Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Student Action in Durban

Hey, so this is a little off topic, but I thought it would give a good example of what's going on right now with what's left (as in politically left) of the ANC in South Africa. Two universities in Durban are combining under a single system starting this academic year; Howard College, once white and now primarily still wealthy students, though growing numbers of poor blacks are entering along with well-off Indians, Whites, Blacks and foreign students; AND Durban-Westville-formerly Indian, but presently attracts mostly poorer students both Indian and Black (Zulu mostly) on bursary (scholarship).

So just today when students were trying to register for the new school year the administration tried to impose new fees/raise fees, stop students from registering if their departments had closed, say that some departments were full and say financial aid had run out! Below all this is the most recent piece put out by the students. There will also be an article at South Africa's indymedia site soon. http://southafrica.indymedia.org/

I talked to some of the young socialists from Howard College (HC) about this when I was there. Its more pronounced at Westville, but a consolidation of campuses/departments has really hurt students, forcing them to attend (in most cases) Howard if they desire science and math degrees, and shuting down a lot of opportunities at Westville, making entire degrees inaccesible because of costs and travel to HC. And then there are those who can't even consider a UKZN degree because it is too expensive even with bursaries. My sister, who went to an elite (aka white) girls boarding school (she was a day student), would have liked to have gone to UKZN and got accepted, but for costs is at one of the many commercial/private colleges in Durban-Oval International College-, studying computer science. She hates computer science but is doing it because she hopes it will get her a good job when she graduates. I hope the students get what they need! It really would be screwing over a generation to make university education inaccesible. Higher education was not just a promise from the old liberation-era ANC, but also of the new govt. I would lose so much faith if the students were left without opportunities. Over and over again I've heard people say reconcilation, economic equality, end to racism, etc is up to our children. We are too old for this, too set in our ways, but our children can solve the problems and create the society we want. Everyone, and I really mean everyone, no matter race or socio-economic status or age, places their hope in the next generation.

Here are the students (this was sent from an American actually, who's a research fellow at UKZN's Centre for Civil Society at Howard College) Note the language they use!
There can be no liberation without socialism!
E-mail: socialiststudent@webmail.co.za Cell: 072-4729582 Fax: 031-2607073
Postal Address: C/o SRC, Westville Campus University of KwaZulu-Natal, Private Bag X54001, Durban, 4001

