Saturday 26 November 2016

#FeesMustFall: the poster child of new forms of struggle in SA?

#FeesMustFall: the poster child for new forms of struggle in South Africa?

Vishwas Satgar, University of the Witwatersrand

During South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle, national liberation politics was mass politics. It was grounded in building class and national popular alliances as a basis of a national liberation bloc.

A reading of the strategy and tactics documents of the African National Congress (ANC) confirms the centrality of class agency, particularly that of the working class, while affirming the importance of nonracial unity. The material foundations for this, at least in the 1980s, were mass movements such as trade unions as well as civic, youth and student organisations.

The United Democratic Front (UDF), deemed by some as the “internal wing” of the then still banned ANC, congealed these forces into a bloc of resistance. In this ferment, hierarchical forms of organisation were established. Most importantly, vanguardist leadership played a determining role through the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP). The idea of an elite vanguard, a centralised underground leadership managing a strategic line of command, defined this politics.

The UDF was a mass front for waging a “people’s war” through mass mobilisation. While the UDF had its own democratic grassroots impulses, the Marxist-Leninist imprint and template of this politics was apparent. And, it was not unique to South Africa. The bolshevising of “national liberation” politics or “painting nationalism red” was a feature of 20th century revolutionary politics because of the influence of the Soviet Union.

This is not the politics of the current uprising of South African students, collectively known as #FeesMustFall which has emerged as part of a second cycle of resistance (2007 to the present) in post-apartheid South Africa.

Post-apartheid cycles of resistance

The first cycle against neoliberalisation (late 1990s into early 2000s) was marked by the rise of the Treatment Action Campaign, the Landless People’s Movement and the Anti-Privatisation Forum. These formations are now either moribund or very weak. In the case of the Treatment Action Campaign, there is an attempt at renewal.

Since 2007, South Africa’s civic protest actions against the lack of service delivery have become much more frequent and more violent. It has become the object of analysis of various sociological studies and sometimes vaunted as the “rebellion of the poor” or “violent democracy”.

South Africa has also been witnessing the emergence of new transformative movements that mark out a second cycle of resistance. They include struggles around building solidarity economies (waste pickers building worker cooperatives), the right to know, equal education, social justice and defence of constitutional freedoms. It also includes struggles for food sovereignty, rural democracy and rights for women.

These struggles cover extractivism (particularly challenging pollution and land dispossessions related to mining), climate jobs and housing. They further include fighting for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersexed (LGBTI) people, as well as struggles against corruption, moves towards rebuilding a new worker-controlled labour federation and a growing emphasis on climate justice.

These are social forces attempting to advance transformation from below. After the Marikana massacre in 2012 there has been a realignment of political forces. With it has come a detachment from the national liberation bloc of parties like the ANC.

These anti-systemic forces are not led by any vanguards. They are agents of transformative counter-hegemony, opposing the dominant ruling class.

#FeesMustFall’s demands for zero fee increases, decommodified education, an end to outsourcing and decolonisation, is in this second cycle of mass resistance. The anti-capitalist impulses in South African society are amplified by all these forces. Alongside Marikana, #FeesMustFall has brought this to the fore in dramatic ways.

Three new developments

#FeesMustFall heralded three new developments in mass politics in post-apartheid South Africa. First, it married social media to mass politics which did not exist in 1976, for instance. This enabled telescoped, speedy and cross-campus mobilisation. Students used Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp groups and even webpages to communicate with each other. They also married situated mass practices (such as assemblies or occupations or sit ins) to larger political mobilisation. This was new for South Africa.

Second, this political matrix was amorphous, except for moments of media representation which presented “leaders” at the forefront. In practice, this was not the case in the university space. There, various groups jostled for influence. Mass mobilisation was catalysed through social media and common resistance activity, providing moments for mass convergence.

In many ways, #FeesMustFall was leaderless. At the same time, it had a powerful group and populist logic at work. It was a prototype of a grassroots-driven force with a leaning towards horizontality – but this did not fully mature.

