​Campus politics signals a jump to the left, say student leaders

Students sit in protest during a mass demonstration on the steps of Jameson Hall at the University of Cape Town on October 22 2015. (Mark Wessels, Reuters)

Students sit in protest during a mass demonstration on the steps of Jameson Hall at the University of Cape Town on October 22 2015. (Mark Wessels, Reuters)

Student leaders at the University of Cape Town (UCT) say the swing to radical left political views signals an “imminent ideological paradigm shift” in the country.

Recent “special” elections at UCT saw the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania (Pasma) sweep the board, with the ANC-aligned South African Students Congress (Sasco) winning just one seat. The Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (Daso), which has dominated UCT’s student politics, did not take part in the contest.

The final results showed that six EFF candidates, five Pasma candidates, three independent candidates and one Sasco candidate had won seats. Daso and Sasco have dominated previous student representative councils (SRCs).

The university suspended its 2016 SRC elections because one of the candidates, Masixole Mlandu, was interdicted from being on campus following his involvement in the #FeesMustFall protests, forcing the institution of an interim SRC.

The university will hold SRC elections again later in the year. This means the term of the recently elected SRC will be five months.

Last year, Pasma secured SRC election victories at the University of the Western Cape and the Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha.

Mlandu, the political commissar of Pasma, said: “Ideologically, the student populace has been at the forefront of changing the political landscape. Our politics have inspired and given hope to the possibility of left politics to find expression again in this neoliberal, settler country.

“The results in the university are indeed a reflection of the country’s politics. It is not a surprise that Pasma and EFF will be the ones who are leading because general society is moving towards the left and both of these movements can be seen as alternative.”

Sinawo Thambo, the EFF student command chairperson at UCT, said: “UCT students are beginning to embrace radicalism as an approach that is necessary to effect change, and they are starting to embrace the socialist ideals we carry, which inform our objectives, such as free education and a living wage for workers.

“The tide is turning ideologically. What we have seen since the emergence of the EFF over the past few years and the Fallist movement is a more radical and directed approach to raising and addressing critical issues,” he said.

Daso said it had not put up candidates for the special election because it did “not believe in contesting SRC elections just for the sake of it”. It would, however, be in the 2017-2018 term of the SRC in October.

“We would rather listen first and then serve on a full-term SRC where we can properly deliver on our mandate, once we have properly listened to the concerns of students,” said Daso in a statement on April 25. “We would like to serve ... once we have fulfilled the task of revitalising, rebuilding and listening.”

Ayanda Mahlaba, a masters student in historical studies, says it would be naive to rule out a comeback for Daso

He agreed, however, that Daso had lost credibility among black students. “Daso was critiqued heavily because of its involvement in the Open UCT Movement during Fees Must Fall. From there on it has been regarded by many as the vanguard of white interests.

However, it would be an act of naivety to pronounce the death of Daso based on these results. “Given their historical dominance in the institution it can still make a strong comeback,” Mahlaba said

Mlandu said Daso would have lost if it had run in the special election. Looking back over the past two years, the ideas that captured the imaginations of students — “particularly black students since #FeesMustFall, #Rhodes Must Fall and Shackville” — rendered the beliefs held by Daso “null and void”, he said.

“The mindset among students is no longer about over-parking.” 

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