South Africa: Student uprising

Struggle for free education now!




 Demand 0% increases! Demand free education!

 Down with police brutality – defend the right to protest!

 Convene a national student assembly to build a united country-wide socialist youth movement

 Workers & students unite – for a national day of action

 Unite the struggles of students, workers & communities – build a socialist mass workers party

 Capitalism must fall! – struggle for a socialist society

Salute the uprising of tertiary education students! Like the 1976 generation, students have lifted the lid on the pressure cooker of boiling working class discontent. Since the dawn of democracy, the capitalist class and their willing accomplices in the ANC government have carried out a total onslaught on working people. The outrageous increases in registration, tuition and accommodation fees are merely the straw that has broken the back of the camel of working class patience.

The background for this is an intensification of the global capitalist crisis which began in 2008 and claimed one million jobs and for which there is no end in sight. This year alone 100 000 workers have been throw on the scrap heap of unemployment. A further 190 000 jobs may go in the metal and engineering industry which could be wiped out in six months.

Capitalism means poverty

As democracy comes of age it has become abundantly clear that the ANC government’s policies have been aimed at the preservation of the economic dictatorship of the capitalist class and the continued subjugation of the working class. The massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich has seen SA achieve the dubious distinction of being the most unequal society on earth! Just two people – Nicky Oppenheimer and Johann Rupert own as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the population.

Even the government’s own neo-liberal magic wand, the National Development Plan admits the poor quality of education for most black children results in only half of all those starting school reaching grade 12. According to a 2014 OECD review, about 3.4m between the ages of 15 and 24 are not in formal employment, education or training.

54% of us live in poverty. The first drought since 1994 has resulted in starvation in the Free State, and KZN with 15m going to bed hungry every night. As crops fail and maize prices go up, the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures the prices of basic goods and services and so affects the poor far more, has shot up by 27%. The disappearance of jobs has increased precarious jobs – casual, temporary or labour broker slaves – to between 25% and 50% of the total workforce. 19m are indebted with 10 000 losing their homes every year. This is the context for the rejection of the fee increases.

Reject 6%

The so-called ‘concession’ – limiting fee increases to inflation, or 6% – brokered between Higher Education Minister, Blade Nzimande, and vice-chancellors, has been rightly rejected with the contempt it deserves. We support the demand not only for 0% increases, but for immediate steps towards the establishment of a system of free education.

It may be true, as management claims, that government cuts have left universities with an ever growing funding shortfall. But not only has management offered no resistance to these cuts, they have zealously colluded in placing the burden onto the shoulders of students through exorbitant fees increases and outsourcing of services, whilst awarding themselves extravagant salaries and perks enabling vice-chancellors to earn more than president Zuma. Now that protests have broken out, the vice-chancellors and university managements have not hesitated to use the police to supress peaceful protests.

The ANC serves the rich

The government is pleading poverty. Yet there is no shortage of money. Government economic policy has been consciously calculated to enable the country’s wealth to be looted. This includes:

 R80bn a year is being lost through illegal money flows

 35 trillion is sitting in corporate cash balances

 R700bn is estimated to have been lost to corruption

 8trillion is sitting with the Public Investment Corporation

To this list can be added the arms deal, Nkandla, and the insane plan to spend over R1 trillion on nuclear power plants.

The grovelling of the ANC leadership before global capital began with the adoption of the neo-liberal GEAR (Growth, Employment and Redistribution) policy in 1996. This converted the country into a virtual sub-continental bazaar for a capitalist shopping spree – state-owned entities (SOEs) were put on sale, exchange controls weakened, company taxes lowered, major JSE companies allowed to list abroad, and foreign investors allowed to buy stakes in the media, banks, mining, manufacturing and SOEs. The ANC facilitated a massive transfer of profits out of SA.

Instead of exposing business/government corruption under apartheid, the ANC government covered it up. The Open Society reports that a 2003 Treasury amnesty for capitalists who smuggled money out under apartheid netted a mere R68bn. Nothing was done about those who stole sole billions more.

In sharp contrast, students unable to pay registration fees upfront are excluded. Those who fall behind after admission are excluded during the academic year or denied their results after.

The ANC government has opened the gates for capital flight legalising what was previously illegal and enabling big business to take out through the front door what they previously had to through the back. The Financial Transparency Coalition told Fin24 that money connected to SA hidden in Switzerland at HSCBC was more than France’s, eight times higher than that of the US, and 3.5 times more than Spain. Academics estimate that between 2001 and 2007 capital flight increased from 12% to 23% of GDP – nearly a quarter of the country’s wealth.

MTN has threatened to withdraw from SA if tax laws are amended to prevent what occurred as during deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa’s tenure as MTN chairperson, when billions of profits made in SA were siphoned off to an off-shore account in Mauritius.

No wonder The Times could report that “South Africa has ‘the most corrupt corporate class on earth according to the business consultancy Price Water House Coopers in February 2014. In the words of The Times, South African management ‘is the world leader in money-laundering, bribery and corruption, procurement fraud, asset misappropriation, and cybercrime’, with 77 percent of all internal fraud committed by senior and middle management.”

Take the movement forward

The 6% ‘concession’ is calculated to defuse the movement, co-opt those without the stamina to struggle and to divide the haves from the have-nots amongst the students. It is an apartheid-style divide-and-rule tactic designed to perpetuate class apartheid at tertiary institutions. Students must stay united. The leaders of SASCO and COSAS will be under extreme pressure to keep the movement in ‘safe channels’ in defence of Blade, the ANC government and ultimately capitalism. Unless they break fully from the ANC they will be forced to betray the struggle. Students and ordinary members of these organisations must remain vigilant against this threat.

The Socialist Youth Movement has long called for the building of a new mass student movement. We played a pioneering role at the start of this year in the #occupy movement against financial and academic exclusions that attempted to occupy Blade’s office at the Department of Higher Education. Now such a movement is organically emerging before our eyes out of the anti-fees struggle. But spontaneity and Twitter are not adequate to consolidate the movement. We must urgently construct a new national leadership that is student-led, student-controlled, democratic and accountable. The #feesmustfall activists must form campus committees and elect delegates to a national student assembly to unite students around the following demands:

 0% increases in registration, tuition, accommodation and foreign student fees

 Scrap all student debt to tertiary education institutions and to NSFAS

 The immediate release of all results withheld for non-payment of fees

 End outsourcing – re-employ all workers on a minimum wage of 12 500 month

 An end to the corporatisation of tertiary education institutions

 Establish committees of struggle to unite students , youth and working class communities

 Free education now

Student resistance against fee increases has placed under the spotlight the social onslaught facing the working class. The labour movement must throw its weight behind this struggle. An injury to students is an injury to the working class as a whole! For a worker and student national day of action to demand free education now!

Education is an investment in society’s future – to enable the youth to play a role in society’s development. If the capitalists and their government can’t afford fee quality education we can’t afford them. Just as, after Marikana, the working class is reorganising itself with the most militant and determined elements preparing to build a new trade union federation, students too must reorganise. We need a mass united socialist student movement to link the struggle for free education with the struggle against capitalism and for the socialist transformation of society. Students must join with workers and communities in building a socialist mass workers party to prepare for that struggle.

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