At Wits University, for example, deliberative processes did not mature into intense democratic group deliberation as they had done in the US Occupy Movement. This has to do with the nature and orientation of crowd politics coming together in #FeesMustFall and its limits. Instead, final decisions were made through a rather loose assembly format and yes/no procedure around actions (Molefe 2016) and were often driven by particular groups.

This weakness and internal tension of leaderlessness, existing alongside intense contestation between groups for leadership, did not provide much space for debate about strategy and tactics. Ultimately it also fed into divisions within #FeesMustFall.

Third, #FeesMustFall was about copying developments from different campuses, what is known as a mimetic politics. So if students marched and protested at one campus, others followed.

Or, if students occupied particular spaces at a certain university this was repeated at other campuses embracing the revolt. It was a copycat practice that also had a life of its own and reinforced the role of social media and “leaderlessness”. This mass dynamic, however, could have been given greater coherence if #FeesMustFall had moved early on to democratically elect a collective leadership on campuses and nationally. That did not happen, but despite the weakness, the mimetic dynamic gave a critical mass to #FeesMustFall. It gave a capacity for mobilisation which culminated at the South African government’s seat of power, the Union Buildings in Pretoria in October 2015.

#FeesMustFall represents a new populist crowd politics. It brings forth strengths but also weaknesses. Without deeply democratic practices and institutional representation it could easily degenerate. At the same time, it is about a post-apartheid generation evolving a politics of its own. Its aim is to reclaim and transform the public university and challenge the crisis of national liberation politics, alongside other rising movements.

This is an edited version of a chapter from ‘Fees Must Fall; Student Revolt, Decolonisation and Governance in South Africa’ (Wits University Press)

Vishwas Satgar, Associate Professor, Department of International Relations, University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday 21 September 2016

Invite: Debate on Colonialism & Decolonisation, Tshisimani, Oct1

Speakers: Shamil Jeppie, Zandisiwe Radebe and Vishwas Satgar

A workshop that explores the complexities of colonial rule and its aftermath. What were the main drivers of colonial conquest and imperialist expansion, what differing forms did it take, and how does this history continue to shape present realities? What forms did anti-colonial struggles take and what are the prospects for decolonisation?

Saturday, October 01 08h30 for 09h00 to 14h30

Kindly RSVP by Wednesday 24 August to: 

Zanele Motsepe
021 685 3516/8
Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education
1 Batten Lane
Mowbray, 7705
Cape Town

(next to Forest Hill and opposite the Viljoenhof CPUT residences)

Friday 13 May 2016

#safoodsovereignty Memorandum to @picknpay

13th May 2016

Unite against hunger

national Peoples DROUGHT speak out and  bread march memorandum
The South African Food Sovereignty Campaign is an alliance of over 50 grassroots organisations, movements and NGOs. We believe South Africa’s food system is unjust, unfair, unethical and unsustainable. The current food price shock, El Nino  induced drought and  carbon emissions due to coal burning are all connected and are revealing the limits of a corporate controlled and government supported food system. We need a transformed food system that gives control of the food system to the people through a food sovereignty pathway and alternative now to realise the right to food.

This was affirmed by our jointly convened peoples Speak Out in Emahlaleni yesterday and at this morning’s Drought Speak Out at Constitutional Hill. Hence we demand urgent action from government, food corporations, the Human Rights Commission and the Consumer Commission.  In this regard we want the following concerns and demands taken forward.

Bread Price Scam

Bread is eaten by most South Africans as a staple. In a highly unequal society, studies on the survival strategies of poor households reveal how bread and a brew of sugar and water is what keeps many people alive.  At the same time, bread is a big money spinner for food corporations, both bread producers and retailers. Bread profiteering was rife in 2007 and 2010 amongst bread producers.  Pioneer, Tiger Brands and Foodcorp were found guilty of manipulating wheat and maize milling operations by the Competition Commission and were even rebuked in the Constitutional Court for their abhorrent conduct. Bread prices have also been increasing in the context of the drought. A loaf of brown (700g)  increased by 5.73 % and a loaf of white by 5.34%. Blue Ribbon bread prices have gone up 20% over the past 8 months. South Africans mainly eat bread on a daily basis and they are feeling the pressure from increasing prices. This was affirmed by our Peoples Speak Outs hosted over the past day and a half. Food corporations make millions from bread which contributes to profits, bonuses and high salaries for management. At the same time, food industry workers earn low wages and are mainly outsourced.

