Opinion

When Populism Replaced Logic: Reflecting on Reckless Leadership During #FeesMustFall At UWC

Asanda Bleki

On the 16th October 2016 at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) an SRC/Fees Must Fall meeting was held at the Student Center.  The masses that formed part of the meeting were made up of students and workers.  The entire campus was mobilized on the national call for free education and to end outsourcing.  The objective of the meeting was to extract concessions from the university management which was present in the form of the Rector and the Deputy Vice Chancellor.  The concessions were documented in the 40 demands memorandum. Regrettably, this climatic point of the student-worker mobilization was never exploited in the interests of both the students and the workers. Demagoguery and populism trampled on the cautious and progressive path the meeting was taking.  In the meeting we witnessed the substitution of logic, strategy and critical reasoning for excitement, spontaneity and impulsiveness.  When the dust had settled, more than 140 workers were dismissed by private security company Securitas and most students were left in academic limbo and difficulty.  History demands that we write a thorough comprehension of these catastrophic outcomes.  What went wrong? How? And Why?  This piece seeks to contribute in finding answers to these questions.

 

The launching of the UWC FMF campaign was due to the coming together of different student political formations on campus, of course inspired by the national wave of free education that had engulfed the country.  More than launching the campaign, political formations brought the element of participating in an organized manner, which entails a disciplined approach in the struggle.  Organization and discipline are the cudgels that enabled UWC FMF to gain the concessions that it got from the university management in 2015.  Here we are referring to the salary increases for the workers, study benefits for the workers and their children, clearance and a registration process with less hurdles during the 2016 registration period and students were in a convenient position insofar as their exams were concerned, they had a choice between taking their semester mark as a final mark or choose to write the exam.  The student insurrection momentum of 2015 was carried into early 2016.  However, at this point we began to witness the intimidation, targeting and suppression of leadership by the powers that be, institutionally by the university management and at state level through the South African Police Service (SAPS) as well as the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).  The partisan, organized and disciplined leadership of 2015 slowly disappeared out of the scene as 2016 progressed, understandably so given the viciousness of their adversaries in power.

 

With the disappearance of the 2015 founding leadership in the course of 2016, a strange breed of leadership emerged in the movement.  This new type of leadership was unorganized and non-partisan in posture.  It seemed to be excited and emotion driven, a scientific dialectic approach of revolutionary activism was to this type a book locked with seven seals!  Its love for TV and Newspaper appearances was a cause for concern.  It had a tendency of refusing to account for the financial affairs of the movement, in fact at some point those who insisted on accountability were crudely told “anizuyiva”.  Populism reached hegemonic levels within the movement, and all these reactionary characteristics of this new type of leadership were well embodied in the demagoguery figure of Monde Nonabe.  In a very populist and reckless manner during the mass meeting, he announced a stay away of the workers in what he termed a “sabbatical leave”, without any consultation which usually precedes decisions of this nature.  Due to Monde’s “sabbatical leave”, 144 workers lost their jobs, most painfully Comrade Brenda Masala lost her life due to what her colleagues reported at the time as stress related to the “sabbatical leave”.  

 

While announcing that the workers must stay away from work and the students must not entertain their academics. This hypocritical demagogue’s academic and professional life was well balanced and well attended to.  In the midst of a shutdown he was supposed to be leading, he would attend his teaching practical’s which landed him the teaching post he currently occupies.  With his equally reckless demagoguery half Lukhanyo Mei, who also commenced his job at some bookshop in town a day after the workers were informed of their dismissal.  We were then left to manage an irreversible crisis of the mass dismissal of workers, that could have been avoided, given the fact we had very early on cautioned that security workers need to go back to work, however this plea landed on deaf ears and obviously the unthinking heads of this two.  Therefore, the death of Brenda Masala and more than 140 families that collapsed due to the absence of bread on their tables, I put squarely on the doorsteps of this two and their non-partisan collective.  Politically organized Comrades, who surrendered leadership to unorganized groupings, a highest form of irresponsibility and madness! These comrades should interrogate themselves and their role in the 2016 FMF fiasco at UWC.  

 

During those days a senior Pan-Afrikanist Youth Congress Organization (PAYCO) cadre would say “A soldier without a flag can be anybody’s soldier”.  It is our findings that Monde Nonabe was a Kilombo agent, a cult founded by Xola Skosana, with a perverted vision that all left political formations in occupied Azania (South Africa) would bow to this cult.  Of course the ultimate aim of this cult is to satisfy Skosana’s greed for power and influence.  The 2016/17 PASMA led SRC was supposed to take directives from this cult and it was Monde’s duty to see to it that this happens.  The strategy was to make FMF be at odds with the SRC, with the hope that the SRC would ultimately succumb to the Kilombo agenda.  Working closely with Monde was Michael Helu a trade unionist, whose primary interest was to recruit the dismissed workers for his union, not to put an end to outsourcing at UWC.  The toxic agendas of Skosana’s Kilombo and Helu’s trade union both used the figure of Monde Nonabe and this resulted in the catastrophic outcomes we witnessed in 2016 FMF campaign in UWC.

 

So what are the lessons to learn comrades? Non-partisans must never be given leadership responsibility, no matter how progressive they may appear to be, for leadership begins with the realizations of the need to be organized.  Masses are always made up of organized and unorganized members of society, non-partisans will always have a place in the struggle, as unorganized masses.  Recklessness must not be confused with radicalism; true radicals must distinguish between the two.  As the struggle continues may we carry forth these lessons.  Currently legal efforts are being made to reinstate the workers, however the lack of resources has been a major obstacle.  May the spirit of Brenda Masala not make us rest until we reach the shores of liberated Azania.  To the more than 140 families that lost their daily bread, continuing with idabi labantu nela basebenzi is the only response I have.  To Skosana’s Kilombo and Helu’s Union, all that which is reactionary is destined for the dustbin of history.

*** Asanda Bleki is the former President of the UWC SRC

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Vernac News

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