and discredited device. Equally to fail to tackle mistakes or crimes merely because their exposure will give comfort to our adversaries is both short sighted and counterproductive." Joe Slovo 1989
It is very important as progressive forces to subject the fees must fall protests to unsparing critique in order to draw lessons from it. It is equally important that we do so openly and as student leaders, we must justify our critique as being part of shaping the discourse around the unprecedented fees must fall protests in higher education history. As much as we agree that no one must claim an inherent right to conceptualise and claim the October 2015 student uprisings, it is a known and an undisputed fact that the PYA deployees in SRCs who take mandate from the organisation and also the students in their different campuses led the popular student mass protests since 1976. Therefore, the SASCO led PYA SRC deployees in their different campuses cannot be separated from their organisation whose principles and objectives they envisage as deployees. This fact we must put on record as we interrogate the fees must fall protests and events.
In wanting to understand fees must fall events in South Africa, we need to pay attention to the emerging mass insurrections of fallism in Africa and everywhere else with mass protests of regime change like the Arab uprising. The must fall spontaneous insurgencies across the world are mainly a call for regime change and mobilises youths and students through social networks and harsh tags. When fees must fall protests started, there were those who wanted them to take the form and shape of Arab uprisings and redirect the narrative to be that of regime change and not higher education transformation and free education. These fallists who call for everything to fall started driving a campaign of Zuma must fall while students were calling for fees to fall. These are people the movement called third forces and they are mainly funded by international money to disrupt peace and stability in the country.
There has been serious efforts to want to firstly depoliticise the fees must fall, make it non partisan in an attempt to disregard the leadership and contribution of the progressive youth alliance and then own it as a landmark achievement of the opposition parties in South Africa. A lot of effort has been directed towards championing this fake narrative of calling fees must fall a spontaneous movement of young students who are fed up with the ANC led government. Those who insist that fees must fall are a movement are those who are desperate to cash in on students genuine struggles and wants to use them for political gain. The emphasis on fees must fall being a movement is a failed attempt to eliminate the leading role of the progressive youth alliance from the protests. Young people ought to see this desperate manoeuvring of opposition parties for what they are.
What is lacking is our own record of these events. When SASCO led PYA SRC deployees and activists in UNISA, UKZN and TUT started the protests, they did not enjoy media coverage. It was when SASCO deployees in Wits declared a strike that the protests enjoyed media and public attention. The wind of defiance against the system touched the whole Country and all other institutions followed suit. It is at that point that the protests became exciting to opposition parties and the protests presented an opportunity to galvanise political capital for them.
The protests also excited some within the movement who chose to use them to fight the GS of the party politically in the portfolio that he serves as Minister of Higher education. While the issues raised by students were systematic issues and some different campus issues, the ANCYL saw an opportunity to attack the GS of the SACP, and NEC member of the ANC who happens to be the minister of higher education. The ANCYL wanted to march to the house of the GS of the party. The symbolism of marching to the house is that they sought the person of Nzimande who is the GS of the SACP and not the Minister of higher education who has offices and accounts to Luthuli house where the ANCYL is located. So just as the third forces saw an opportunity to weaken our constitutional democracy and advance regime change using students struggles, the ANCYL saw an opportunity to humiliate and isolate comrade Blade Nzimande from the whole ANC collective which is tasked with implementing congress resolutions of which includes free quality education as resolved by the ANC 2007 Turflorp National Congress.
Among many reasons why our hegemony is challenged by unappealing organisations is our failure to take stock of our struggles and communicate them and our inability to contest public platforms through writing. Our silence and not writing and documenting the fees must fall struggles we were part of presents an opportunity and space to counter revolutionary organisations to claim our victories and distort our struggles and gains. Our silence allows wrong narratives to be accepted by our people as gospel truth.
Hence we call upon young people of the progressive youth alliance to take reading and writing as a revolutionary obligation. The young communist league of South Africa has been running reading and writing campaigns across the country. We do so because we understand clearly the need to have young writers and readers who must tell and communicate our struggles and gains to the masses of our people in defence of the national democratic revolution and as fighting soldiers for socialism.
While we accept that we were infiltrated by third forces who wanted to use student struggles to advance regime change, we need not be defocused by that. We must not allow our weaknesses during the fees must fall to defocus us. Fundamentally, the infiltration of the fees must fall protests does not render the protests insignificant or of less historical value. It does not negate the real issues students raised to be fake or staged. The third forces themselves acknowledge the real students struggles that's why they see them as political capital. Therefore, in our attempt to combat, isolate and expose the third force, we must not undermine or sideline student issues consciously or unconsciously. As much as we speak about the third force, we must
equally and even more speak about progress in institutions of higher learning, what has been done and what is to be done.
We must also be cautious of how we speak about the third force in the fees must fall protests; we must be honest to say such forces attempted but our movement was mainly involved in the protests. We must not isolate the movement from the gains of the fees must fall protests which are correctly ours because our activists were on the ground leading and mobilising students in their respective campuses. To continuously elevate third forces and their involvement in the protests without emphasizing students demands identified by us and which remain genuine is a detour and a betrayal of the struggles of members of the structures of the progressive youth alliance who are foot soldiers of the movement.
In fact the PYA continues to lead and guide mass actions in institutions of higher learning overwhelmingly to an extent that student populous have followed our guidance consistently. Therefore it is important that we confidently continue uninterrupted to make calls that broaden access, success and redress so that we consolidate our gains and pave way for future victories and struggles. The call for free quality education must be intensified and we have a responsibility to ensure free education is delivered now. Let law enforcement agencies deal with those consuming white funds from abroad in the name of our students while we lead unapologetically the struggle for free quality education and transformation in institutions of higher learning.
