Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Get your free copy - Reflections of SA Student Leaders - published!

I am immensely proud of this book. It is innovative in its approach and method; it is fascinating in the life stories that it covers. Narend Baijnath, the current CEO of the Council on Higher Education calls it a 'must read' for university leaders and student leaders. 

Indeed, it is extremely gripping to read the narratives about their student leadership experience of people as diverse as Honourable Hlomela Bucwa, who was until the 2019 election the youngest MP in the National Assembly, Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane (the lead counsel in former President Zuma's current trial), Jerome September (who is the Wits Dean of Students), or social media personality Mpho Khati. 

What they all have in common - they were all once leaders in their university's SRC, and they all chose to tell their story in this book.... from the days when Mandela was President and established the first National Commission on Higher Education, to the years of university mergers under Minister Kader Asmal and President Mbeki, to the Zuma years with Dr Blade Nzimande as Minister and the large-scale #FeesMustFall protests. 

The e-book can be downloaded free of charge here. It can also be bought from African Minds Publisher as a print book for R 300

Here is a summary of the twelve chapters in the book that each present the story of one of the the student leaders:

The accounts of Muzi Sikhakhane, Prishani Naidoo and Jerome September start the chronologically arranged reflections’ chapters. Having been involved in student leadership from the early to the late 1990s means that they tend to reflect more deeply on their apartheid-era upbringing and the way this shaped their views on and experience of higher education, governance and student representation. Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane SC begins his reflections by recalling his upbringing in rural KwaZulu-Natal, his involvement in struggle politics in the mid to late 1980s, his memories of the violence between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), and eventually, how he got to Wits and was roped into student politics and became president of the Wits SRC.

The reflections in chapter 3 also come from Wits, which is where Dr Prishani Naidoo ended up becoming SRC vice-president in 1995, and eventually president of the South African Universities SRC in 1996, after she had a first experience of university life and student politics at the University of Durban-Westville (now the University of KwaZulu-Natal) in the early 1990s. Naidoo’s chapter is a reminder of how deeply involved student leaders were in transformation initiatives in their institutions and at national level in the mid-1990s. Fast-forwarding 20 years to a time when Naidoo is back at Wits as an academic, her insights into the start of the #EndOutsourcing, #October6 and #FeesMustFall campaigns at Wits in 2015 are equally invaluable.

Jerome September recalls the alienation he experienced when arriving at UCT and settling into his residence in the mid-1990s. During his two SRC terms, student representatives returned to the University Council and Senate in 1998 after the proclamation of the HE Act (after years of having boycotted them as ‘illegitimate structures’). He remembers the hopes that student leaders had for co-operative governance to work and the consternation he felt when his SRC lost the battle about outsourcing with the university management under Vice- Chancellor Dr Mamphela Ramphele. This battle, which would be taken up again and again over the next 20 years by students, eventually led to the #EndOutsourcing campaign of 2015/16. Since his years in student leadership, September has made a career in Student Affairs at UCT, Sol Plaatje University and Wits University. His professional experience adds greatly to the richness of insights he gives into the relationship between student representation and protests.

Kenny Bafo’s chapter provides the bridge between the late 1990s and early 2000s. Bafo had a first stint at UWC from 1997 until he was excluded at the end of 1998. He returned to UWC in 2000 and his chapter provides a lesson on how to build a student political organisation from the ground up in less than three years. With the SRC election victory of Bafo as presidential candidate in 2002, PASMA came to run the SRC of UWC for the first time – taking it from SASCO. Bafo tells in his inimitable way how his SRC struggled to catch up with the load of expectation and responsibilities placed upon them, while they had very little support and almost no institutional memory to draw on at all. Bafo remained at UWC as an associate lecturer until his election to the Council of the City of Cape Town in 2016 and thus was able to observe (and comment on) the emergence of #FeesWillFall at UWC. 

