WSF (1995): “The Student Struggle”

WSF (1995): “The Student Struggle”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 1, number 1, May-June 1995. Complete PDF is here

In February and March this year [1995] Technikons and Universities exploded with protest actions. Black students, sometimes supported by workers, have been FIGHTING to change tertiary institutions. They are fighting the legacy of apartheid.

The protests were organized by the South African Students Congress (SASCO) and other student bodies

EXPLODE

Protests were country wide. Students at the 7 Vista campuses called for the resignation of their Broederbond controlled University Council. They marched on the government calling on it to support their demands.

The Vista students were also calling for an end to financial and academic exclusions.

At University of the Western Cape students forced the management to allow 57 students to continue with their studies even though they had been excluded. This followed a successful disruption of classes. It was despite the deployment of police on campus.

At OFS Technikon, Black students demanding more representation on the Students Representative Council were attacked by armed right wing students. Students who defended themselves were dispersed by police and subsequently arrested. None of the racists were charged .

Wits University students and workers have fought for the reinstatement of 9 workers and 7 students. These were expelled or dismissed for 1994 protests against unfair dismissals, exclusions and the resignation of the university Council. The workers were organized by the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU).

The Wits students and workers used a number of tactics, such as a mass sleep- in, a strike and also a class boycott. Despite this, the admin refused to drop the charges and issued more notices of expulsion to student leaders. The admin is also charging the

NEHAWU shop steward and one student with “kidnapping”.

APARTHEID EDUCATION

Because of the legacy of apartheid, many Black students find it impossible to pay their fees. Even if they are told to leave. Black students are often also given inadequate academic support to deal with the legacy of Bantu Education.

Also, many of the Universities were reserved for Whites up to 1991. Students are fighting to make the staff, and student bodies more representative of the country as a whole.

Students have objected to the undemocratic practices of the University and technikon managements. These do not consult students or workers on policies which deeply affect them, such as fee schedules. Many of these managements were appointed by the apartheid government.

The student movement has been waging this campaign since the early 1990s.

The student protests have been condemned for the use of tactics such as trashing campuses and hostage taking. At the National Business Initiative in March, Mandela called on White rectors to take firm action against “unruly” Black students.

He had to quickly revise his statement’s when angry students and workers marched on the ANC headquarters at Shell House. Banners were carried such as “WHAT DID WE VOTE FOR?” and “WE WANT MANDELA THE REVOLUTIONARY, NOT MANDELA THE MESSIAH ..”

STRUGGLE FROM BELOW

The student movement must lose its illusions in politicians and MPs. Even though SASCO helped campaign for the ANC in 1994, the ANC has shown itself to be unwilling to intervene on their side.

Only through struggle, through mobilization of as many people as possible, can we transform Universities and Technikons. The government allocated R220 million for student aid after the protests rocked the campuses. Unite to Fight!

Advertisements

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,' '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) and 'Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism' (co-written with Michael Schmidt, AK Press 2009).