Adam Habib: the Man Who Started FeesMustFall Movement

2016-03-02 18:00

It is hard to know how to proceed in seeking to understand the genesis of Fees Must Fall. But there are certain things we know in definite terms. We know that the movement germinated within and upon the Wits community. Within Wits what are the forces that set it alight? Who or what sparked it?

Some say it was the radicalness of Mcebo Dlaminni, the Wits SRC president that time. But there has been even more radical SRC President at Wits. Think of Floyd Shivambu - the current Deputy President of Economic Freedom Fighters. He was Wits SRC President. Mcebo Dlamini of the ANC is a baby when you compare him to Floyd Shivambu.

There is one particular aspect or quality that is playing silently at the background but has been very powerful in the germination of the FeesMustFall idea. That quality is the essential thrust of Adam Habib. In a very indirect way but very much powerful way Adam Habib is the motivator of FeesMustFall.

To understand this phenomenon we look at the vital qualities that Adam Habib brought to Wits as Vice Chancellor.

I had the privilege of working with Adam Habib at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). I have some particular insights into his qualities and stature and what he can achieve within an institutional context. This is the man who came to HSRC and transformed the dull HSRC into a vibrant open institution of cutting edge ideas.

Let us note further that Adam Habib is the first Vice Chancellor within South Africa's residential universities with a political weight that is energised by left leanings.  As a high school student and later university student Adam Habib has been a follower of Neville Alexander. Hear him speak: "I first flirted with the worker union movement and then settled for a while in the Workers Organisation for Socialist Action (WOSA), led and inspired by Neville Alexander".

Adam Habib with FeesMustFall activists

Adam Habib is easy to spot because he stands out in crowds with that signature dome of silver hair.

In 2006 as part of a high level delegation of the HSRC flying to America, the American Government blocked him at the John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport.

They confiscated his passport and deported him back to South Africa. Taken back to South African aircraft by heavily armed guards. He was considered to be a dangerous communist to be allowed in the US.

He studied politics at university. He has always been a person that is in constant seeking of a balance between research, politics and the grassroots.

He is an “Indian” but at HSRC he once told us: "When I went to India for the first time two years ago, I realized how un-Indian I am. I am as much defined by the fact that I was born on African soil".

What is noteworthy about Adam Habib at Wits is that he created an environment within the Wits community that allowed open engagement to flourish. Adam Habib doesn’t have the handicap that a lot of academic people have, which is that they come across as ‘you are not smart enough to talk to me.’ He is accessible and tends to underplay his knowledge acting less informed than he is.

He is experienced impeccable academic of full pedigree but when he offers solution to practical issues affecting ordinary people, he provides generally sound small and local ideas, ideas when applied create a tsunamic transformation.

These personal qualities in the process of time, (as the head of Wits) loosened up the rather dull and inflexible climate at Wits. Directly or indirectly his personality force created an eclectic mood that opened up possibilities for change. Possibilities far much wider.

Adam Habib is a catholic of the expressive humanities, democracy and governance. By catholic, I refer, of course, to his varied stature. While still at HSRC he faithfully gave timely and expressive intervention on diverse national dilemmas. At any time when the nation is in quandary of what to make of the intricacies of political developments, governance and democracy, he offered the reasons, the whys, the whats, and how important national agenda should be addressed.

At HSRC he used to tell us about his upbringing: "I was always a rebel and to a certain extent still am, but these days only when it is useful".

So far he is the only Vice Chancellor that has engaged EFF in several platforms. Remember his heated engagement on twitter with EFF National Spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi.

In all his engagements with EFF he never used insults or demeaning condescending language. He alluded to the importance of the EFF minus what he says violent approach. Compare that with North West University Prof Dan Kgwadi insulting EFF calling them bunch of hooligans.

Adam Habib once remarked:

"I recognize the necessity of redress. For over three hundred and fifty years black people and the African majority in particular, have been subjected to the most humiliating forms of oppression and exploitation. They have been deliberately marginalized and disempowered as a group. As a result there is no even playing field in South Africa".

Unfortunately for him FeesMustFall has become so gigantic beyond what he can handle. as for now Adam Habib is entrapped in a capsule of frustration. He seems subdued, something quite foreign to his personality. The chanting, churning, FeesMustFall radicals are demanding that he must bring them water from stone. He must be in tears knowing he does not have the power to bring water from stone.


AB praises selfless skipper

2010-11-21 18:15

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