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The announcement of the Student Parliament election results with AfriForum Youth garnering the most votes and the Dean of Students declaring them “free and fair elections” is seemingly reminiscent of South Africa’s own transition.
First there were negotiations on how best to structure political and democratic life and then came 27 April 1994 when all South Africans, irrespective of race and gender, were given the right to vote for their own government.
I said seemingly. Because in reality, the events leading up to and including the student elections at UP are worrying signs of a democracy gone wrong and confi rms every fear we have about politicians – self-interested, manipulative and intent on driving their own myopic agenda.
I am most concerned about how the students were never part of the negotiations and discussions on the composition of the SRC. This is ironic for many reasons. The university council took a decision to ban party politics because of the legitimate risk of external bodies driving their national agendas in the university.
Having taken this bold decision, the university then enters into negotiations with the very structures they felt were illegitimate and did not represent student interests. This is almost like a government negotiating with terrorists.
There was, in this seemingly democratic and participative process, never an attempt to engage ordinary students on their needs and interest on campus. There was never a referendum through which students could make their views heard on issues regarding student politics and university life.
Of course the university management and the Dean of Students are to blame here for turning student politics into a technical and legally formalistic process rather than encouraging students to develop substantive, radical and relevant responses to the role of students in the university’s institutional life. There are also an interconnected set of problems here.
The first is that UP is devoid of any sustained intellectual culture and lacks spirited debate – issues concerned with intellectual stimulation and critical thinking end up on the grass under the trees on campus where they started.
The second reason is that those students who have a commitment to the possibility of a student politics that is actually about students and that can implement changes geared towards the improvement of student life have adopted an attitude of anti-politics where they would rather admonish student leaders instead taking part in student politics themselves.
For these two reasons, university life is characterised by apathy and a lack of activism with no one who will dare to challenge the ‘status quo’ and the ‘existing order’ which might I add is distinctively racialist and divisive. As for the election of AfriForum Youth, the less said about that the better.
The point here is that student politics has followed the same dangerous pattern of our own national government – one which does not listen to the people’s concerns, which arrogantly assumes the power to determine how people’s lives will progress and which just doesn’t care much for the needs, interest and desires of the governed except to get re-elected in the next elections.
The time is ripe for students to resist this illegitimate and wholly undemocratic form of politics and create spaces through which to conceive of a politics that is not limited by the immediacy of party politics and to challenge issues that are not already taken up in the strict economy of partisan politics. Until then, Cry the beloved university!
Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria.