EFF’s rise at varsities ‘bodes well’ for 2019

Wits students seem to have turned their backs on the ANC, looking to the EFF to bring about change. (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP)

Wits students seem to have turned their backs on the ANC, looking to the EFF to bring about change. (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP)

Days after a shock Economic Freedom Fighters win in student representative council (SRC) elections at the University of the Witwatersrand, posters from the EFF Student Command and the ANC-aligned Progressive Youth Alliance stand side by side,  beaming down at students scurrying through the corridors of Solomon Mahlangu House. The posters are a constant reminder of how little influence the ANC now has in student politics.

The EFF Student Command secured 12 out of a possible 15 seats, and the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) managed a disappointing three seats — a far cry from last year’s election, when the PYA won all 15 seats. Turnout this year, however, was slightly lower; only 18% of the total student population voted, a 5% decrease from last year’s 23%.

Now, attention is focused on determining how the EFF will steer Wits students through the coming year.

One thing EFF Student Command president Phuti Peter Keetse is clear about is that an EFF-led student body will not subscribe to “reactionary politics”. 

“We are aware and see very clearly what is happening in other institutions, and the comrades at Wits will not just act based on what other institutions are doing,” Keetse told the Mail & Guardian.

“For two years the previous SRC at the institution watched students being shot — and for what? They achieved nothing. If we shut down Wits, it will be on our terms.”

But SRCs are not always able to prevent shutdowns by independent groups of students.

At the University of Cape Town (UCT) this week, the newly elected Democratic Alliance Student Organisation-led SRC rejected a shutdown — claiming that university shutdowns have led to “compromised academic periods, a number of injuries and traumatic experiences”.

Their warning was not heeded. Activities were interrupted this week when a group of UCT students marched on the campus to demand free higher education. Speculation is now rife that Wits will be next.

But Keetse said the EFF would resist being used as a scapegoat for student protests. 

“#FeesMustFall is like a series and each year we achieve nothing. We are tired of being the movement’s sacrificial lambs. It is us who get suspended and are unable to complete our degrees once the #FeesMustFall dust settles. No more,” he said.

He insists, however, that the new Wits SRC will still focus on achieving free higher education.

“Remember that free education is part of our seven cardinal pillars. So best believe that free education will be the Wits EFF Student Command’s priority. At the present moment, we are in the process of reviewing different methods outside of shutting down the university to achieve this goal,” said Keetse.

Formed in June 2015, the EFF’s student arm now has a total of 170 seats and 13 SRC presidents in institutions of higher learning. Keetse said this shows the inroads that the organisation is making.

“Victories at universities are directly proportional to the organisation’s growth on a national level,” he said. “It is evident that young people are listening and beginning to respond to the clarion call of economic freedom in our lifetime. As members of the organisation we must be proud of the fact that the organisation is growing, and our opponents are becoming more and more tired and we are capitalising on their weaknesses.”

Retired law professor and political analyst Shadrack Gutto said the EFF Student Command’s success is a reason for the EFF to look forward to 2019 — saying that “the EFF’s victory at Wits shows that the organisation is increasingly capturing [the imagination of] South Africa’s youth”.

Given Sigauqwe

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