However, Grain South Africa has confirmed that imported wheat is cheaper than local wheat. Bread prices should not be going up but should be declining. We are experiencing a ‘bread price scam’. The Competition Commission has failed to stop this. Some retailers believe that  keeping bread price increases below food inflation is acceptable. We reject this profiteering given the crisis facing our society.  It’s time for peoples power, through non-violent action, to end food profiteering

We Demand:
·      An immediate investigation into the ‘bread price scam’ by the Human Rights Commission and the Consumer Commission;
·      We demand bread prices must fall to an affordable level of at least R5 per loaf to ensure every household can buy bread;
·      All bread nutrition levels to be improved. We reject GMO wheat and its use in bread. This to be done in a transparent manner;
·      A reduction in super profits to food corporations and descent insourced work for all food industry workers.

Climate Change, Drought and Food Price Increases

The drought in South Africa is actually part of a larger Africa wide drought. In Southern Africa at least 49 million people are threatened with hunger because of this drought. In East Africa the drought has also had a devastating impact with about 10 million people needing food aid in Ethiopia. Such drought patterns are expected to become more frequent and intense in the context of climate change.
South Africa’s El Nino induced drought is exposing serious weaknesses in the states response. While South Africa has experienced El Nino induced droughts before, this particular drought is linked to the worsening climate crisis. Last year the world’s temperature increased by 1 degree celsius and recorded the hottest temperatures on the planet. This trend is continuing.  While the state is responding to commercial farmers it is not doing enough for small scale farmers and poor communities. Our Speak Outs have confirmed the following:
·      small scale farmers were struggling before the drought but the drought has worsened things included financial problems;
·       there is a lack of effort on governments part to mobilise communities;
·       government is failing to assess small scale farmer needs adequately such that food parcels even for livestock are not sufficient;
·       there is no clear response on how to bring back cultivation of food crops;
·       water management is revealing serious weaknesses with some  support for boreholes, pumps but most are not getting adequate support for sustainable water management;
·       there is no government policy thinking on how to mitigate impacts beyond the immediate effects of the drought; and
·      increasing food prices are hurting even farming households.
The state is also not using the Disaster Management Act in a way that mobilises society to learn about the climate crisis, strengthen water management plans and draw out lessons for the future. South Africa’s drought is affecting millions of people and increasing starvation. Coal burning and extraction is killing us. Our Speak Outs confirmed:
·      Coal mining is devastating communities. Acid mine drainage, air pollution, water pollution and mine dumps are causing serious illness;
·      Coal and other types of mining is leading to land grabs;
·      Water resources are captured by coal mining corporations or white farmers making it extremely difficult for small scale farmers and communities to survive;
·      Coal and other types of mining is not creating jobs, it is not benefitting communities and instead promotes prostitution and poverty.
·      Mining corporations are not complying with regulations and neither are they rehabilitating land that has been mined.
 Climate change is further exposing the problems with a corporate controlled food system. Before the drought 14 million people went to bed hungry and about 46% were food insecure. Many more are suffering now as food prices have been increasing. All measurements of food prices are showing a dramatic increase in food inflation, with year-on-year increase of particularly staples. The year-on-year increase for Jan 2015 to Jan 2016 was 14.6%. The biggest increases have been in mielie meal, samp, cooking oil and potatoes. Food profiteering denies us the right to food under the constitution.
Moreover, food inflation has eroded the value of social grants. According to PACSA the total of old age pension (R1510  in April/October 2016) comes short in terms of the  current cost of a  food basket (R1879.24 in February 2016). Moreover, a minimum food basket (household of 4) costs R2420.77 in February 2016. In South Africa 27 million people earn less than R3000 per month and with food price increases, particularly of staples, hunger is going to worsen.  Already 1 in 5 children suffer from malnutrition and learning disabilities. Food profiteering undermines the future of our children
We Demand:
·      We demand that the price of all staples  fall to affordable levels;
·      The government declare the drought a national disaster with special measures taken to ensure food and livestock production for subsistence and small scale farmers is recovered. We reject GMO seeds, including drought tolerant maize, and these should not be part of government support.
·      We invite government into a peoples climate justice movement led process to learn lessons from this drought including the importance of independent and permanent community based food sovereignty forums and a serious review of the Disaster Management Act;
·      An immediate transition out of  coal mining and a lifting of the ceiling on renewable energy in the Integrated Resource Plan, the development of a national renewable energy parastatal and the development of a domestic renewables industry as part of creating climate jobs;
·      An increase in the social grant in the short term to ameliorate the impacts of food inflation, as opposed to spending on nuclear power, and the social grant to be replaced by the development of a basic income grant policy for South Africa;
·      The democratisation of water management plans in municipalities and for these to become people driven and owned;
·      A review of all water licenses given to mining corporations to ensure compliance and where necessary to revoke such licenses if sustainable water use standards are not met.
·      Farming land must be protected from mining.
Towards Food Sovereignty Alternatives and Pathways

