Monday, 24 September 2012

(This article is available on the Rhodes University SRC site and is a response to former SRC President, Eric Ofei’s previous article).
One of the greatest leaders that the African continent has ever produced, Thomas Isidore Sankara, once said:
A soldier without revolutionary theory is nothing but a potential murderer”.
This statement must be understood in its correct interpretation, taking into consideration not only the prevailing material conditions of the epoch during which Sankara led Burkina Faso, but also, using it to reflect upon the prevailing material conditions which define the constructs of Rhodes University as an institution of higher learning to which we all belong. As a Marxist-Leninist, Sankara understood too well the importance of revolutionary theory. Marxist-Leninists have always had an appreciation of the philosophies of historical and dialectical materialism which has informed their understanding of socio-economic conditions at different times and in different spaces, an understanding that to date, has not been proven fundamentally flawed even by the most respected proponents of liberal ideology. I want to dissect a problem with the Rhodes University SRC literature, using this reflection of Sankara’s to outline two critical issues: the question of the depoliticisation of the Rhodes University SRC as well as the question on whether or not SRC candidates must have some form of experience in student governance as a pre-requisite for being elected into the SRC institution. These two questions beg for critical analysis and it would be catastrophic for us to glibly dismiss them as we are doing currently.
Former SRC President, Eric Ofei, made an interesting statement yesterday in a response to an open letter directed at the Dean of Students. The statement by Eric, that: “The notion that experience is a prerequisite to being an effective member of the SRC is flawed” needs to be debated, for I believe that it is flawed in itself.
While it is true indeed that: “Prior experience does not a good SRC member make” as Eric states further in his article, there is a fatal flaw in the failure to qualify this statement with substantial evidence beyond the personal experience that he highlights. This is a statement that must be dissected and supported with the employment of relevant tools of analysis that go beyond subjective personal reflection because I believe that it sets a bad precedence for the future of the Rhodes University SRC institution by portraying it as a field of experiment rather than a factory that manufactures great future leaders with an astute intellectual calibre. The SRC institution does not exist in a vacuum. It is an integral component of a broader matrix of representatives in a site of struggle that is under the threat of liberal ideology that seeks to perpetuate and accelerate the class, race and gender contradictions that are a barrier to genuine reconciliation and the creation of a prosperous South Africa. The individuals who get elected into the SRC are not just the face of the university. They are the face of the future of this country and it is a future that must never be taken for granted.
The SRC institution, which acts as a body of opinion for the university and a representative of the student body, must, if it is to achieve the objectives that are outlined in the SRC Constitution which is in line with the Constitution of South Africa as is required, be a body of capacitated individuals who will carry forth the mandate given to it by the student body as well as contribute significantly to the broader objectives of the National Democratic Revolution as the cornerstone of policy analysis of the Republic of South Africa. The Rhodes SRC Constitution, like the Constitution of South Africa and the NDR itself, has the responsibility of creating a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic Rhodes University. This is a herculean task that needs the most dedicated and most capacitated crop of student leaders. It is not a task for just any student who feels like they want to be in the SRC, for reasons that are often mercenary.
Four particular portfolios in the SRC need to be understood if we are to comprehend why there is a need for experience from SRC candidates hoping to fill them:
·        The President
·        The Vice-President
·        The Secretary-General
·        The Activism and Transformation Councillor

One of the roles of the SRC President is to “Liaise with the University Authorities on matters relevant to the SRC, the student body and individual students”. This means that the SRC President will be the direct line between students and the university management and Council. As such, this individual must not only have an in-depth understanding of the university literature (Constitution, Resolutions etc.), but must have a thorough understanding of student governance. This understanding, unfortunately, is not one that is transmitted through hours of absorbing university literature. It is a product of an interactive process that one undergoes with students as the primary constituency of the SRC institution.
The same holds true for the Vice-President, for whom one of the roles that he/she must act in is to “Represent the president when required to do so”. For this reason, the candidate for Vice-President must also be an individual with the same requirements as ought to be fulfilled by the SRC President.
Secondly, the office of the Secretary in any institution or body is one of the most important there is, for it is the nucleus that hold together the institution. It is not an accident of history that in all existing political organisations and civil society movements, the Secretary is full-time in the office. I want to highlight just two roles of the Secretary that ought to stress just how necessary experience is for this portfolio. Firstly, the Secretary “Fulfils all external activities involving the SRC including: Contact with other educational institutions, Overall South African political and social developments…” [Emphasis mine]. Secondly, the Secretary is: “Responsible for maintaining contact with SAUS”.
