SASCO: unaccountable menace

by The Editor

FEATURE: The following article appears as an editorial in the May 2012 edition of ‘In Our Future’, a publication produced by DASO UCT. It deals with the South African Students Congress which, for years, has been a menace to good student governance across the country. As is its want, SASCO’s reaction to the article has been as predictable as it has been deplorable, with the usual volley of threats and intimidation. Nevertheless, the facts remain. It’s an important read, and gives you some insight into the way SASCO – the ANCYL of university politics – behaves, by focusing on one particular incident and SASCO’s response to it.

Holding our student leaders to account

In our Future
By: Emma Selfe

May 2012

The triumph of the people of South Africa in 1994 was the relatively peaceful overthrow of the apartheid regime. The sacrifice of those who died, those who were forced into exile and who were imprisoned and tortured to make our country free and democratic, saw its expression in the Constitution.

At its core, South Africa’s Constitution gives political power to its people. Its people, by their votes, lend that political power to governments at various levels. What the people require in turn is proper accountability. That means that those in power are by definition obligated to explain, regularly and in detail, what they are doing.

Unfortunately that does not always happen, and the ANC government, which once served as a symbol of hope, has become obsessed with power. Under its watch, corruption has become a cancer in our society, sucking resources from the poor and marginalized. Under its administrations, service delivery to the poor has become less important than contracts for the politically connected, and luxury sedans for political office bearers.

Despite its nominal commitment to transparency and accountability, the ruling party seems simply to do whatever it wants. It treats those who vote for it with contempt; it patronizes and seeks to coopt civil society institutions; and is now seeking to muzzle the media and others who expose wrongdoing through the Secrecy Bill. Bizarrely, the way the ANC government operates increasingly resembles the way the apartheid regime ruled – without accountability.

This tendency is replicated in the ANC’s allies and front organisations. This is particularly true of SASCO, the ANC’s front on campuses.

The conduct by some SASCO SRC representatives constitutes a pattern of unaccountability. Like the ANC, SASCO seems to believe that it can do as it pleases, and use our resources for personal gain. SASCO SRC members have also proved themselves guilty of activities that are destructive and dishonest.

To quote but a few examples: at the beginning of this year, a SASCO member of the current SRC at UCT, Mike Ramothwala, committed misrepresentation when he misled the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s SRC, saying that he was on an official visit to NMMU on behalf of the UCT SRC. He stayed in NMMU accommodation, and had all his needs catered for at the expense of NMMU students. At no point did the UCT SRC give Mr. Ramothwala explicit permission to visit NMMU as its representative. An SRC disciplinary committee subsequently strangely found Mr. Ramothwala innocent where he was obviously guilty of misrepresentation and undermining the reputation of UCT.

It is even more disturbing that the SASCO-led SRC has not yet disclosed this to UCT students. Were they trying to help their SASCO colleague out of this mess, or did they simply think that UCT students were not important enough to know what happens on the SRC? DASO UCT has sourced an affidavit from the President of the NMMU SRC, which details Mr. Ramothwala’s activities and the expenses which he incurred on their budget. Subsequently, the President of the NMMU SRC has expressed his disgust at the fact that UCT was misrepresented at their institution.

Another example: at the end of 2010, at Mangosuthu University of Technology in KwaZulu-Natal a former SASCO SRC president used a motor vehicle belonging to the University without its knowledge or consent. He caused considerable damage to the vehicle amounting to R26 301.61. As a result, he was suspended from the University’s premises, as well as from all residences.

Subsequent to this, in early 2011, the same SASCO leader ignored his suspension and led an angry mob of 200 students into the kitchens of Lonsdale student residence. They proceeded to threaten staff members and take a considerable amount of food by force. The estimated value of damages came to around R10 000. The SASCO leader was again suspended for his actions, and was later expelled from the University.

In another incident in 2010, SASCO SRC members continuously ran onto the University of the Free State’s sports fields during an intervarsity tournament and proceeded to intimidate and threaten the players, as they believed the tournament’s policy of racial integration was completely inadequate. According to UFS, this turned out to be an SRC election campaign strategy. The University had to obtain a court order in an attempt to stop SASCO members from damaging property, assaulting or intimidating people.

Accountability implies that elected leaders will always have our best intentions at heart, and that they will always know what they are doing. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. The only way in which we will get a clean and responsive student government is by holding our University’s SRC accountable for its actions and the money it spends.

It is because of this that we, as the student body of UCT, need to hold our student government to account, so as to ensure that the SRC remembers that it is a privilege to represent our views and needs, and not a right. Once we do this, we can be assured that UCT funds are spent on needy students, and are not used for those members’ own interests; that members of the SRC are genuinely interested in what we need as the student body, and not simply on being reelected; but most importantly, that they take active steps to make an authentic and positive change in their term of office.

At the next SRC election at UCT, we need to ask ourselves whether the SASCO SRC really does care. For now though, DASO UCT will be following up through the appropriate channels regarding the incidents reported and why they were not handled appropriately by the UCT SRC.

Campus politics are not personal. However as student leaders our values and actions must always be beyond reproach. The current SASCO caucus in the SRC is demonstrably failing the student body.

It’s time for change, and that change is now.

Some other examples of SASCO failures:

• In late 2010, SASCO released posters saying “One Bullet, One Boer”, and “Blacks only organization (strictly South African)” at CPUT. SASCO denied releasing the posters, but nothing was proven otherwise.
• In late 2011, SASCO orchestrated an illegal protest demanding the removal of rector Jonathan Jansen at the University of Free State by gathering in front of the main building and emptying rubbish bins.
• In late 2011, SASCO and its politically affiliated partner, the ANCYL, bussed in an angry mob of around 800 protestors to the University of the Free State. After the Free State chair of SASCO called rector Jonathan Jansen a ‘coconut’, protestors armed with sticks and stones clashed with students whilst its SASCO and ANCYL members started singing ‘Kill the Boer’. Riot police were called and 150 people were arrested.
• A few years ago, UCT used to loan out a house that they owned in Mowbray to the SRC President for the term of his or her office. There was a minimum rental of around R200 per month. One night then SASCO SRC President held a party riotous enough to warrant police involvement. It then came to light that the SRC President was staying there without the knowledge of UCT or of the SRC office, and was not paying the minimal monthly rental of around R200 that was required. The DASO caucus at the time, forced this individual to move out of the house, and within a few months he was actually removed as SRC President partly because of that night (among other charges).

Emma Selfe is a third year student at the University of Cape Town and a member of the Democratic Alliance Young Leaders Program. She serves as DASO UTC’s media and communications officer and editor of the DASO publication ‘In our Future’.

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