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The ANC’s capture of #FeesMustFall

Lerato Che' Lephatsa is an English teacher and a blogger at

The ANC has always been good at imposing heroes on South Africa - Nelson Mandela, being a case in point - and has done the same, now, with Nompendulo Mkhatshwa. At the height of the #FeesMustFall movement, in the eyes of the media, Mkhatshwa was a perpetual feature with her striking pose, seeming to will on the masses to continue the fight. She now remains the media favourite, albeit now in a puffed, made-up posture, as evidenced by the latest Destiny magazine’s December issue cover, entitled “The Year of the Student”.

In his Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, TS Eliot remarked that “there are moments when the only choice is between heresy and non-belief – ie, when the only way to keep a religion alive is to perform a sectarian split.” This observation is important in contextualising the veneration of Nompendulo Mkhatshwa, and the placement of the ANC-aligned Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) at the centre of the #FeesMustFall Movement for purposes of producing a narrative of the ANC as a leader in popular people’s struggles.

Somewhere else, I argued that the narrative of the #FeesMustFall as Wits student-bred and driven, was not accidental, it was to exceptionalise it for purposes of isolating it from the overall struggles of our people. The ANC is the political party in power, therefore the challenge to scrapping of university fees by students was largely seen as a questioning of the ANC’s moral authority as a “leader” of the people, therefore its legitimacy.

Twenty-one years into democracy, the younger generation has challenged the ANC government’s hegemony in ways it never imagined. Hence the #FeesMustFall presented not only a threat to this commoditized education, but the legitimacy of the ANC government. But what makes the #FeesMustFall a threat as far as the ANC-led government is concerned? The end of political apartheid in 1994 in itself, created the impossibility of political imagination beyond the “rainbow nation” and an ANC-led government. The ANC as the self-proclaimed arch-heroes of the ’94-miracle has scripted a narrative that presents it as a progressive liberation movement in governance, thus responsible of numerous “gains” achieved in the past 21 years.

However, the past few years have seen a political imagination marked by and steeped into Steven Bantu Biko’s enduring legacy of black dignity, land ownership and a values system reflective of the aspirations of the majority of the black people in this land. So #FeesMustFall at the backdrop of another Black Consciousness-inspired movements, #RhodesMustFall at the University of Cape Town, Black Student Movement at the university currently known as Rhodes University and #OpenStellenbosch, is and has been a direct descendent of Biko’s enduring legacy. It has dared to not simply demand an immediate ceasing of perpetual increment of tuition fees, but the total scrapping thereof, meaning a facilitation of a free, quality and socialist education, together with the unconditional ending of outsourced labour in our universities. These demands, stand contrary to the ANC-led government’s interests: Privatised education, exploitation of black labour through labour brokers, and to have the majority of our society, especially the youth, disfranchised and in the periphery.

It is for this reason that the ANC, has hijacked the #FeesMustFall struggle, they way it hijacked the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania’s (PAC) Anti-Pass Campaign, which led to the Sharpeville-Langa Massacres, by having Albert Luthuli burn his dompass in front of the media, after thousands had already done so, when Robert Sobukwe and others, had surrendered themselves to the police.

Faced with prospects of a dwindling hegemony and eventual descent from power, the ANC needed a new “heresy”, presented in this moment by the Wits chapter of the #FeesMustFall. Nompendulo Mkhatswa with her ANC-branded head-wraps, Mcebo Dlamini and Shaeera Kalla, with the help of media veneration, provided the ANC with the much needed game-changing moment. It gave the impression that the #FeesMustFall Movement was fighting an abstract system, not the ANC government. After all, how can a movement “led” by the PYA, fight against its own mother body?

This decisive moment at the height of the #FeesMustFall Movement was the sectarian split that kept the ANC alive, because when the students marched to Luthuli House, even the ANC endorsed the action of students, and urged its members to “support” and “join” the calls of fees to fall. At the forefront of this sectarian split was Nompendulo, Mcebo and Shaeera, who sought to pacify the students from recognising that their enemy is the ANC-led government, which oversees the perpetuation of a commoditised education system that disproportionally affects them.