The fulfilment of activities involving the “Overall South African political and social developments” is not a role that must be given to someone without an in-depth understanding of the political, geo-political and socio-economic landscape of South Africa. If it is, then it defeats the purpose of why this role was created in the first place. The importance of experience comes in the point that the Secretary is “Responsible for maintaining contact with SAUS”. The South African Union of Students (SAUS) is a very political umbrella of student bodies. SAUS “is pledged to facilitate a situation where all students are provided with equal opportunities, and embraces institutions of higher learning a statutory obligations to guarantee an environment free of racial, sexual, religious, cultural and physical discrimination” (see SAUS website on As such, it is an umbrella of student ACTIVISTS as opposed to mere academics and ideologues. For this reason, the SRC Secretary, who is tasked with engaging SAUS on student governance issues, must him/herself be an activist who is tried and tested through experience on the ground. It is unacceptable to conceive that any random student can fulfil this obligation simply on the basis of theoretical understanding of university literature which has not been tested through implementation and experience.
The Activism and Transformation Councillor must also, as a necessity, be an experienced individual who understands the labyrinthine constructs of South African politics as well as the nature of activism. There is a misconception amongst Rhodes University students that the work of a Transformation Councillor is purely academic and as such, that the best person for the portfolio is an individual who can analyse the university (and society) and diagnose its problems. In his “Theses on Feuerbach”, father of scientific Socialism, Karl Marx, puts it most aptly that: “Philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways. The point is, however, to change it”. That is the role of an Activism and Transformation Councillor: to CHANGE the institution, to fight against the pathologised race, gender and class antagonisms that exist, albeit subliminally. The individual who contests this portfolio (and i must point out that I will be doing so in the upcoming elections) must be tried and tested in the terrain of political or student activism. This individual must have some kind of experience in civil society movements, in the Non-Government Organisation sector, in volunteer work or in the student movement. The work of an activist -  and I speak with the experience of one who , for two years after completing her matric, went to work in various NGOs across the country – is not easy. It requires more than just revolutionary theory, especially at the level of SRC. At that level one cannot be a novice, because the constituency that he/she represents is an important strata that is going to be tomorrow’s leaders. Not with our country’s future can we take such a grave risk.

The insinuation that the SRC must make allowance for novices to contest in elections as well as lead students is troubling, because it fails to locate the SRC institution in the broader politics of the society that it belongs to. (I will elaborate in my next point why the refusal to locate our SRC in the broader politics of the country is a problematic position). Understanding the prevailing material conditions in our education system and in the socio-economic constructs of our immediate society, it is clear that there is a great task that lies ahead for our SRC candidates. This is not a task that must be left in the hands of people who have had no prior involvement in the terrain of activism.
I will be brief on this point, but I want to state categorically that I am HIGHLY OPPOSSED to the statement by Eric that:
I think that in future any student at Rhodes that utters the words “party aligned candidates” or anything in that realm should be shot on sight. There are a myriad of reason why the party aligned candidate system is not a good idea and has not worked at Rhodes. The minute you have parties involved you no longer have individuals. It is party politics which are in play. The view of the party are expressed and not the view of the individuals candidates. Additionally having parties’ means creating clear and distinct division in the student body…
This statement is a vivid economisation of truth that must be arrested at its infancy. Firstly, it is problematic that the metaphor: “any student at Rhodes that utters the words “party aligned candidates” or anything in that realm should be shot on sight” is used in this contest, because it has elements of creating a hostile situation for students who are aligned to student organisations. Eric uses the term “party” incorrectly, as though it means the same thing as “movement” or “organisation”. I want to elaborate on this assertion by using an example that corroborates my view.
The South African Students Congress (SASCO), is a student organisation which is a component of the Mass Democratic Movement, which was a product of revolutionary struggle in our country. Founded in 1991, SASCO is not a political party and contrary to popular view, it is not a student wing of the ruling African National Congress. The ANC Youth League is a youth wing of the ANC, the ANC Women’s League is a women’s wing of the ANC. But SASCO is not a wing of the ANC. Rather, it is an independent component of the MDM and part of the Progressive Youth Alliance which includes the ANCYL as well as the Young Communist League of South Africa, both which are themselves party aligned. The ANC is not the mother-body of SASCO in the way that the Democratic Alliance, for example, is the mother-body of the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation. The policies that SASCO advocates for are those that are in-line with the objectives of the National Democratic Revolution and the Freedom Charter, which are not just for the ANC, but inform policies of the South African government in its entirety (which does not exclude opposition parties and minority parties). So for Rhodes students who are members of SASCO (and other political formations) to be categorised as being “party aligned” when their organisation is a component of the MDM and not a student wing of any political party, is unfair and politically unprincipled, for it perpetuates an untruth that has already found a home in the minds of young people who are politically unconscious. SASCO candidates are not a threat to the SRC of the institution and must never be treated as such. This unprincipled stance by Rhodes University must be annihilated.
