“Last Call: Time for Action” – students fight budget cuts, 1997 – Workers Solidarity Federation

In 1997, the young African National Congress (ANC) government – which had been in the Transitional Executive government in 1993, then swept the 1994 general elections,  and the 1995 local government elections – continued its implementation of neo-liberal measures. These had surprised many people, because the ANC was elected on a largely Keynesian social democratic platform (exemplified by the Reconstruction and Development Programme, or RDP).

The issues around why the ANC made the shift do not matter here. What concerns this entry is that a) this entailed cuts in spending to all universities; b) hardline ANC supporters presented this as an attack on “elitism” (especially since it affected the top, historically white, research universities); butc) in reality, it meant higher fees for working class students, including the majority of blacks, job cuts to (and outsourcing of) service staff (again, largely black and poor), and worsening conditions all round (including for academics).

Senior leaders  of the ANC-aligned SA Students Congress (SASCO) found themselves championing the neo-liberal measures.

By contrast, rebels within SASCO, and other left forces, opposed the cuts. The leaflet below was issued at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), where the independent (and quite Marxist) “Wits Against Cuts” group was active. The anarchist Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF), then active on that campus (it was soon to shift its focus off-campus), issued the below statement in early March 1997 and supported the Wits protests in various ways.

Statement re- Subsidy Cuts, Wits, 1997

Get the PDF here.


About Lucien van der Walt

I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I am currently also involved in union education and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented papers at more than 120 conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 3 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and written well over 130 other articles, papers and entries. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I won the 2008 international 'Labor History' thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research prize for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. I have several books, including 'Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920,' and 'Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution' (co-edited with Steve Hirsch, Brill, 2010/ 2014).