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Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

Book launch – The Backroom Boy: Andrew Mlangeni’s Story by Mandla Mathebula

Join the June and Andrew Mlangeni Foundation and Wits University Press for the launch of The Backroom Boy: Andrew Mlangeni’s Story on Thursday 11 May at Melrose Arch. Former president Kgalema Motlanthe will be in conversation with Mathebula. RSVP by Tuesday 9 May.

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Students Must Rise: Youth struggle from before the Soweto Uprising to Fees Must Fall

Students Must RiseComing soon from Wits University Press – Students Must Rise: Youth Struggle in South Africa Before and Beyond Soweto ’76, edited by Anne Heffernan and Noor Nieftagodien:

The Soweto Student Uprising of 1976 was a decisive moment in the struggle against apartheid. It marked the expansion of political activism to a new generation of young activists, but beyond that it inscribed the role that young people of subsequent generations could play in their country’s future. Since that momentous time students have held a special place in the collective imaginary of South African history.

Drawing on research and writing by leading scholars and prominent activists, Students Must Rise takes Soweto ’76 as its pivot point, but looks at student and youth activism in South Africa more broadly by considering what happened before and beyond the Soweto moment. Early chapters assess the impact of the anti-pass campaigns of the 1950s, of political ideologies like Black Consciousness as well as of religion and culture in fostering political consciousness and organisation among youth and students in townships and rural areas.

Later chapters explore the wide-reaching impact of June 16th itself for student organisation over the next two decades across the country. Two final chapters consider contemporary student-based political movements, including #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall, and historically root these in the long and rich tradition of student activism in South Africa.

2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the 1976 June 16th uprisings. This book rethinks the conventional narrative of youth and student activism in South Africa by placing that most famous of moments – the 1976 students’ uprising in Soweto – in a deeper historical and geographic context.

About the editors

Anne Heffernan is a post-doctoral researcher in the History Workshop at Wits and has a particular interest in the history of political activism among students in South Africa.

Noor Nieftagodien is the South African Research Chair in Local Histories, Present Realities, and is the Head of the History Workshop at Wits. He has published widely on popular insurgent struggles, public history, and youth politics. With Philip Bonner he has published books on the history of Alexandra (Wits Press: 2008) and Kathorus, and with Sally Gaule he published a history of Orlando West (Wits Press: 2012)


Introduction by Anne Heffernan and Noor Nieftagodien
Chapter 1: A brief history of the African Student Association by Sifiso Mxolisi Ndlovu
Chapter 2: Youth and student culture: Riding resistance and Imagining the future by Bhekizizwe Peterson
Chapter 3: The role of religion and theology in the organisation of student activists by Ian Macqueen
Chapter 4: Student organisation in Lehurutshe and the impact of Ongkopotse Tiro by Arianna Lissoni
Chapter 5: The University of the North, a regional and national centre of activism by Anne Heffernan
Chapter 6: Action and fire in Soweto, June 1976 by Sibongile Mkhabela
Chapter 7: What they shot in Alex by Steve Kwena Mokwena
Chapter 8: SASO and Black Consciousness, and the shift to Congress politics by Saleem Badat
Chapter 9: Youth politics and rural rebellion in Zebediela and other parts of the “homeland” of Lebowa, 1976-1977
by Sekibakiba Lekgoathi
Chapter 10: My journey, our journey: Activism at Ongoye University by Makhosazana Xaba
Chapter 11: “Let’s begin to participate fully in politics”: Student politics in Mhluzi Township, Mpumalanga by Tshepo Moloi
Chapter 12: “They would remind you of 1960″: The emergence of radical student politics in the Vaal triangle 1972-1985
by Franziska Rueedi
Chapter 13: The ends of boycott by Premesh Lalu
Chapter 14: Fighting for “our little freedoms”: The evolution of student and youth politics in Phomolong Township, Free State
by Phindile Kunene
Chapter 15: “Every generation has its struggle”: A brief history of Equal Education (2008-15) by Brad Brockman
Chapter 16: The rise of the black-led student movements of #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall in 2015 by Leigh-Ann Naidoo

Selected Bibliography

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‘You can de-whiten a language’ – Achille Mbembe comments on new politics of the South African student

On the PostcolonyLitNet is currently hosting an ongoing online conversation on education, access, transformation, language and the Constitution. One of the voices featured is On the Postcolony author Achille Mbembe – philosopher, political scientist and public intellectual, based at WiSER.