South Africa needs to diversify its food system and ensure the people can control the food system to survive the climate crisis and feed themselves in sustainable ways. In this regard we want to announce four further actions to advance a food sovereignty pathway for South Africa:

·      Local Bread Marches - In coming weeks the SAFSC will be rolling out at least 12 localised and non-violent bread marches to bread corporations and food retailers. We will use these marches to create a platform to communicate the demands from the National Drought Speak Out and Bread March.

·      The development and advocacy for  a food sovereignty law – to secure a space for agro-ecology, fast track land reform, seed saving, community bakeries, community food markets and cooperative restaurants, solidarity economy worker cooperatives etc.

·      Local Food Sovereignty Forums – in communities to develop capacities to build resilience, food sovereignty pathways and cultures.

·      Building food sovereignty movement links in Southern Africa – through learning exchanges, food sovereignty festivals and information sharing

Unite against Hunger and Food Profiteering!
Turn Down the Heat Through Food Sovereignty
Forward to a Peoples Movement for Food Sovereignty and
Climate Justice Now!
Contact :
Davine Cloete: 071 5922 361
Vishwas Satgar: 082 775 3420
Xolisa Bangani: 081 414 8411

SAFSC Inala Memorandum to @WITS #nationalbreadmarch

Joint SAFSC and Inala Memorandum to Wits University
Towards Zero Hunger and Zero Carbon Emmissions
13 May 2016

Wits is not  a business but rather a public university that needs to ensure every student enjoys all the privileges and learning experiences equally. Hunger and poor quality food choices undermines this and entrenches class, race and gender inequalities. The university does not keep transparent data on hunger and some estimates suggest 400 students a month are hungry and another suggesting 2000 students are hungry. Hunger is forcing students into desperation, learning becomes difficult and the way university food aid is given, like behind the Matrix in a loading bay for trucks, is unacceptable. It entrenches indignity, stigmatization and a managerialist approach. Hungry students are treated as clients requiring corporate social responsibility or food aid. The mentality of a ‘handout should suffice’ is unacceptable and we reject this.