It must be noted though, that Mcebo, Nompendulo and Shaeera did not want students to march to Luthuli House, but they were out-voted by the masses of students. It was at Luthuli House that Mcebo in particular sucked up to the ruling party’s Secretary-General, Gwede Mantashe, claiming how “this is the ANC he knows, one that comes to the people and humbles itself”. This is all while, Vuyani Pambo of the EFFSC was remonstrating that he (Gwede) must sit down on the floor like Adam Habib had a week earlier, and listen to them. Nevertheless, a day after President Jacob Zuma had announced the 0% fee increment, the Wits chapter of #FeesMustFall Movement convened to take stock and interrogate the announcement, and thereby chart a way forward. As history has now noted, the less than 100 progressive beauties of #FeesMustFall rejected the Presidency’s announcement, and vowed to continue the #shutdown until their demands had been addressed and met, especially the ending of outsourcing at Wits.

These students who continued the university shutdown were met with police brutality, but eventually won, and insourcing was announced. It is at this point, unbeknown to many and despite the Luthuli House blemish by the PYA-affiliated trio of a former, current and incoming SRC presidents, that the #FeesMustFall was about to be sacrificed at the altar of patronage and partisan loyalty, by the self-same trio of Presidents. On Sunday, after there had been a subsequent meeting to the one on Saturday, which gloriously affirmed the continuity of the revolutionary #shutdown, the #FeesMustFall became aware of a secret meeting between the PYA and the three presidents. Upon gate-crashing this meeting, it was discovered that the agenda of the said gathering was the derailing of the #FeesMustFall and amongst other things were undeclared amounts of R40,000.

The two presidents, startled and embarrassed, failed to sum up a reasonable explanation of what was taking place. Not only this, they had failed to declare beforehand the planning of such meeting, its agenda and its implications on the ongoing #shutdown as led by the #FeesMustFall Movement. To compound the fact that this was a capture of the movement, on Monday the three presidents were nowhere to be seen as students and workers continued their #shutdown, the SRC was further implicated in a secret agreement with the Wits Management and the PYA distanced itself from the #shutdown, thus peddling the false notion that the #FeesMustFall was without the “people” and their support. Wits academic, Dr Kelly Gillespie, writes about this secret meeting and describes it as “the ANC sent its delegates to convince the ANC-aligned students to close down the bigger demands that the student movement was articulating, demands which showed the ANC up for not having met its 1994 election promise of ‘Free Quality Education for All’”.

It has now emerged that young Nompendulo is working as a researcher at Luthuli House, further raising her commitment in achieving the mandate of the #FeesMustFall. Some have fairly questioned what is wrong with her working there, and that it is not like people never knew that she was attached to the ANC. However, for those of us acquainted, and immersed in a continuous struggle for our eventual liberation from all forms of oppression, we take our cue from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung’s encouragement to stand for an active ideological struggle. Nompendulo et al, as members of the ANC, and her in particular, as its employee, lack the ethical legitimacy and moral authority to wage a genuine ideological struggle against an administration she is beholden to.

It is tantamount to having white liberals representing blacks and fighting apartheid when they continued to unduly benefit from their association to it. The ANC is the party in power, and has failed dismally to use its majority to put the power it has at the service of the people. It remains largely the party Sobukwe and others left en masse to form the Pan Africanist Congress. It is the same party that IB Tabata questioned about whose interests it served objectively; a party that has always only been interested in the sort of integration decried by Biko. An integration where people use each other as rungs up a ladder while the majority remain disproportionally poor.

Of course, as in during the fight against apartheid, the ANC has been good at imposing heroes, (Nelson Mandela, being a case in point) and it has done the same with Nompendulo. At the height of the #FeesMustFall movement, in the eyes of the media, Nompendulo was a perpetual feature with her striking pose, seeming to will on the masses to continue the fight. She now remains the media favourite, albeit now in a puffed, made-upped posture, as evidenced by the latest Destiny Magazine’s December issue cover, titled “The Year of the Student”.

The masses, all those represented by the #FeesMustFall because they are, according to the historical moment in which the land is experiencing, and want what corresponds to the fundamental necessity of the history of our land, have had a leader imposed on them. This is a leader they unequivocally rejected upon discovering she was sacrificing them at the altar of patronage and partisan-loyalty. Thanks to her and Mcebo’s antics, the movement almost got derailed and the ANC’s hegemony remains significant, but unfortunately for them, students all over the country are starting to question the ANC and their ANC-aligned SRCs. DM


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