RED WAVE RISING
SA is at a fork in the road and the youth are choosing which path we take
I am going to tell you something that is either going to excite you or scare you. Something that portends major shifts in the trajectory of this country.
Have you ever been in a historical period? It’s almost a silly question because all periods are historical. But you know what I mean, an era defining moment, a turning or tipping point. Have you ever been a first-hand witness to that kind of thing? I think that I have. In fact I am sure of it.
Enough with the suspense, I am talking about the developments that have unfolded at our Universities over the last month and a half. Specifically I am talking about SRC elections. Something is happening in those corridors of learning that is being ignored by many but is the clearest indicator of the political direction of the country.
Let's start with some context, there are 2 million young people studying in universities and in TVETs in South Africa. This is a large constituency of organized voters. Every year these institutions have elections for their Student Representative Councils (SRC’s). The major political parties all contest in these elections through their youth movements being: the Democratic Alliance Student organisation (DASO), the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA), the Economic Freedom Fighters Student command (EFFSC), the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania (PASMA) et al.
Of late, the SRC contestations have become elaborate and are taken seriously by both national leaders and the student participants , so much so that Belinda Bozolli of the DA has submitted parliamentary questions to find out how they are being funded. I quote:
“apparently on Wits campus the 2 main parties competing - ANC and EFF are visibly spending vast amounts of money on concerts complete with sound stages, banners, sound systems, campaign trucks, T-shirt’s and the like. What are the rules here? And how can they afford this?”
She continued by saying:
“I have put in elaborate Parliamentary questions today about this. University campuses should not become simply venues for election rallies by major parties”
Bozzoli is no doubt over reacting and may simply be sour that DASO only had two candidates at Wits , but she has a point that something has changed on campuses in relation to this annual process. I have been following student elections for a long time. First, as an SRC debate coordinator in 2010, then as a campaign manager, then as a two-time candidate, then as a campaign manager, and lastly as a lay journalist. The first moment when I knew I was in a truly major turning point was when I took a small part in the #FEESMUSTFALL movement. I marched, I debated and I created content to spread the conversation. Being on the ground and listening to thousands of students across universities demand decolonized free and quality education, demanding an end to male privilege and the abuse of women in university spaces, I knew South Africa would never be the same again.
There is a Red Wave rising across these spaces.
The EFF is winning the hearts and minds of these young people in leaps and bounds across the tertiary education space. The ANC has been the historic dominant party across these institutions of higher learning but it has lost significant ground nationally to the EFF. While there are some significant exceptions it's clear that the momentum right now lies clearly in the hands of Julius Malema and the EFF.
Let's go over some of the notable victories. At the top university in Africa , UCT the SRC elections were won by the EFF. For the first time in 20 years the University of Johannesburg has fallen out of the hands of the ANC coalition to the EFF in a dramatic fashion, the EFF won most of the campuses including the crown jewel APK. Unisa with its enrolment figures of over 300 000 has seen a significant rise in EFF presence on its SRC’s , nationally and regionally. Just this Tuesday CPUT was announced as being won by EFF.
According to Naledi Chirwa, a renowned young EFF activist, the EFF is the dominant student political formation at 20 of the 26 universities . In fact it appears it’s a figure closer to 18 universities, nonetheless this is a significant pace of growth for the EFF considering they were dominant on two University campuses three years ago those being University of Venda and University of Limpopo. Moving from 2 Universities under your control to 18 under your control is hyper growth for the Fighters. This trend can also be observed at the TVET level, many campuses are choosing the EFF over the PYA.
Wits offers a sharp contradiction to the general trend however.
This University is in many ways the crown jewel of student politics. Not only is it the other “Top University in Africa” but It also has a lot of symbolic value to both political parties, for instance Julius Malema is currently doing his masters there, Floyd Shivambu is studying for his Phd there and Mbuyiseni Ndlozi studied at Wits his whole tertiary career, it is his alma mater and he served in the SRC at Wits, as did Shivambu. Wits is the intellectual home of Mandela and many ANC stalwarts, more recently the birthplace of #FEESMUSTFALL, the movement which has created many new national heroes within the PYA, Fasiha Hassan, Mcebo Dlamini, Nompendulo Mhkatshwa, Shaeera Kalla and many others. Wits was for many a high stakes competition and it was all hands on deck for all major parties.
