The newly-elected and EFF-controlled student representative council (SRC) not to embark on university shutdown operation has taken many by surprise.
The Economic Freedom Fighters’ Student Command (EFFSC) was very instrumental in the 2015/16 campus-wide student protest for free university education. Given its mother body’s radical rhetoric and often confrontational approach, particularly in parliament, many anticipated it would readily intensify the campaign to disrupt classes and examinations.
The decision signals a new and nuanced strategic approach that EFFSC will adopt on campuses. It also suggests that the organisation is revisiting and exploring progressive ways in which it can still pursue the objectives of the #FeesMustFall campaign without alienating and losing public support.
The decision by the Wits SRC under EFFSC to seek students’ views by calling a mass meeting must be seen within this context. In the meeting, an overwhelming majority of students decided against shutting down the university and this decision was carried.
Wits SRC president, Orediretse Masebe, said canvassing students’ views before embarking on such a big operation is part of a tradition forged during #FeesMustFall campaign. “We have always engaged in robust and comprehensive debates with Wits student body during the campaign,” Masebe said.
“We are not going to allow a shutdown pronounced via WhatsApp groups,” said Masebe.
We are tired of creating [political] pop stars out of every protest; we don’t want to create political elites who get access to resources they would not ordinarily access. There are a number of processes that must be gone into before shutting down the university and one of this is to consult with students,” Masebe.
He continued: “Right now students are in the middle of their examinations and we are saying it would be quite careless, reckless and selfish of us to announce a shutdown via social media. However, this should not be confused or misinterpreted to mean that EFF is against the call for free education for all.
Although the situation was calm at Wits east campus on Friday, there were widespread fears that a disgruntled group of students, allegedly belonging to Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) were agitating for a shutdown. The alliance – an umbrella body of ANC-aligned youth structures including primarily South African Students Organisation, ANCYL and Young Communist League – lost the elections to EFF. Their alleged insistence to call for disruptions of the academic programme and examinations was seen as a calculated attempt to project the EFF as a weak organisation to take on the Wits administration.
On Friday Inside Education visited the campus and spoke to an EFFSC member, who did not want to mention his name because he was not authorised to speak on behalf EFFSC. He described PYA’s failed attempts to call for a shutdown as “sour grapes”.
“These guys have been in office and they have done nothing to mobilise students for any protest. These things are organised in advance, say in September or thereabouts. That way you build a moment. You cannot wait until when students sit for their examination and try to call for a shutdown. What they are trying to do is damage control if not, saving their face,” he said.
Other students expressed relief and praised EFF for handling the situation in a “responsible” manner.
Keegan, a first year BA student said: “I am very happy and surprised at the way EFF has handled the matter. I mean let us face it, this is the time that if you want to get the government to pay attention you do a shutdown now.”
Ziyaad and Shi, also BA first students, agreed with Keegan. “I personally agree; I particularly like their motto: high morale and high discipline.”
Shi added: “I must say I don’t know a lot about student politics but I must say I was worried there would be a shutdown this time. I am happy with the way it was handled; that there is no shutdown and it is peaceful as opposed to last year which was tumultuous.”