Student Activism For The Betterment Of Society – by Vusi Mahlangu @NasdevSA

10 Nov

Presentation prepared for NASDEV Conference, 07 October 2016.

By: Vusi Mahlangu


It is very important for us to tackle the topic first before making any submission to avoid being completely misunderstood and be quoted out of context. Let’s commence with the “betterment of society”; we should state in no uncertain terms that we reject the current society in its totality. We reject the current global capitalistic, racist and patriarchal society and we advocate for its overthrowing and replacement by more egalitarian socialist order. We, therefore, submit that the only “betterment of society” for us is revolutionary change.

Our submission will therefore be on the “Student Activism for Revolutionary Onslaught” and we are not apologetic to state that we advocating for the revolution. We shall use this opportunity not only to sharpen contradictions but to step on the toes of some people and we are not sorry! Historical Role Played by

Students in Advancing the Revolution:

The revolutionary and historical role played by the student movement within the struggle against colonialism in Africa and apartheid herein Azania is a stubborn fact of history which only naïve ignorance can afford to overlook. The genesis of the current wave of the student movement and its role in the Azanian context can perhaps be traced to the “Congress Youth League” generation at the University of Fort Hare led by, amongst others, Anton Lembede, AP Mda, Robert Sobukwe and others. This generation led the charge that eventually led to the Massacre in 1960 at Sharpeville/Langa and inspired the future revolutionary Black Consciousness generation of Onkgopotse Tiro, Bantu Biko, Tsietsi Mashinini and others that also led a charge that eventually led to the Soweto moment in 1976. However, the revolutionary and historical role that the student movement can play at present is not as easily intelligible as the role it played in the national liberation struggle.

The cause lies in the fact of the complex political task on account of the socio-political dynamics that unfolded in this continent since independence and since the reform of Apartheid herein Azania.
Students as a Spark of the


There are instances on every continent where students have served to ignite revolutionary movements. It is well known that Fidel Castro started as a campus activist at the University of Havana. Students under the leadership of Kwame Ture (then Stokely Carmichael) organized the Students Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to fight for human rights in the southern part of the USA as well as oppose USA aggression in Vietnam and Zionist aggression in Palestine and led to founding of the Black Panther Party (later the All-African People Revolutionary Party). Kwame Nkrumah (our first President of Ghana) organized with West African students in England to call for an end to British colonialism in Africa and later organized the watershed 1945 Pan African Congress in Manchester.

We, above, also cited examples of the students playing the sparking role within the Azanian context (From Sobukwe to Biko).

In all the above mentioned examples and more, the generation of students discovered its historic mission and went out of its way to fulfil it, as Frantz Fanon correctly alluded. The revolutionary struggle for emancipation of the African people and mankind at large, had its own most shining moments like the successful struggles for African independence in the 1960s, the October Revolution, Chinese Revolution etc. unfortunately all such gains have been reversed as a result of betrayal and mistakes from the revolutionary movement. All shining moments of our struggle for liberation’ students played a very pivotal role that of being a spark and drivers of the revolutionary progression.

Lenin, Che, Mao, Sobukwe, Nkrumah, my beloved Walter Rodney and others all started as student activists.

Cooption of the Student Movement and degeneration to Student Aristocracy:

Having made an acknowledgement of the revolutionary role and strides forward by the student movement it is important to also note that the student movement was unfortunately coopted into neoliberal and counterrevolutionary institutional governance and bureaucracy; whose ideological and political is unquestionably deceitful and serves no one but the interests of the dominant and oppressive class. This required dynamic cadreship armed with superior revolutionary theory and experience which it unfortunately we didn’t have because of various reasons.The cooption led to the integration of the student movement into corrupt and reactionary structures of institutional governance which represents the very exploitative neoliberal epoch characterised with pure corruption, exploitation and oppression of the poor working class majority. The student movement got coopted into University Councils, Senates, Institutional Fora, etc. and the SRC degenerated from the progressive body, “of students, by students”, that was founded as, into a mere bunch of student aristocrats.

