Monday, September 12, 2005

SRC Handover Speech

Handover Address by Nyiko Floyd ShivambuSRC President 2004/5
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
12 September 2005

Vice Chancellor the 12th of September marks a very important day in the history of South Africa and the South African student activism. Today marks exactly 28 years, of apartheid police operations assassination of one of the most prominent student leaders in the history of South Africa. Steve Biko, the first President of the South African Students’ Organisation was assassinated on the 12th of September 1977, for upholding and promoting the ideas he held about the then South Africa and what could be the future South Africa.

Contrary to popular convictions, Biko believed in the creation of a non-racial and egalitarian society, where all citizens would enjoy political and economic freedom. To apartheid racism, Biko counterpoised black solidarity, with the belief rather, that ultimately; a synthesis of an anti-racist and non-racial society will ultimately be conceived.

If Biko’s cowardly assassination had not happened, he would be amongst those in South Africa today, who would express concerns about the transformation pace and rate of historically white institutions of Higher Learning in South Africa. Biko believed that higher education should response directly to the needs of society within which it exists. His belief of being a member of the broader community before being a student led to so many practical programmes and projects that sought to better the lives of South African citizens, particularly those that were socially and economically excluded and alienated from their own surrounding. Biko would have most certainly agreed with the sentiments of Kanye West on the protracted response of US administration to the destructions of Hurricane Katrina in the Mexican Gulf Sate of Louisiana, in particular the city of New Orleans.

In that fortitude, Vice Chancellor, allow me to send our sincere greetings to newly elected members of the SRC and once again congratulate them for their historic victory, and all protocol observed. The SRC President is likely to agree with me that our systems of ideas and thoughts and scientific discoveries have proven to be ineffective in addressing the most ardent of challenges in the 21st century. Our social sciences have not helped us to understand and curb the fatal conflicts and confrontations that continue to characterise Africa. Our climatology did not help in understanding the climatic changes in New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina hit thus destroying infrastructure and lives. In Mozambique and Northern Limpopo in year 2000, floods eroded not only the mud houses within which majority of residents thereon reside, but thousands of lives of our fellow Africans and citizens. In Indonesia, our understanding of tectonic forces in the ocean and sea did not help us to timely predict the massive destruction of Tsunami. Our engagement with cultural, international, religious and political relations and studies and our studies of diplomacy continue to fail us in combating terrorism and alleged counter-terrorism in the world.

Let me lower the scale to Wits University, since I am aware that “We are dealing with student politics here, not a national agenda. We are here to study, not to pursue a higher political motive” as one of the current SRC members was quoted as saying in the Mail & Guardian.

My personal observation of interrelations between the progressive student movement and senior management at Wits is different from what I used to believe. I presently believe that since the 2004 April student protests, distrust and mistrust have defined how progressive students relate to senior management and other sectors. This reality has largely influenced how the 2004/5 SRC related to senior management and other offices in the University. Perceptions and misperceptions were developed, maintained and sustained and continue to define our relations. I think and believe that such reality was and is a very regrettable and undesirable phenomenon, mostly that our SRC as well as Senior Management did not handle differences of opinions in a manner which we should have handled them.

We nevertheless are still at Wits University, and as far as I know, most of the 2004/5 SRC have committed themselves to continue with student leadership roles elsewhere, than in the SRC. For instance, the former SRC secretary is currently Careers Officer of the Law Students Council and the former Entrepreneurial Development Officer is currently and paradoxically a deputy chairperson of the Young Communist League in campus. I therefore hope and believe that relations should be mended for the cohesion of Wits University as a community. I do not believe that we all wish to see a fragmented Wits University in terms of vision, strategic beliefs and understandings. We cannot continue to disagree on everything, every time and everywhere. In fact we do not necessarily disagree on everything, we just have to discover or uncover our areas of consensus and agreement. I hope that the new SRC and Management will vicariously learn from what were differences and conflictual relations in the past.

However, I believe part of the approach adopted by our SRC (2004/5 SRC) was influenced by objective factors in the University. I totally agree with the late Sam Nothsulungu who was a very vocal political analyst on student activism during SASO and NUSAS era. He said in 1983 that “the revolutionary significance of a political movement, whatever its class character, is not determined solely by its own internal characteristics (programmes and ideologies), but also by the nature of the political terrain and the effects of that terrain on its political practice”. Whilst our SRC’s programmes and sets of beliefs could have been determinant of the decisions and actions we took, the political terrain we existed in largely compelled us to respond in a particular way and format.

Whatever will be, I assure the SRC Secretary that the political terrain which you currently exist in will determine some of the decisions to be yet taken by the incumbent SRC.

Perhaps lessons should be drawn by the current SRC from one of the most progressive student movements in South Africa, the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), which the current Dean of Commerce, Law and Management was Secretary General of in 1979. A document written by two presidents of NUSAS between 1983 and 1986 (Kate Philip (NUSAS president 1983/84) and Brendan Barry (NUSAS president 1985/86) acknowledged that “While most organisations build their membership by organising directly around the interests of their members, the historical challenge for NUSAS was to organise white students to take a stand that appeared contrary to their interests: to recognise that the white minority privileges they enjoyed as a result of apartheid were unjust and unjustifiable, and to ally themselves with the forces for democracy in South Africa”. Indeed this was a heroic and exceptional role played by a student movement in South Africa.
Challenges of access still confront the higher education landscape in the country and there should be a collective response to such phenomenon. I personally do not hold any student leader in high regard, who refuses to acknowledge that Wits University does not exist within a vacuum.
We would like to wish the new SRC good luck and a prosperous year. And to the out-gone SRC, Bravo! I hope and believe that as responsible leaders, you will continue to lead within various structures and systems in the University and elsewhere.
Thank You


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Mzala said...

A leader who listens and is sensitive to his colleagues will find more value in handing over power than by plunging his party into crisis by refusing to make way for younger and more energetic blood. Please advice your cronies like Bolshevic, so that he does not end up like Tony Blair.