The University of the Witwatersrand the SRC elections just concluded. The results were dramatic as they have been in the last three years. In 2015 PYA had 12 seats and ProjectW had 3. After #FEESMUSTFALL the terrain shifted dramatically in 2016 PYA won all 15 seats. In 2017 the power dynamics shifted dramatically to EFF with them winning 12-3. This year the pendulum has swung back in favour of the PYA. The PYA returned to governance in a dramatic fashion winning 12- 1. The EFF has been swept out of the SRC retaining only one seat losing 11.
This is a devastating loss and a clear indication that there are still significant exceptions but it’s statistically clear that regardless of that outcome the EFF has entrenched itself in the tertiary education space and is the dominant party there. This phenomenon has been on display across the country at the University of the Free State, Vaal University of Technology and many others. Even in Universities which a predominately white and have been historically governed by AfriForum and DA like Tuks have seen an emergence of the EFF, EFF occupies the vice presidency of the Tuks SRC.
The yellow wave of the PYA is receding
The PYA, which is the ANC led alliance made up of SASCO, Young communists , Muslim student association and the ANCYL has seen a period of rapid decline nationally.
While there are still colourful leaders such as Mcebo Dlamini and high calibre talents such as Morris Mukhovhe within the fold that have been campaigning on campuses across the country, they have had limited success, reclaiming only sprinkle of the universities where the EFF had previously taken control, the three main ones being Wits, the University of Venda and the University of Limpopo. As it stands, the trend is strongly in favour of the EFF. The ANC coalition has failed to maintain its pre eminence in the tertiary education space. In the spaces which have been governed by the EFF for a while and have shifted back to SASCO, spaces like the University of Limpopo and the University of Venda the EFF still retains some seats in the SRC.
However there is a regrouping and rebuilding of the ANCYL nationally. The race for the next president is gaining momentum, Oros was a leader accepted by few on the ground and this election is being viewed by many as the rebirth of the ANCYL. There are thousands of students who have been campaigning and defending the ANC across the universities of South Africa. They are still believers and they are still preaching the need to examine everything with a “Marxist, Fanonian, Biko-ist lens”, classic PYA ideological rhetoric.
The yellow wave is not fully dead in the sand but its heydays are definitely a thing of the past. There was a time when SASCO/PYA was the dominant political formation everywhere. At Wits they were running the SRC with a majority for over 10 years, now it does not seem like they can hold on to their crown jewel for more than one year at a time.
There is no blue wave at all.
In this whole process the Democratic Alliance is the biggest loser.
It is very significant to note is that the Democratic Alliance and its message are being resoundingly rejected by students. There are a few exceptions to this broad pattern but across the country there is a clear trend of DA youth leaders not winning elections and having no traction with the students.
Even the newly formed DA Youth has failed to make an impact. It’s curious because its leader Luyolo Mphithi is a Wits alumni. One would have assumed that he would have been eager to make an impact in his alma mater as a matter of pride. Former national head of DASO Yusuf Cassim was very involved in student politics at NMMU well after he left the University. He rose to national notoriety because of his organisational strength being able to build a multiracial coalition at NMMU and to craft messaging that appealed across the base. However it is worth noting that this was before the “Fallist movements”.
The DA is no doubt doing poorly across the country with youth. In many campuses they even struggle to find students willing to run under their banner. In short the DA is a joke on university campuses. Its brand has become synonymous with losing.
The DA has taken positions on land, identity, free education, culture that are counter intuitive to the student consensus across the country on these issues. Their approach is costing them these voters. It’s principles of African liberalism as outlined by Mmusi Maimane are poorly explained and argued for, its classical liberalism as outlined by the Davis camp are also failing to gain any real traction.
The youth matter
The youth vote is significant, the university and TVET vote is especially important. The youth are the future and right now the party with the lion’s share of the youth mind space are the Economic Freedom Fighters. But the nature and identity of this demographic is quite pivotal. The students in our University spaces are going to be the political, social and business leaders of the future, but many times of the present as well. The failure to make an impression on this constituency is surely going to harm the DA in the 2019 electoral cycle.
This is the demographic with the time and energy to campgin on the ground, they are a trend setting demographic as demonstrated by the rise of the influencer class, many of whom are university students and recent graduates. They are the constituency with time and free internet courtesy of their universities. The dominant voice of black twitter is comprised of University student and recent graduates. Twitter is already playing a role on our day to day politics, it will play a role in the upcoming elections, its dominant voices will not be speaking on behalf of the DA, they will not be endorsing its African liberal ideology or its classical liberal ideology.
The youth are the future, the DA has no youth, they are the biggest loser in the future of South African politics and no doubt it will affect them in 2019.
The youthful, educated Red wave is changing everything.