The debate must continue…
*Malaika Mahlatsi is a first year Bachelor of Social Science (Geography) student

At the SRC Grazzle last night, I opened my presentation by informing the student body of Rhodes University that as a candidate for the Activism and Transformation Councillor, I promise them nothing. At the end of my presentation, loud applause ensued, but some students were left perplexed and stunned that a candidate who ought to impress them with answers and solutions to problems would stand before them and boldly declare that she had no answers to give them and no solutions to offer. Time made no allowance for the in-depth qualification of the position I was articulating and as such, I have written this article for the SRC page and am on the process of shooting a video outlining and qualifying the sentiments that I expressed last night.
Last night, I asserted in my presentation that there are race, class and gender contradictions that exist at our university which, for the creation of a prosperous institution, beg for critical analysis. This means that there is a need for the student body of Rhodes University to engage in an honest introspection about the constructs of the institution that will lead   to the removal of self-imposed myths and limitations that have come to be accepted as natural. The student body of our institution cannot afford to remain imprisoned by notions that undermine the potential of the university to produce thought leaders   of an astute intellectual and social calibre. It is with this understanding, which is in line with the mission of the SRC to “be a student-oriented, approachable institution which fosters a conducive, developmental environment in and outside the academic sphere…”, that the nurturing of thought-leaders who have the responsibility of shaping the future of the African continent becomes relevant. But what are thought leaders? Are they born that way or are they made?
A thought leader is “a futurist or person who has innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote or share those ideas as actionable, distilled insights”. This means then, that Rhodes University has the responsibility to produce such individuals; men and women who, outside of their academic excellence, are going to be agents of positive change to the society to which they belong. It is here that I want to emphasise that thought leaders are not born, but made. They are a product of their primary and secondary socialisation as well as a product of their own choices which can only arise from a consciousness determined by their material conditions. This means that thought leaders are not merely theorists and ideologues who have the skill and ability to analyse society and diagnose its problems, but individuals who have been tested in the terrain of experience. After all, leadership is born out of the understanding of those who will be affected by it. Because a leader is a creation and a product of the prevailing material conditions of his environment, his/her consciousness is determined by the knowledge of the constructs that define his/her society. These are the people that Rhodes vows to produce, for its motto itself says that the university is “Where leaders learn”.
My campaign is founded on this premise; that Rhodes is a factory where leaders are made. As such, the student body must at all times, be placed on a terrain where it is the one that determines the politics of the day. There is a need for us to annihilate the defeating reality that places students as spectators of a game in which they must be players. I will not, and it is a conscious decision that is informed by years of working in the NGO sector, both as an intern and as a volunteer, allow myself to be placed in a situation where I decide the fates of the masses of our people (in this context our students) without their active contribution to the determination of those decisions. The benefit of working in numerous NGOs, from the Alternative Information and Development Agency in Cape Town to Khanya College in Johannesburg, is that one learns to appreciate the importance of involving people in the politics that define their own lives. On numerous occasions, we had gone out into townships with brilliant speeches prepared and ready-made solutions to what we believed were the biggest problems of the working-class people, only to be rejected by those same people. This happened because our people, illiterate and poor though they may be, are not stupid. They understand their own conditions better than we do and thus, they must be the ones who tell their stories and propose remedies to their situations. The same is applicable to Rhodes University students, who have an advantage over the general populace in that we are not illiterate. Students are the ones who experience the unjust nature of the race, class and gender contradictions which I indicated last night that are still existing in the institution. They live with this reality every day. As such, the only way that these issues can be resolved in such a way that students come out true victors in the end, is to create a platform where they engage on these issues. I vowed to create this platform and that is the closest thing to a promise I made. I want students of Rhodes University to sit at the driver’s seat of the Activism and Transformation portfolio which I am running for. Students have the responsibility to shape their own discourse and just as they decide who must represent them, so too must they decide what must be represented in terms of the campaigns that the Activism and Transformation portfolio takes up.