In an interview with journalist and writer Hans Pienaar, Mbembe commented on the new politics of the South African student with regards to #FeesMustFall. He shares his prognosis of the situation, shares his view on how the movement will pan out and the criticism that the protests are sprouting from humanities students.

Mbembe also comments on the ANC, possible coalitions and the deeper issues related to the governing party. Pienaar asks him about the concept of whiteness, which he breaks down, and leads the conversation to one of the most pressing topics in the current university debate: the question of language and the hegemony of Afrikaans.

Read the article, a transcript of the interview, to see what Mbembe says on this topic:

But I just see a contradiction somewhere. I mean surely there are many contradictions, because it is an evolving debate obviously, but fighting whiteness with English as the lingua franca …? Do you think I’m right in seeing a contradiction there?

Yes and no. No if one assumes that English is just like French. I mean, this morning I was having an interview with … because I speak French – English is not my first language … I had an interview on the question of French. You see, French, English, Portuguese have become African languages. They are no longer, they can no longer, they are Asian languages, they are African languages … We have to start from that position. There is no way that they are going away. They will not go away. They have become part and parcel of the African linguistic archive. So we cannot think of them as belonging … I mean in fact, most speakers of French are outside of France. The future of French no longer resides in the hands of the French. So I don’t buy into that dichotomy. Languages are domesticated and appropriated and put to use in ways that are usually very different from their place of origin and in that process they become indigenous. So the contradiction is that indeed, these students manipulate English very well and yet they think that English is foreign to them. That is where the contradiction lies – it’s not at all … they still believe that it’s a foreign language, although they have mastered it. I mean, you even listen to them, they speak it very very well, they … but they still somewhere in their mind believe that it is the tool of the oppressor. But it is not simply the tool of the oppressor …. There is no language that is only the tool of the oppressor. Every single language … what defines languages, living languages, is their plasticity, the fact that they can be … I mean … can be appropriated, they can be used, they can be domesticated, they can be repurposed, provided those who are implicated in those processes are just a little bit creative.

But isn’t it the case that they will always stay imbued with whiteness, because they –

No, I don’t believe that. You can (laughs) dewhiten a language. I mean, look, we see it among the writers, but just forget about the writers, the way in which for instance French is spoken by common people in a big city that is a huge city like Abidjan … I mean, it’s nothing to do with whiteness, or the way in which English, or pidgin English, is spoken on the streets of Lagos, 20 million people – that has nothing to do with whiteness as understood as Englishness, it is something entirely different, a new linguistic formation that borrows from all kinds of sources, and is characterised by mixture, hybridity, and an amazing dynamism. There is nothing like pure language, and this is valid for Afrikaans too, by the way …

I was going to ask you (laughs) …

Yah, I mean the people who believe that Afrikaans is some pure thing that has to be protected and … it’s ridiculous. It’s completely ridiculous.

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Leon de Kock considers Marikana in an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Losing the Plot

SLiPnet has shared an excerpt from Leon de Kock’s forthcoming book, Losing the Plot: Crime, Reality, and Fiction in Postapartheid Writing, to be published by Wits Press this year.

In the excerpt, De Kock considers how the Marikana massacre has been covered in the media, underlining the prominence of what he calls “‘true’ writing about perceived ‘crime’” in South Africa.

In addition, he suggests that the Marikana massacre demonstrates the country’s “routinely pathological public sphere”, and that the media representations of “ruptured and broken bodies” come to stand in for a “shocked” public sphere. As such, De Kock says, Marikana “blurs the line between the private and the public, bringing otherwise nonpublic and unknowable agony, something that threatens the ‘body public’ as much as it hurts private bodies, into affective general view”.

However, a brief synopsis does not do the excerpt justice. Read it in full:

If there is one event in postapartheid history that concentrates all the elements of a pathological public sphere, and suggests that the country is as much in the grip of a wound culture as it is a (mal)functioning democracy, then it is the event known as the Marikana massacre.1 The salient details of this event, as extensively reported in the media (and narrated in at least one full-length documentary, by Aryan Kaganof, as well as a multi-tiered, multimedia Mail & Guardian online “project”2), are the following: 34 people, most of them striking rock-drillers at Lonmin platinum mines near Rustenburg in the North West Province, were shot dead by members of the South African Police Services (SAPS) on 16 August 2012; in the preceding week, 10 people had been killed in strike-related “unrest” (to use a peculiarly South African euphemism for uprising), including two policemen and two Lonmin security guards; the Farlam Commission of Inquiry set up by government to investigate the incident and report on its causes saw evidence that suggests the police/state used a key witness, Mr X (real name withheld by the commission) to testify falsely in its favour as part of what appears to be a cover-up, as this witness’s evidence was shown, during cross-examination by advocate Dali Mpofu and others, to contain what appear to be irreconcilable contradictions and plain lies.3