The SRC and other support structures (Residence Committee, Sport Committee) became nothing but a body obsessed with the so called “SRC benefits”, etc. However, what was more tragic for us was the privatisation of student support services in our institutions that gave birth to inherently corrupt tender system and the evil of the outsourcing of the most vulnerable sections of the workers in our campuses. The battle for SRC, stopped from the contestation of ideas for the advancement of students’ interests and “betterment of the society” but degenerated into a battle for “SRC benefits”, “Bribery by service providers”, “organising bashes”, “passage towards future employment in the institution”, etc. This made the student movement and its activists to lose credibility; giving birth to students’ political apathy, created unfortunate stigmas like “SRC are womanisers/ ‘manisers’, etc.”, “Activists are academic non-performisers”, etc. This betrayed the very objective of serving the destitute masses of our students from working class backgrounds and a desire of the “betterment of the society”.

We challenge everyone to win back the SRC and its structures. It will be criminal not to mention the role played by student affairs and its practitioners in furthering the degeneration of the student movement. I won’t unfortunately dwell much into this due to time but I will be selling out if I don’t highlight that the limited genuine activists were victims of suspension and expulsion; unfortunately student affairs and practitioners played a very counterrevolutionary role for an example being witnesses against students activists in DC, bribery, undue influence on who becomes SRC, etc. This is so sad because majority of practitioners are supposed former activists themselves.

I challenge NASDEV today to take a position that all its practitioners shall always be on the side of the students.

The Birth of the #Fallist Movement: Qualitative leap forward:

It is from the revolutionary souls of the Mine workers that were butchered at Marikana, the revolutionary #Fallist Movement was born. The birth of this dynamic and creative generation of student activists should be embraced, celebrated and endorsed as qualitative leap forward in our epoch. The movement commenced with its first program, the decolonisation of our institutions and the society, and the campaign #RhodesMustFall commenced at UCT and like wildfire it spread throughout other universities that still had statures and/or symbol of colonialism. We saw a demand for King George to fall in UKZN, for Afrikaans to fall in UP/UFS, etc. Just as everyone was about to go back to their comfort zone, a second campaign erupted at Wits, and it became perhaps for obvious reasons it became the most popular campaign, #FeesMustFall Campaign that it is still in everyone’s lips.

We all witnessed the masses of our students gathered at Parliament and Union Buildings on the 22nd and 23rd October 2015. Unfortunately, the movement was sold a dummy (so called 0% increment), the movement was betrayed and lessons were learnt.

However, it was the #OutsourcingMustFall (#EndOutsourcing), that was the most critical for us. The call for the end of privatisation of student support services, deliberately launched at an occasion organized to remember Marikana, provided the student movement with rare and secrete opportunity to link their struggles with those of the working class; finally putting into practice the popular slogan of “Student Wars are Labour Wars and Labour Wars are Land Wars”. This campaign was critical for us because it also further sharpened contradictions and shook people off their comfort zones and honeymoons. Everyone felt threatened by this campaign from the labour movement (who never lifted a finger until then or were at most embarking in some peaceful gymnastic), student aristocrats (who saw that bribery from service providers is falling) and politicians (who are otherwise major beneficiaries from these tenders). This is perhaps the best example of revolutionary student activism, for it connected students with workers and our communities. (sharing trenches with the most vulnerable sections of the workers in our campuses, in night vigils, jail cells, etc was perhaps the most fulfilling moment for genuine activists involved).

This generation challenged all of us! It challenged the orthodox way of protests, challenged institutionalised structures and bureaucracy, challenged the academia and expose its vaccilation, challenged our conservative values (they inspired Pretoria Girls High pupil to protest for keeping their hair) and most importantly it challenged the powerful ruling elite. By the #Fallist Movement, we are led. (In one of the speeches I gave on Steve Biko Memorial, I said “ …in the #Fallist Movement, Biko lives!….”) Undermine them at own risk and peril.

The Generational Mission awaiting to be fulfilled:

The #Fallist Movement adopted Black Consciousness, Pan Africanist and Black Radical feminism as their key ideological pillars. The total overthrow of neoliberal capitalist, patriarchal, homophobic and white supremacist system is their generational mission. This is the generation that brought back to the agenda the critical societal questions like the “Land Question”, “Decolonisation”, “Privatisation”, “Homophobia”, etc. This is the generation that has vowed not to allow nostalgia about the struggle against Apartheid and its heroes to blind them, not allow to policed on how to protest or betrayal and has committed to the fulfilment of the generational mission as Fanon correctly alluded to.

This is the kind of the “Student Activism”, we desire!

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