 Currently South Africa’s drought and deepening food crisis are connected to  climate change. Last year planetary temperatures exceeded a 1 degree Celsius increase in temperatures since pre-industrial levels, the world experienced the hottest year on record and serious feedback loops threaten to destabilize the Earths climate. The COP21 Climate Summit failed humanity. Actually the UN process failed us for 20 years when it tried to treat corporate induced climate change as a market problem. We are running out of time to prevent a 1.5 degree Celsius increase in planetary temperature. Current commitments in the COP21 ‘ratchet up framework’ will result  in a 3-4 degree temperature increase. We have to act now through building citizens power and institutional transformation from below to ensure de-carbonisation. WITS as a University should be leading society, through its own pro-active efforts and example, to help South African’s appreciate how serious the climate crisis is and how we can ensure transformative solutions can be achieved now for a deep just transition.

SAFSC and Inala demand zero hunger at WITS  and an end to dangerous greenhouse gas contributions from WITS. In this regard we believe WITS needs to champion systemic change through Food Sovereignty and Climate Justice transformative solutions. In this regard we believe the University has to take forward the following transformative demands as urgent and necessary:

·       Measure and make transparent its data from all campuses about the state of student hunger.
·       Establish a pilot Food Sovereignty Centre, at the Sanctuary Building, in which there is a communal kitchen, cultural space, a seedbank, a full time agro-ecology gardner is employed and a demonstration agro-ecology garden (including an orchard) is located from which food is produced and sourced for students enduring food stress and hunger. Such a space to be used by students to meet their food needs through dignity. This food centre to be supplied its healthy, fresh and nutritious produce from agro-ecological garden spaces on campus, campus orchards and through small scale farmers in the city. This centre may be reproduced on other campuses where applicable;
·       The creation of a food commons through the  extension and replication of agro-ecological gardening spaces and fruit tree orchards (note our fruit tree petition), integrated into general gardening services and maintenance. Such jobs will in effect become climate jobs. The agro-ecology gardner at the food center to support this process by training Wits staff.;
·       The linking of a food commons to a zero waste approach. A zero waste management approach must be instituted with immediate effect which ensures re-use of amongst other materials paper, bottles, plastics but also the re-direction of organic waste into campus wide composting sites that feeds into agro-ecology gardening.
·       A study on the nutritional status of food supplied in hostels and through food vendors, through the WITs School of Public Health, and from which recommendations are made to improve the quality of food, including sourcing from campus and non-campus agro-ecological and food sovereignty food producers;
·       We welcome the insourcing efforts made by the University but believe all workers at the University must have descent work, including those involved in food services at the University.
·       An audit of University investments to ensure it is not investing in fossil fuels and if it does, to ensure it withdraws such investment with immediate effect. This to be announced publicly;
·       The University to actively reduce its carbon footprint and transform from a fossil fuel energy user to a beacon of renewable energy use. All energy at the University to be transitioned to solar and other renewable energy sources. A socially owned renewable energy power pool to be the center of energy generation which should include smart wind turbine technology, roof top solar, ground based solar (including a concentrated solar park, if necessary) and a common battery bank.
·       The University to ensure sustainable water management use by developing a bottom up water management plan, which should include rethinking lawns, water harvesting from every building, grey waste water re-use and so on.
·       The University transitions into a car free space in which there is a bicycle infrastructure, clean energy bus system linking campuses and  connections are made to public transport transit points that links seamlessly with the wider public transport system (Rea Via, Gautrain, Parkstation etc) developing in the City, such that car use becomes unnecessary while ensuring the needs of the physically challenged are also taken seriously.
·       Curriculum transformation to bring in just transition, climate justice and food sovereignty ideas into teaching and research.

Moreover, the proposals we are championing are also  an invitation to all Universities to begin considering systemic change through Food Sovereignty and Climate Justice transformative solutions.

We encourage Wits to engage other universities, at the highest levels, around these issues.

We request a meeting between SAFSC, the Inala Forum and WITS Management at its most senior levels to address these issues.


Thomas Fraser, Chairperson, Inala, WITS: 074 628 3198

Davine Cloete, National Coordinating Committee, SAFSC: 071 5922361

Vishwas Satgar, National Coordinating Committee, SAFSC: 082 775 3420

Xolisa Bangani, National Coordinating Committee, SAFSC: 081 414 8411