A visible shift in student politics

Stellenbosch University
Stellenbosch University
With Stellenbosch University’s Student Representative Council election results due to be announced on Tuesday‚ a visible shift in student politics in the country has been witnessed‚ with students becoming more than just a microcosm of society.

But the big question is: what direction is this shift taking?

ANC-aligned student organisations have traditionally held sway‚ but their support appears to be on the wane.

Last week the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (DASO) at the University of Pretoria (UP) provisionally won 10 out of 12 seats. In June the University of Cape Town (UCT) elected its first black Student Representative Council (SRC) president‚ who is affiliated with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

"DASO and EFF Student Command have been winning elections in various campuses. Yet they are ideologically different. The shift articulates itself through a move away from ANC-aligned student movements and‚ more especially in this context‚ right-wing student movements; through voting for hitherto opposition parties; through joining non-political party aligned student movements; and‚ through non participation in SRC elections‚" said Dr Musawenkosi Ndlovu‚ senior lecturer at the Centre for Film and Media Studies at UCT.

According to Ndlovu‚ the shift is a result of ANC-aligned student movements being seen as "un-votable" for some students‚ except die-hard supporters.

Ndlovu said that sometimes these student organisations are just victims of politics outside of their control.

" national discourse has managed to make it possible for some to conclude that the country’s various problems can singularly be blamed on the ANC's misrule. There is therefore lack of trust in the ANC‚" Ndlovu said.

It is not dead‚ but declining‚ he said.

Shadrack Gutto‚ a constitutional law expert‚ said that young people are starting to realise that their future is not safe.

"They no longer believe that the ANC is the liberator or a job provider. They go to school and study hard to acquire a qualification‚ only to not find a job afterwards‚" Gutto said.

"They came to realise that a certificate is not equal to employment. Education is empowering‚ it opens doors but unfortunately not all doors."

In Gutto's view‚ the shift is reflective of the broader political landscape.

Political analyst Ebrahim Fakir's opinion differed from these views. He said that students are a small part of society and do not necessarily represent the views of everyone.

"Student politics are specific on issues in their universities and different students want different things. They might be concerned with parking‚ library access‚ fees‚ rags in residences‚ social issues‚ WiFi and so forth. Racially and class-wise‚ they go to university for specific experiences and some are more privileged than others‚" said Fakir.

According to Fakir‚ the concept of political parties being a part of student politics is a relatively new one.

"I don't know if you can make an extrapolation of student politics as a reflection of national politics. The comparison cannot be made easily. Typically‚ less than three percent of students turn up to vote or participate‚ but this is different in different campuses‚" Fakir said.

In its 2014 SRC elections at UP‚ 12 candidates were elected‚ with independent candidates winning three seats; AfriForum won six seats and DASO‚ EFF Tuks and SASCO claimed one seat each.

Fast forward to 2016‚ no elections were held as a result of disruptions caused by the Fees Must Fall protests. This year DASO won 10 out of 12 seats at the institution.

In the 2014 Witwatersrand SRC election‚ the ANC-aligned Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) won 9 seats with Project W winning 6 seats. Wits EFF and DASO did not win any seats.

In 2015 the PYA won 12 seats with Project W winning 3 seats. As in previous elections‚ the Wits EFF did not secure any seats.

Last year the PYA walked away with all 15 seats at Wits.

Since 2015 DASO has been seen to be cementing its position at the University of Fort Hare‚ which had traditionally been an ANC stronghold. DASO won 52% of the ballot that year compared to the ANC-aligned South African Students’ Congress’ (Sasco) 37%.

In 2016 SASCO received 40% of the votes while DASO walked away with 43%. The other two political organisations that contested the election were the EFF Student Organisation and the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania (PASMA). The latter won one seat.


Source: TMG Digital.

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