Well-credentialed commentators on the killings, including Pullitzer-prizewinning photojournalist Greg Marinovich, writer/filmmaker Kaganof, sociologist Sakhela Buhlungu and others detect in this event the combination of a neoliberal ruling elite and big capitalism setting its amalgamated face against exploited underground mineworkers earning as little as R5000 a month. For many commentators, including family members of the slain miners, Marikana recalls the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 in which 69 people were gunned down by the South African Police (SAP), as well as the killings associated with the Soweto uprisings in June 1976, and the Bhisho massacre in 1992.4

Related stories:

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“For Any Service, You Must Pay” – Deliwe Mzobe, Spokesperson for Wits Outsourced Workers (Podcast)

South Africa's Suspended RevolutionRewolusie op ysInguqukombuso YeNingizimu Afrika Eyabondwa YashiywaNtwa ya Boitseko e Fanyehuweng ya Afrika Borwa

The University of the Witwatersrand has agreed to stop outsourcing. This concession came after weeks of student protests.

Deliwe Mzobe, spokesperson for the outsourced workers at Wits University, recently spoke to John Robbie about the agreement reached at Wits, and the continuing protests at the the University of Johannesburg.

Mzobe says that their is a lack of trust of the unions among workers, which is complicating the process of reaching an agreement.

“For any service, you have to pay for it,” Mzobe says explaining the importance of establishing acceptable remuneration and working conditions for workers. She says it is a battle that has been fought for the last 15 years.

Adam Habib’s office released a statement last week listing the agreements reached after engagement with outsourced workers’ representatives as well as students.

Read the statement:

1. Wits agrees to insourcing in principle.
2. A commission to be constituted by all stakeholders will be established by 6 November to determine the details of how insourcing will be implemented in a way that ensures sustainability of the University.

Related stories:


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Wits reaches agreement with students on outsourcing

RDM News Wire, 1 November, 2015

Outsourcing was one of the contentious issues raised by students in their demands to the university.

In a statement on Sunday‚ Professor Tawana Kupe‚ the university’s deputy vice-chancellor for Transformation‚ HR and Advancement‚ said that following two days of engagement with the representatives of outsourced workers and students‚ the university had agreed in principle to insourcing.

He said a commission would be established to determine the details of how insourcing could be undertaken in a financially sustainable manner.

“In the upcoming week‚ the workers’ representatives‚ students‚ academics and management will determine who will serve on the commission. The representatives will report on the progress of establishing the commission on 6 November 2015‚” Prof Kupe said.

He added that in terms of the agreement‚ the Commission would negotiate the contents of a proposed Workers Charter; a Memorandum of Understanding on the way forward would be drafted; and the children of outsourced workers who qualified to study at Wits‚ would receive financial aid from the university.

The R1‚500 examination supplementary fee would also be waived.

Moreover‚ qualifying‚ financially-stressed final year students in 2015 who owed R15‚000 or less‚ would not be required to pay this amount in order to graduate‚ as this might prevent them from finding a job.

“It is proposed that the examination period be postponed for one week. It will run from 9 November 2015 to 4 December 2015. This is subject to approval from Senate‚ the highest academic decision-making body of the University.

“The University is of the view that through engagement with various stakeholder groups‚ we have reached a point of unification that will allow the University to return to normality with a focus on the examinations for the remainder of the year‚” Prof Kupe concluded.

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Xolela Mangcu Identifies 2 Main Differences Between Fees Must Fall and the 1980s Student Protests

The Colour of Our FutureThe Arrogance of PowerBiko

Xolela Mangcu has written a piece looking at the similarities and differences between Fees Must Fall and the student protests of the the 1980s – specifically in the role assumed by business – “by way of personal reflection”.

Mangcu recalls when he and his fellow students closed down Wits University in 1985, and the motto “student-worker solidarity” was coined.

He also confesses to “some jealousy as the students ‘usurped’ a role I had thought belonged only to the memories of my generation”.

Mangcu, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Cape Town, says he sees two main differences between then and now, the vital difference being “the absence of the big-hearted liberalism”.

Read the article:

A few months ago, I was invited to a conversation with a delegation from Yale University to share my views on the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign at the University of Cape Town.