The fees must fall protests have also presented us an opportunity for an honest discussion on institutional autonomy. While this discussion has always been there, it is important that we lead this discussion in the context of recent developments in higher education. How do we interpret the declaration of zero fee increment by the president and what bearing does it have on institutional autonomy? Perhaps we can argue as the 2009 SASCO 16th National congress discussion document as I quote "Institutional autonomy and academic freedom have, in the recent past, been central concepts and discursive buzzwords in south African public higher education system. These two concepts are raised in the face of an intransigent, less productive and slowly transforming higher education system still characterised by remnants of colonial and apartheid education and value systems. The central question around academic freedom and institutional autonomy is whether it is benefiting to and rewarding for the transitory and transforming south African society to let institutions of higher learning, disreputable for their minimal qualitative and quantitative productive levels, aloofness, slow transformation pace etc to govern themselves and decide on the central questions of who to teach, what to teach, how to teach and when to teach."
As the national conversation on the implementation of free education deepens, we need to interrogate the state of higher education as the SASCO 2009 discussion document did and develop consensus around how to locate institutional autonomy in this current trajectory. Utmost, institutional autonomy must not be at the expense of transformation in higher education. It is institutions that are anti access, success and redress who always want to invoke institutional autonomy whenever students advance transformation. The progressive youth alliance must continue to lead the charge against language policies of racist universities that refuse to follow the principles of this democratic Country of non racism. University of Stellenbosch and University of North West Potchefstroom Campus must not behave like they have the exclusive reserve to wrongly defend racism and maintain apartheid white privilege.
The call for curriculum reform in our institutions of higher learning must equally be advanced with the same vigour with all issues concerning higher education as it is mainly central. The curriculum must be restructured and rebuilt to address the inequalities of the past. The curriculum in institutions of higher learning must not advance capitalist ideas and distort other ideological forms like socialism. The curriculum must be able to encapsulate our value systems as a nation previously racially subjugated and carry historic significance of our past as a people and develop patriots. We need to broaden the conversation on curriculum transformation for people's education. Harry Garuba a lecturer at UCT relates the following as he wrote on Rhodes Must Fall, '' Curriculum transformation is an area that does not lend itself to the simplicity of numbers. It is easy to escape scrutiny when the focus is on matters that can be represented in numbers, such as the number of black and white professors at a university. It also often disappears from public gaze because it is assumed that curricula are things of experts. Many commentators fear that they do not have the competence to discuss curriculum development, except to merely call attention to its necessity.''
Previously white universities with billions worth of reserves must declare their reserves and the government must nationalise the reserves accumulated through white privilege to fund free education. We have a long way to go before the effects of apartheid are erased from higher education. Since 1994, more and more poor black students enrol in systematically segregated, financially strapped, rural black universities and it is mainly the middle class students who enrol into the wealthier, academically more selective urban previously white universities. Higher education must be reconfigured and we must have a unified single coordinated education system. The discussion on fee structure in institutions of higher learning must be able to address the gap that exists between previously white and black universities. University reserves must be nationalised and added to the national fiscas to fund free quality higher education.
Colleges must be seen as institutions of choice not institutions of second choice. Management in TVET colleges must be strengthened by making colleges more accountable and professional. Colleges must employ qualified lecturers and students in colleges must not be treated like high school pupils. Colleges must allow students to discover themselves and their talents and also to organise themselves. While strides have been made with the national bursary scheme in the TVET sector, management in colleges continue to demand upfront payments from poor students. The department needs to strengthen monitoring of funds to the TVET sector and ensure such funds are used maximally to the benefit of needy students. As the PYA, we will put special emphasis on this call for accountability in the TVET sector and also curriculum transformation.
One of the challenges in institutions of higher learning is student victimisation. Student victimisation depoliticises students and make them fearful of advancing student issues in their campuses. We need to fight against student victimisation in all institutions of higher learning. To confront student victimisation, we need a united PYA on campuses and all structures. Our avoidable differences weaken the movement and give our enemies more weapons with which to weaken us and gain ground in institutions of higher learning. We must concede that the relationship of PYA structures in Provinces and Regions need to be addressed so that we close ranks. The antagonistic relationship of PYA structures in different levels informs campus relations mostly. With must confront our differences with political courage and provide solutions and also agree to differ without weakening our collective strength. We must instil unity in all structures of the PYA for struggles ahead. Fees will fall, education will be free and transformation in institutions of higher learning will be driven by young people of the congress movement.
The ANC in its coming National Congress in 2017 must agree to not only take new resolutions and policy positions but must also take stock of all the previous national congresses since 1994 and the resolutions that have since been taken. The Congress must register how many resolutions have been resolved on and not implemented. The movement must ask itself where do we go wrong, is it at a point of taking resolutions or is it after congress when implementation must follow? What factors do we need to consider before arriving at resolutions to avoid non implementation like the 10 years wait since the resolution of free education in 2007? If we do so, we will relieve ourselves from excessive defensiveness that sometimes makes us to unintentionally underplay most critical issues that must respond to the realities of our people. The ideological offensive against the movement by the representatives of white monopoly capital is in full swing, let's not create conditions that allow them to confuse and mislead our people. Everything for the revolution and nothing against it.
Precious Banda is a National Committee and Political Commission member of the YCLSA