In chapter 6, David Maimela tells his story of arriving at UP in 2001 and encountering a strange and oppressive residence culture on campus. Having been involved in the Congress of South African Students at high-school level already, he became a leader of SASCO at UP and was eventually deployed into the SRC where he soon realised that black students’ concerns could not be addressed by an SRC that had a majority of Freedom Front members. Reminiscent of student politics at historically English-tuition white universities in the 1980s, Maimela ended up having to represent black student interests outside the SRC, thus illustrating that the SRC model of student representation might fail to represent the broad range of student experiences and interests in large and diverse institutions like UP. Maimela’s reflections also draw on his experience as SASCO president nationally, and his involvement in ANC political structures during those years. Xolani Zuma spent his first year in the SRC in 2005/06 and became SRC president for 2006/07 at UZ. In his chapter, he reflects on partisanship in student politics and particularly the rivalry between ANC- and IFP-aligned student organisations. His chapter further stands out by his reflections on the many lessons he learnt: on personal and political ethics, managing resources and corruption, and on the importance of understanding the distinction between politics and real life. 16 / Reflections of South African Student Leaders

Zukiswa Mqolomba reflects in chapter 8 on her SRC presidency at UCT in 2006/07, drawing frequent comparison between the issues her SRC dealt with and what was taken up almost a decade later by #RhodesMustFall. In the final part of her chapter, Mqolomba reflects on the huge impact the experience of student leadership at UCT has had on her professional career and others who served with her in the SRC.

Having been SRC secretary-general in 2009/10, speaker of student parliament in 2012 and SRC president in 2012/13, and being the current chair of Convocation, Kwenza Madlala has vast amounts of insight into the governance of MUT. He starts his account by recalling how he was roped into the SRC in the midst of rivalry between SADESMO and SASCO at MUT. Madlala then shares his reflections on his SRC’s approach to student representation in committees. His chapter stands out for his condemnation of managements that first impede institutional progress when students raise an idea and then appropriate the same idea to take credit for it. Madlala is also among those student leaders who comment in detail on the differences of student politics at historically white and black universities in South Africa, and on the continuities and discontinuities in student politics leading up to the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall protests.

Lorne Hallendorff became SRC president of UCT for 2012/13, running as an independent candidate after he had spent a first term in the SRC in 2011/12. During his SRC presidency, he made a concerted effort to work through the university’s system of governance structures and committees – similar to Mqolomba – to address matters as diverse as financial exclusions, the academic timetable, and the divisive debate on UCT’s race-based admission policy. The latter is often cited as part of the ‘origin story’ of #RhodesMustFall. Thus, Hallendorff’s chapter is highly instructive for a better understanding of the emergence of #RhodesMustFall in terms of a longitudinal perspective of student politics at UCT. Like the other former student leaders in this book, he argues that 2015 did not take him by surprise at all: for too long had student leaders been frustrated on the same issues.

Chapter 11 tells the story of Hlomela Bucwa when she was first an SRC member and eventually became the SRC president (affiliated to DASO) at NMU. Bucwa recalls how she sought to pursue her organisation’s principles by putting students first and running a corruption-free SRC at NMU. She counts among her achievements that her SRC fundraised R9 million for students in the face of the inability of NSFAS to respond to students’ dire needs. In her reflections on #FeesMustFall, NSFAS features as one of the main sources of students’ frustration with an uncaring and unresponsive system.

An important story running through the first part of chapter 12 is the so-called battle of the two Brians at UWC. Vuyani Sokhaba was deputy secretary-general of the UWC SRC then. Sokhaba’s second term as SRC president extended into 2015 and the time when #RhodesMustFall and #OpenStellenbosch activists sought to inspire a similar decolonisation movement at UWC. Sokhaba critiques #RhodesMustFall from the UWC point of view, explaining why no decolonisation movement ever took off on a campus where students had fought apartheid and colonisation almost since it was founded as part of the extension of apartheid to the higher education sector in 1959.
Mpho Khati was also active for two terms in the SRC, in her case on the Bloemfontein campus of the UFS from 2014 to 2016. While her first term focused on improving the plight of black first-generation and first-year students, her second term was distinctly defined by the #FeesMustFall campaign at the UFS which, in the aftermath of the #ShimlaPark violence of February 2016, became increasingly consuming and eventually traumatic. Khati’s chapter also gives various examples of the way university governance processes fail students and how university leaders fail to understand student issues and student political culture.

Different readers will find the reflections of the former student leaders important for different reasons. In a book where every chapter can stand alone as an important insider reflection on leadership and governance in a specific institution and the sector at large, and where each chapter also represents an autobiographical excerpt from a young student leader’s life, it is impossible to do justice to each chapter in a few lines’ overview.

The final chapter of this book draws out a first set of findings from a crosschapter analysis, pointing out continuities and discontinuities over a quartercentury of student leadership, and concluding with a call to take student leaders more seriously and to collectively reimagine a new, democratic and responsive system of higher education governance in academic and support departments, faculties, institutions and at national level.