Here, people might be wondering if the I am proposing that the Activism and Transformation office be an all systems go office, where any idea a student raises will be supported and taken to its logical conclusion. I want to emphasise that this is not the case at all, for under no circumstances will disorder and total anarchy be masked as the measure of true democracy in the institution. What will happen is that students will be allowed to raise issues that relate to their problems with the institution and management, as they relate to the race, class and gender questions. A platform will be created in the same way as the Grazzle, where there will be a public debate that will comprise of the students themselves, the Activism and Transformation councillor and where necessary, a representative from the management and other relevant stakeholders such as the community of Grahamstown. From such platforms and debates, it can be determined what the topical issues are, by the decision of the majority. In this way, students will be empowered and feel that they are truly being represented by the SRC, that the SRC is serving them as opposed to them serving the decisions that are determined by the SRC itself. I believe that an idea, no matter how great it may be, is useless if it is not a product of those who are the motive force that will benefit from its implementation.
Once again I will state that the epoch of rule-by-noise politics need to come to an end. Students cannot and must never agree to be governed through rhetoric and unrealistic promises to deliver on the improbable. The epoch where the SRC acts as a decision-making body as opposed to a decision-implementing body needs to come to an end. Students must reject being reduced to a mere voting fodder that is only ever seriously engaged at the SRC Grazzle when we as candidates want their votes, only to be remembered the following year for the same reasons. Students must be engaged on every issue. Students must lead with the SRC and more importantly, students must rebel against the imposition of ideas that are birthed without their input. Our SRC institution must become a festival of ideas where ALL students participate and are active. As a powerful Zambian proverb says:
“When you run alone you run fast. But when you run together, you run far”.
We must reject the individualisation of power and understand that nothing is for us without us.

Malaika Mahlatsi
1st year BSS (Geography)
Candidate for Activism and Transformation

What is necessary as a prelude to anything else that may come is a very strong grass-roots build-up of Black Consciousness such that Blacks can learn to assert themselves and stake their rightful claim.” – Steve Biko, I WRITE WHAT I LIKE
Rhodes University is revered as one of the most academically excellent institutions of higher learning not only in South Afrika, but in the Afrikan continent as a whole. It is regarded as a factory wherein future leaders of this glorious continent are manufactured. Those who reside outside its walls view it as a yardstick by which great universities are measured and most of those who reside within its walls are in a permanent mode of defence for its traditions and culture. But there are those within these walls, the silenced voices, who have a different opinion about the institution but can never speak out for fear of victimisation by the institution’s management and rejection by the student body. These students and workers nestled within the walls of this institution have experienced first-hand, the brutal nature of the extent to which subliminal racism and stratification on the basis of class can go. But very few dare to rise and be counted amongst the brave and while the reasons for their silence and refusal to fight are admissible, the ramifications are fatal, for in refusing to be counted amongst those who fight for genuine transformation, we are setting up a time-bomb which will explode in the faces of our children and their grandchildren who will someday inherit this institution from us.
Many will be uncomfortable as they read this article, not only because it provides an alternative and dissenting view to that which has been internalised and defined by the institution’s literature, but because it is human nature to reject that which is foreign. And in Rhodes University, engaging on issues of race and class is foreign. In this institution of ours, you are more likely to be marginalised for breaking ground on issues that few want to discuss than you are for anything else. In our institution, we find comfort in burying our heads in the sand and pretending that there are no race and class antagonisms that exist. We seek solace in an ignorant ideal of superficial racial harmony, because that solace shields us from the brutal truth that we do not want to confront, a truth that we would rather ignore for fear that it will expose us all for what we truly are. Yes, we seek comfort in the existence within ignorance, because if we opt for this existence, we move further and further away from directly confronting the questions that deep in our hearts, we know must be confronted. And we know this because we do not exist in a vacuum. We are part of a society that finds itself engulfed by these antagonisms and try as we may to treat Rhodes University like a castle in the air, it is inevitable that we will someday stand before an uncomfortable truth and answer to our own conscience. That truth is that subliminal though it may be, there is racism in this institution and there is an ostracisation of students from a working-class background by both the management of the university and the student population. I want to quote a recent incident that corroborates this somewhat controversial assertion (not disregarding the understanding that in Rhodes University, anything that relates to race is controversial by default).
