The evolvement of higher education in South Africa’s democratic dispensation cannot be separated from the influence of the South African Students Congress (Sasco), which celebrates its 27th anniversary this September.
Every graduate who attended university between 1991 and 2018 has, in one way or another, been influenced by Sasco.
This student movement is to be found on every campus, and is widely respected for having leaders who possess an elevated understanding of how to tackle the problems facing the higher education sector.
The fact that universities today speak of transformation, free education, decolonisation and an Africanised curriculum is proof that the ideas that have always come from a Sasco brain enjoy legitimacy, hegemony and scholarly reception. It is from Sasco that the selfless and ethical leaders who will shape the nation’s future are expected to come.
The products of Sasco are expected to be well-read, revolutionary, disciplined and impatient with backwardness and ignorance.
Sasco’s priority is education. The organisation exists because of the structural problems that students experience in universities. Nothing would please a Sasco member more than seeing multitudes of youths from poor backgrounds enhancing their education for the betterment of their future.
In addition, it also exists to build the intellectual project of the university and shape developmental ideas for the nation’s wellbeing and future.
Sasco sees higher education as a crucial arsenal that a country must possess to overcome the pitfalls of the century. Such an education, according to Sasco’s outlook, must be accessed for free, with an Africanised curriculum that reflects the social identity of its African communities.
In other words, a higher education offered by a university underpinned by Sasco’s principles should be student-centred and fixated on the complexities of the human condition.
The current realities of a global economy, such as the shifting patterns of human settlement and the urbanisation of the youth, the technicalisation of higher education and the casualisation of labour, no doubt have an influence on the methods that universities have to experiment with as far as student socio-academic development is concerned.
How the student movement analyses these questions determines its relevance, influence and purposefulness.
Although Sasco is centred on waging a good fight against injustice, it must elevate its
level of problematising higher education unjust practices so that it can also be positioned in the sector as a source of shaping developmental trajectories. Therefore, it is important for the student movement to revisit the basis of its formation, assess its immediate challenges, examine what and who it should prioritise, and cultivate its strengths and weaknesses because they revolve around interpreting the historical and momentary circumstances that shape today’s higher education system.
Such a responsibility is immense. As a result, Sasco cannot be used as an organisation for petty issues such as having people who use it to facilitate their own selfish ambitions. It should not be a vehicle for people to get jobs, to misuse students’ finances or to use its name to receive personal money from external bodies. Instead, it must be conscious of
the fact that it was formed as a fighting weapon in higher education to salve students’ suffering.
It was formed to deliver a generational mission of a transformed, free and quality higher education.
When celebrating its anniversary, the membership of Sasco must resist mediocrity, it must fight against the temptations of power, it must hit hard against corrupt practices and the thirst for easy money, and it must stand against living for the 11th commandment: “Thou shall not get caught”.
It must possess a heightened ability to question, think differently, be innovative and disagree with wrongdoing, even when it is being done by its own closest comrades. It must resist a single school of thought, the dogma that comes with ideologies and philandering in anti-intellectualism because of fearing democratic contestation and suppressing ideas different from its own.
It must be respectful in engaging its supporters and opponents alike. It must have a constant desire to learn and unlearn, to search for the injustices of its deepest convictions, to self-criticise and interrogate its daily practices, and to question and doubt its own self. It must encourage students to succeed academically by being exemplary.
At all times, it must be obsessed with its priority, which is the transformation of higher education. Such is the foundation of Sasco.
Pedro Mzileni is the former Claude Qavane branch secretary ofSasco at Nelson Mandela University. These are his own views