War is declared on students – time to fight back with "Operation Buyisa"
This year students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal are facing a harsh reality: the ANC government has embarked on an offensive to exterminate the overwhelming majority of students from poor backgrounds from the country’s tertiary institutions – with the UKZN management as their obedient tools. Unbelievable? Many of us are left with no other option but believing it – thousands of students are excluded, fees have been increased with up to 100 %, the management tries to sneak the counseling and appeals process out the back-door, the NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) has cut its funding. This is how students are now beginning to feel the concrete effects of the university merger, which the Socialist Student Movement has long warned is aimed as a means of realizing the government’s and its top bureaucrats’ dreams of turning tertiary education into a neo-liberally streamlined production process accommodating only a few highly profitable learners – those who can pay the escalating fees and have attended well-resourced schools and home environments.
At Westville campus 2004’s academic year ended with massive exclusions of for ex. 400 students at the Faculty of Engineering, 300 in Law, 95 in Health Sciences. But the last days of the semester also saw the determined struggle from the students of Science Foundation Programme (SFP) together with the SSM for the university to fulfill its responsibility to them – to bridge them into the sciences of their choice. After two sit-ins (occupations) of vice-chancellor Makgoba’s office, we won a victory – the management promised to meet our demands. This shows how united student action can force concessions. Currently management is however trying to sneak away from fulfilling their promises: SFP-students continue to be victimised and as SSM stressed from the beginning, the victory can only be defended, realised and expanded through continued action.
Now first-year students are told by faculties that "the financial aid-money is finished" – because the NSFAS is consciously under-funded (it does not even cover half of the eligible youth nationally). No issue can be isolated from others. The drastic fee increases – e.g. one semester course up from R1050.00 up to R1800, the R500 "acceptance fee" added to the R2000 registration fee, the hike in the points required for admission (for ex. from 32 to 35 in Science Faculty), the lack of residences (currently students who thought they would stay in former UKZN-res Killarney are left stranded by management as well as SRC, to mention one example), management’s silence about the counseling process which they earlier promised would be in place ("as a uniform policy"), are all measures taken by the UKZN bosses to comply with the directions from their bosses in the ANC-government, which in turn is sucking up to its big business masters (from Sexwale to Bill Gates).
Last year, the Department of Education instructed UKZN to cut its student population from 2004’s 43000 to 37000 by 2007 (in the document "Student Enrolment and Planning 2005-2007"). Students, and thousands denied to become students, now face the consequences of UKZN’s eagerness to obey. According to the Weekend Witness (2005-01-22), management is even trying to cut an additional 1500 students. This is despite claims from management (for ex. Prof. Zacharias on 2004-11-12) that it has "fought" against the cut. If so, the SSM challenges the management to support and join the students in mass action for more resources for the university and education in general, while in the meantime availing resources for all students to learn.
Since our birth in the year 2000, the SSM has warned for the mergers and their consequences. To in effect cut 36 tertiary institutions to 21 when 13 million people in South Africa are functionally illiterate is not to invest in "African Scholarship" (which has become the ideological figue leaf behind which the government and its various disciples at UKZN try to hide their naked betrayal of poor, largely black African youth). Instead it is nothing but an adaptation to the demands big business owners have increasingly put pressure for across the world in the past 20 years as part of their neo-liberal agenda. In South Africa only 18,7 % of passed matrics enabled (in theory) university entry last year. It is no accident that for working class South Africans thousands of obstacles build up a threshold at "the doors of learning" that is overcome only by a small minority. The capitalists, here and internationally, do not feel a need for educated masses (that could even be dangerous) but prefer to let only a small elite develop their talent, preferably in fields like accounting/commerce, management or engineering) while the rest of us are left to provide cheap, unskilled and desperate labour force when called for. This forms background to the mergers and the cuts we are now facing as well as for the government’s unwillingness to provide real free education or deal with a school situation where 1 million learners drop out every year.
Westville’s and UKZN’s SASCO-led "interim" SRC could have had plenty of time to fight off the attacks, since it extended its own term of office in a coup-like manner. Instead they have for ex. defended the merger, spread untrue claims that the fees have been decreased, unasked gone "fundraising" for students denied financial aid (coming back with nothing but lies about more money from NSFAS), and kept quiet about crucial issues. This is no surprise considering that they have each being paid R70 a day by the management to be its "good boys and girls" – they have been here since January 3 as University employees. On management’s part this is seemingly a good investment, but for how long will the students allow what should perhaps be called the "Management Representative Council" to enjoy representing them? As the SSM sees it, this "MRC" is out only to sow confusion and arrest the anger among students. This is dangerous, because what we in fact need to do is to unite, organize and fight.
No one will be excluded, no one will be denied the right to education - if all students stand up and pay solidarity to the affected students today. Therefore, the SSM urges all students to join us in "Operation Buyisa" – meaning a struggle demanding that:
- All those excluded are readmitted with immediate effect
- All qualifying new students are registered
- All fee increases are paid back with a moratorium on fee increases – i.e. fees are frozen - at last year’s level until an agreement has been made involving all students
- All students who need residence are given it now – including former Killarney students!
- The new admission criteria is torn up – for a moratorium on last year’s level until an agreement can be made with all students. All who are willing to study must be assisted to reach their fullest potential.
- The counseling and appeals process must go on until there is free education – which is the only way to guarantee access to education for everyone
- The country’s wealth must be re-distributed to provide for full funding of educational institutions from pre-primary school to tertiary – this means the commanding heights of the economy must be owned and controlled by the people

Contact SSM on the numbers below and at our desk next to Lower Caf. All students who are directly affected now are requested to enlist their names – and all other students are also asked to join us in the struggle. The government and management have begun a war on the poor youth of the country, and we must begin to fight back together or we will all be victimised sooner or later.
Contact us on: 072-4729582 (Sipho), 084-6437961 (Sikhumbuzo), 072-3386434 (Bonginkosi)