The example regards the scathing attacks on mostly Black students, attacks that have found expression on the SRC Facebook page. Over the past three weeks, perhaps because of the SRC period, the Rhodes SRC group has been a very volatile platform of engagement where at least 2000 students converge to discuss matters that concern the institution and its activities. While most of the discussions have been about general matters, there have also been very critical debates that have been instigated by students the likes of Mthobisi Buthelezi which have often dealt with issues of racism, classism and sexism. Many students engaged on these debates and a quick perusal will indicate to you that most of them were White. The responses and the contributions that these students made to the discussions were not only appalling in their total disregard for ideological and intellectual depth, but they were also decorated greatly in pathologised racism and White supremacy. On the 22nd of September 2012, in a discussion about Black Economic Empowerment, a capitalist model of wealth redistribution designed by the South Afrikan government to redress the inequalities of the apartheid regime by giving previously disadvantaged groups - mainly Black people - economic privileges previously not available to them, a White student said, and I quote:
“But by taking it away from the people who created it won't benefit the country in my mind (I stand to be corrected). Would we rather not want to integrate the black people into the 'white monopoly' over just trying to remove it or over take it, colours can change with mixing after all?"
This comment was made in response to a comment that BEE seeks to share the country’s wealth amongst the people, Black and White, equally. Most people will find a way to intellectualise this comment, but few will dare to dissect it and expose it for the White supremacist thinking that it actually expresses. Firstly, this comment insinuates that White people “created” the wealth that they inherited from the apartheid legacy. Such a fallacious insinuation must not be dismissed by those whose principles favour truth over popularity. And the truth is that White people did NOT “create” wealth, they stole it. They found everything in the motherland; the land on which they build their industries and the minerals with which they trade. Many native people had to die fighting against this brutal dispossession. And to claim that the solution to inequality is to “integrate Black people into White monopoly capital” is as racist and White supremacist as it can get, for it implies that the only destiny for the Black man is White. That is to say, it implies that Black people are consumers and Whites are producers. It implies that the former are incapable of creating and as such, must be integrated into a system whose very nucleus is confined within their historical oppression and subjugation. The tragedy in this student’s thinking is not only the thinking itself, but rather, that through various engagements that have taken place on the SRC platform, there is evidence that suggests that he is one of very many. Though not on the subject of BEE, many such related debates have been entered into where many White students have exerted and exposed their White arrogance and ethnocentric mentalities that seek to define the experiences of Black people and measure the worthiness of the Black world using a White ruler. Interestingly and unfortunately, there have also been a few Black students who have been vehicles on which this White supremacist ideology is driven. These students have continuously defended ideas that are antagonistic towards a Black consciousness perspective in favour of liberalism. I understand their positions, for they are a product of a particular socialisation which still remains foreign to the reality of the nervousness of natives’ conditions. But I do not sympathise with ignorance about the truth, nor do I have the moral inclination to tolerate liberalism. A liberal, Black or White, is but an obstacle to authentic social cohesion and a secret advocate of the status quo.
The vigour with which students who say anything that is not comfortable for the Rhodes students are ganged up on by so-called progressive liberals can also not be left unchallenged. There have been very many “progressive liberals” who have come onto the threads of these discussions simply to exert their arrogance, which has more often than not been misguided, for very few of the counter-arguments raised have been rich with ideological and philosophical depth. What we see instead is intellectualised liberal rhetoric, an advanced detachment of fermented philistinism.
I must add that this example alone does not speak for the majority of Rhodes University students, for in our totality, we amount to just over 6500 while on the SRC Forum there are exactly 2000 of us. But it is a cause for concern when even within that 2000, we find many whose views are shaped by this arrogance. It is problematic that a university that is supposed to produce a new generation of thought-leaders is so pregnant with economisation of truth, that leaders of tomorrow are ignorant of the yesterday that has shaped a today from which tomorrow must be built. A university where debate is turned into a platform for the expression of White arrogance and White supremacy is no progressive university. It is a sanctuary for liberals, conservatives, right-wingers, neo-Nazists and fascists. It is a prison for the Black Conscious students, the Afrikanists, the Socialists, the Communists and all those who are an anti-thesis to all constructs of oppressive, ethnocentric and intolerant ideology. The time when students who subscribe to BC ideology are not criminalised is now. If students of Rhodes University and indeed the institution’s management are going to refuse to allow us to be the ones who write the Black narrative without the consent or the approval of the White world as is the case, then Rhodes University is refusing to create a festival of ideas. It is instead creating platform for a battleground of ideas. But whether our ideas are converged in a festival or a battleground, the fact is, our voices will be heard and White supremacist attitudes will be challenged.
I pause…for now.

**Malaika is a member of the South African Students Congress but writes in her own capacity. The views are not that of the organisation.

Malaika Mahlatsi
1st year BSS (Geography)