I told the delegation I could see only two differences between the current generation of activists and our generation.

The first difference is that the policy issues the students are dealing with now — decolonising the curriculum, changing the composition of the professoriate and finding money for free higher education — are far more complex than bringing down an oppressive regime.

The second difference is the absence of the big-hearted liberalism of those three men who interviewed me and allowed me to define my own way with their money.
The absence of enlightened liberalism cuts across the business community and the university sector in SA.

What we have instead are business leaders who are penny-pinchers and university vice-chancellors who are more adept at disciplinary measures against students than in understanding where they are coming from and where they might want to go.

Where are those visionary leaders now?

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Adam Habib Urges Students to Suspend the Revolution and Allow Completion of the Academic Year

Professor Adam Habib, vice-chancellor of Wits University and author of South Africa’s Suspended Revolution, issued a statement yesterday in which he urged all members of the university community to do everything they can to “allow for the completion of this academic year”.

South Africa's Suspended RevolutionRewolusie op ysInguqukombuso YeNingizimu Afrika Eyabondwa YashiywaNtwa ya Boitseko e Fanyehuweng ya Afrika Borwa

Habib’s statement follows the #FeesMustFall student protest that shook South African campuses last week and culminated in the government’s concession to discontinue the fee increases for 2016.

Habib and Wits have since put measures in place to ensure that the academic programme continue despite disruptions by smaller groups of students who continued protesting after President Jacob Zuma’s announcement on Friday.

In his statement, Habib reiterated his previous plea that students should resume their academic activities as soon as possible and announced that the exam timetable will be out on Friday.

Read the article:

The University remains open and focussed on its academic programme and other operational functions, and Campus Control has been mandated to facilitate this. The police are also on standby, should they be required.

We urge all members of the University community to continue to do everything possible to allow for the completion of this academic year.

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The “Poignant Spectacle” of Burnt Books – Achille Mbembe Writes from Wits


On the PostcolonyThe University of the Witwatersrand reopened this morning, after a number of days of closure owing to student protests. Achille Mbembe has written a piece describing the atmosphere on campus.

Last night, ahead of the scheduled reopening, news broke on Twitter that a group of students had set fire to the university bookshop. By the morning, #WitsOnFire was the top trending topic on Twitter, and conflicting reports of violent behaviour and planned action were emerging from the campus.

However, Mbembe writes that when he arrived there was “a mixture of calm, relief and tension in the air”.

Mbembe, philosopher, political scientist and public intellectual, is based at the Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research. His book, On the Postcolony, was recently rereleased in an updated edition.
See a picture of the damage (scroll down for Mbembe’s piece):


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Read the piece, shared in full on Mbembe’s Facebook page:

WITS UNIVERSITY – 10:31 AM. – The University reopened this morning. There have been a number of incidents during the night, including the breaking of the Bookstore’s glass window and the burning of some books. I walked by this morning and one could still see some of those books on the ground, partly burnt, wish ash all around. There are other open sites where fire was also set, either with a tyre or something else. Clearly it was brought under control, and it does not seem to have caused major damage to infrastructure. On the other hand, should this be taken as a signal that campus is no longer secure at night?

Furthermore, should we be taking seriously other health and hazard-related risks in view of the amount of garbage piling up at almost every corner of the Braamfontein campus?

Whatever the case, as I write, there is a mixture of calm, relief and tension in the air. At the Origins Center’s entrance this morning, a very small group of outsourced workers was singing. Almost all were women. The technological devices aimed at ensuring a smooth functioning of the gate had been dismantled by protesters during the night. Below the gate, one could see a group of private security guards dressed in black. And not far from there, there were police cars parked on the side of the street. No sign of violence though.
I stopped at the Wits Arts Gallery. A number of people had gone there, looking for good coffee. The restaurant was not yet operating. Nor were he innumerous small businesses in Senate House (unofficially renamed after Solomon Mahlangu) and in the Student Concourse (banks, hair salons, phone companies, eateries etc.). But clearly they were rearing to go, after having lost a lot of money during the last ten days or so.

Perhaps the most poignant spectacle was at the Bookstore. Almost every single student stopped by, had a look, then walked away in silence. A good number took pictures on their cell phones – partly burnt books thrown out on the concrete, the ash, the broken glass, the black of the smoke on the wall. I took a picture too, of a poor book called “Lectures on Mysticism and Nature Worship” by C.H.A. Bjerregaard.

