#FeesMustFall: We are not irrelevant, say party youth leaders

2015-12-29 10:50
Collen Maine (Photo supplied)

Collen Maine (Photo supplied)

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Johannesburg - Political party youth leaders, none of whom were visible during student protests this year, are competing to lead a second wave of protests in 2016.

The Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command and the ANC-aligned Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA), which includes the SA Student Congress (Sasco), have vowed to lead the charge.

"We will not be having a holiday as the EFF Student Command and come January we will make sure we are vigorously advocating for the implementation of free, quality education," its president, Mpho Morolane, told News24.

ANC Youth League president Collen Maine said the PYA had been leading students from all political parties during the protests and would continue to do so.

"We have structures in all universities, so they are still relevant."

News24 spoke to youth leaders from the country's three biggest political parties  the African National Congress, Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters  about whether they felt political structures had been bypassed during one of the most important developments in the country's democracy.

Are youth political structure still relevant?

In October, students at Wits University in Johannesburg began protesting against a proposed double-digit fee increase. This quickly spread to other universities around the country. On October 14, UCT students took their protest to Parliament during (now former) finance minister Nhlanhla Nene’s mid-term budget speech. On October 23, President Jacob Zuma announced that university fees would not increase in 2016.

Students, not political parties, led the #FeesMustFall movement, as was illustrated by UCT students chasing DA leader Mmusi Maimane off campus when he came to speak to them on October 20.

Does this mean that political youth structures are becoming irrelevant?

All three youth leaders said "no". Maine argued that most of the students who led the protests were from the ANCYL-led PYA.

"Students across all political parties agreed on one thing for the first time. But in general, it was led by the PYA," Maine said.

DA Youth leader Yusuf Cassim said political parties were not becoming irrelevant, but students no longer trusted the ANC-aligned Sasco, which was dominant at tertiary institutions. He said student protests were nothing new, but had never resulted in solutions.

"Students stood up across the country and many of them were actually ANCYL-aligned and Sasco-aligned supporters," he said.

"They said 'well we haven't been able to achieve what we have achieved in the manner it has been done, under a political banner that existed', and they decided to make it non-political and non-partisan, and I support that wholeheartedly," Cassim said.

'We don't support people who destroy'

EFF Student Command's Morolane said although political parties had not led the protests, they had still been part of the struggle.

All three leaders agreed the protests would continue in the new year, but who would lead them was another question. Maine said it would be Sasco; Morolane the EFF.

However, Maine said issues needed to be approached differently next time, for the country’s sake.

"We, as the youth league, support all forms of protest, but we do not support people who destroy, burn and do that in our name. No member of the youth league should do that. It is taking the state backwards."

Cassim believed next year’s protests would be more intense. Those who were excluded would have nothing to lose by resorting to violence or burning down buildings.

Morolane said the EFF would be at the forefront of the protests next year and that other organisations were welcome to join them.

'Tomorrow will be better than today'

The three leaders were asked what they would do to leave a better legacy for the youth if elected president tomorrow. They toed the party line and stuck to what their principals had been preaching.

Maine believed the ANC had good policies, but fell short in implementing them. They understood that people were getting impatient, but the country was faced with many problems.

"What I can say is today is better than yesterday, and tomorrow will be better than today," he said.

The ANCYL said the ANC was the only party that could deliver "economic freedom in our lifetime". Maine said it would take time, but the country needed to make sure it implemented initiatives such as the National Development Plan.

'No policy certainty'

Cassim said he would make sure there was policy certainty.

"A very big part of the reason why our economy is in tatters is because there is no policy certainty coming from government, and that is why we see what's happened with Nhlanhla Nene," he said.

Zuma’s firing of Nene on December 9 had scared off foreign investors. It had left South Africa reliant on money from Brics partners, which would not help the economy to the extent the government thought it would, he said.

Cassim said corruption needed to be rooted out and the country needed to invest strategically in sectors such as higher education, which would contribute to economic growth and prosperity.

He said the money South Africa spent on higher education was well below the average spent in the rest of Africa.

Morolane believed that only radical policies would overcome unemployment, poverty, and inequality.

"If I was to be the president, the first thing first is to have a dialogue within the academic sector and other strategic sectors of the economy and try and influence, but also be firm..."

Read more on:    da  |  eff  |  ancyl  |  collen maine  |  politics  |  university fees

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