Otherwise the lines are fracturing. Bridges are being burnt. Alliances are being made and unmade and remade at a velocity never seen on this campus during the last fifteen years. Holy or unholy? Moral certainties are fast crumbling as the stakes get higher and higher. But a clear fact is emerging – many, including those students keen to pass their final exams – want to resume their work.
As I was walking back to my office, I met a colleague who is a warden in one of the residences on campus. I asked him how he was doing. There was a lot of sadness in his eyes. He spoke with the very measured tone of asomebody who is deeply concerned about what is going on. He pointed to the Bookstore, then told me about the experience, every January-February of every year, of young students having to leave the residence because they have not been able to pay their fees. What a great moment to mobilize everybody, he added. But these days, he concluded, “they have lost sight of a very useful concept: “tactical retreat”. We both laughed after I remarked: ” You and I might be getting too old”.

Postcript – Yesterday, the EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) marched to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. According to the police, the march mobilized more than 50 000 people. I read the Memorandum submitted to the JSE by Julius Malema. Were the Memorandum to be put to a referendum today, I bet it would be endorsed by ……

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#FeesMustFall was the Tipping Point of the Youth’s More Radical Grievances – Achille Mbembe

On the PostcolonyOn the Postcolony author Achille Mbembe wrote a Facebook post yesterday on the current student protests, asking: “Is South Africa in a pre-revolutionary moment?”

Reflecting on the events of the past week, where students stormed the hallowed grounds of Parliament, Luthuli House and the Union Buildings to demand that the government listen to their frustrations about university tuition fees, Mbembe writes:

“In this most unequal country on the planet where for the last two decades the ruling party has not been able to decisively bring to an end the centuries-long process of recycling of black poverty, yet another routine increase of tuition fees has proven to be the tipping point.”

Mbembe ponders on the deeper grievances of the youth, which goes beyond the call for free education, and wonders how the protest will end. He writes in conclusion that “openness to the unexpected” should be the rule.

Read the article:

Beyond the tuition fees increase and the call for free education lurk other, even more radical grievances. While delivering their memorandum to the General Secretary of the ANC a few minutes ago, student leaders pointedly argued that the older generation had lied to them – a clear reference to the 1994 dispensation that was supposed to usher a new era of racial equality and freedom, including in the economic sphere.

They remonstrated the ANC, the arrogance of the new rulers, their lack of humility, and vowed to keep the momentum going even if this meant shutting down Johannesburg, Pretoria or Cape Town.

A new spirit of defiance is fast spreading. A commitment to direct action too. Those who wanted to see could see it coming – the RhodesMustFall initiative, the constitution of the Economic Freedom Fighters, Open Stellenbosch, similar enterprises at Wits and Rhodes, and now in slmost every campus.

One could also see it coming, in the extraordinary return to critical black intellectual traditions, to black feminism, queer theory, critical race studies, theories of intersectionality etc. To these currents is now being added a renewed critique of political economy that aims at bringing together, dialectically, questions of race and property, of class and inequality, and of identity and what many call lived experience.

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Update on the #WitsFeesMustFall Student Protest, Plus a Video of Yesterday’s Meeting with Wits Council

South Africa's Suspended RevolutionRewolusie op ysNtwa ya Boitseko e Fanyehuweng ya Afrika BorwaInguqukombuso YeNingizimu Afrika Eyabondwa Yashiywa

A proposed 10.5 percent increase in student fees sparked a firestorm of protest at Wits University last week. Similar student protests are underway at UCT and Rhodes University, and are rumoured to be planned at a number of other tertiary institutions.

Adam Habib, vice-chancellor of Wits and author of South Africa’s Suspended Revolution, is engaged in negotiations with students in order to find a mutually acceptable solution, but he says the university is “caught in a bind”.

The proposed fee increase has been suspended, and a new arrangement is being sought. In order to facilitate much-needed dialogue, all classes were suspended at the university on Monday:

The university will still be closed on Monday for council to announce the decision to students at noon in a special assembly.

“This includes the suspension of all University activities including lectures, examinations, assessments, practicals, etc and will affect all students and staff on all campuses including the Medical School and affiliated hospitals,” the university said, as final exams approach.

Negotiations reached an unfortunate deadlock yesterday:

The university’s council members were expected to address the students outside at midday after suspending the 10.5 percent fee hike for 2016.

The meeting with council members was supposed to take place on the steps of the Great Hall, but after arguing with security, students made their way into the building, breaking one of the glass doors in the process.

eNCA covered yesterday’s events. Watch the video:

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