Meet UP’s political structures: an introduction for first years
As an introduction to the services and initiatives offered by the political structures at UP, PDBY reached out to the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL), Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (DASO) and Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFFSC). Answers for the ANCYL, DASO and EFFSC were supplied by Tarik Lalla, Resource Mobilizer for ANCYL; Chardonnay Arends, DASO Chairperson and Sthembiso Nkosi, EFF Vice Chairperson. The South Africa Student Congress (SASCO) is also a political structure at UP, but declined the offer of comment.
What initiatives and services are organised this year for first years?
DASO: As DASO, we intend to help students adjust from online learning back to contact learning (if it happens that way). We also intend on implementing tutorials to familiarise first year students with the means of navigating their UP portal, and the updated Blackboard Learn site, by using video tutorials and an email that the students can contact should they experience any difficulty. DASO executive and senior members aim to be on call as liaisons between the SRC and the students. Within the DASO network that already exists, we intend to connect first years to current members that are in the same faculties that they are in.
EFFSC-UP: We will run programs to assist first years with adjusting to university especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring that they do not suffer that much academically by assisting them to get the necessary exposure to the various support systems the institution has available for them and providing support to them, because they are our priority.
ANCYL: As an alliance partner of the Progressive Youth Alliance, as led by SASCO, along with the Young Communist League and Muslim Student Association, we have a number of events that we organise, e.g. Save the Semester: Right to Learn Campaign. Generally we form part of the progressive youth alliance. The initiatives that we are organising this year are spontaneous events that fit the need at that particular point in time. For example, Pad ride, this is where we get sanitary pads for students because we see that there is a need for that particular product. We collect the sanitary pads via donations and through that we allow ourselves to distribute the sanitary pads to students that are in need. Another campaign is ‘noodle driver’, we collect noodles and non-perishable food and then distribute it to students that are in need. But as a democratic organisation, we are open to encouraging new ideas from students, including first year students should they have any ideas.
Why should first years be encouraged to participate in political structures on campus?
DASO: Political structures seek to be an active means of advocating for the benefit of the students and one can only truly become a part of the output that is the benefit when they themselves actively participate. Political involvement allows students to learn about the actual running of the university and gives them a foot in the door for student governance, which is crucial because a university is made up of students and so students should have a say in its running. As DASO, we want no student to be left behind, and joining our political structure ensures that your voice will be heard, your energy captured and your contributions to the greater goal valued.
EFFSC-UP: Politics in general affect each and every aspect of our lives, the COVID-19 pandemic serves to prove that because all of us, including those who are said to being apolitical, were affected and controlled by political decisions which were made by political leaders. So avoiding politics and pretending they do not exist is a foolish mistake to commit. It is important that political consciousness is cultivated from very young and early in our lives, so we can make the correct decisions when we must exercise our rights as citizens, one of which is to elect our leaders. So it is highly imperative for all students in all various years of study to not be clueless when it comes to politics and to be conscientised [sic] so that when they leave this institution with their degrees, they can be influential and responsible citizens who will build the country and move it forward.
ANCYL: Political structures are the backbone of student governance, because the fact that we need to have good leadership in our Day Houses, Faculty Houses, as well as the SRC, means that we need to have good leadership in our political formations. In saying that, political structures ensure that student leaders and student governance are in touch with the students and do not disconnect from the general student body. Overall, I’d encourage first years to join political organisations, because then they will know that they are represented, that they have a voice. […] Of course political organisations give them a platform to present progressive and beneficial ideas that will impact the general student body positively. Participating in political organisations will give first year students the platform to protect their democracy.
How have you adapted your services and mode of operation to operate online?
DASO: We were well suited to operate in the midst of the pandemic as we already had a WhatsApp group with our members which we made use of as a means of communication. Members of our executive committee made use of Zoom to convene for meetings and our established social media channels have also served as mouthpieces during this time. All members are also willing and ready to share information and communicate with new members.
EFFSC-UP: Every year in January, we have a program we run annually called Sizofunda Ngenkani, which aims to assist students both first years and seniors with the various issues which they have ranging from exclusions (financial and academic) to accommodation and others, and this year we did not have a choice except to move this program online through a means like WhatsApp; and it is proving to being quite effective as we are helping students more frequently and we are achieving our goals so moving forward we will see what transpires. Obviously however, we will look into exploring other alternative means of how we can be relevant and still serve students even though we have to do our operations and run our programs online, as it is the “new normal”.
ANCYL: We have adapted our online platforms to be in line with our government, the mother body. For example, the ANCYL will work with SASCO and the Young Communist League online during the ‘Save Semester Campaign’ which usually runs for three weeks, through this campaign we are able to help students with mental health. This campaign like many other campaigns during online learning will be run on all ANCYL social media platforms, eg. WhatsApp group chat. Last year, this initiative was relatively successful, therefore as [the] ANCYL we plan on being accessible via all our social media platforms during online learning. We also have structural processes put in place where students can contact certain individuals via email, WhatsApp and telephonically in relation to the issues that they face. Although we are ensuring that working online is [as] effective as possible, we must accept that working online is extremely challenging, because some students do not have access to Wi-Fi or the internet.
What impacts does joining a political party have on a student?
DASO: The university experience is generally turbulent where one becomes increasingly politicised. Joining a political organisation allows the student to express themselves politically, but more so offers the opportunity for the student to discover and learn how they fit into the broader context of the political organisation and how that plays out in the context of their lives.
EFFSC-UP: It increases and enhances on a students’ consciousness. An important lesson we need to remember is that we are first human beings before being anything else and being a student does not erase that we are human beings and as human beings, what we ought to do is embody the concept of Ubuntu. Joining a political party is not something for a student to just decorate their CV’s and end it there, but it opens a new dimension of social ills and issues which also gives you an opportunity on how to address them and resolve them.
ANCYL: Students are given a platform to engage with other comrades, in a space like the ANCYL, a student is exposed to a space that is non-racial, non-sexist [and] non-discriminatory based on issues like sexual orientation or even religion; it is [a] tolerant space and gives a platform to all students. It also helps students to act as a collective, which becomes easier and more beneficial than acting as an individual. Most importantly it creates an environment for students to learn and to benefit the progressiveness of their society and community.
How can individuals stay up to date with information regarding the political party?
DASO: Individuals can stay up to date with political party information through our social media [platforms], Whatsapp groups or fellow members, as all these platforms are regularly updated and all members are willing and ready to share information and communicate with new members.
EFFSC-UP: The sure way is [to] primarily join a political party through contacting any of the leaders which are accessible. In that way a student will be in the loop with what is happening and the information which is necessary and shared with all members. This is on top of following us on all the social media platforms we are available on.
ANCYL: Students can stay better informed about the ANCYL through our social media platforms on Facebook and Instagram, [and] especially by joining the ANCYL WhatsApp group. But students can also be better informed via the ANCYL WTT.
Is there any form of advice you’d like to give first years?
DASO: Simple – to get help! However big or small your issue is, there are people who have found themselves in the same predicaments and have prevailed. Get assistance, you’ll be better for it. Additionally, get involved and have your say. Make valuable connections because they carry you through some of the toughest times, which are inevitable. Never let anyone undermine you because you’re only a first year.
EFFSC-UP: To the first years, first of all we sympathise with you for being denied the opportunity of experiencing university in all its greatness, however be not deterred by this. Secondly, is to make a clarion call to let them know that we are available for them and to help them. They must not panic or worry, they should just reach out to any of our leaders and they will get assistance. Thirdly, the unity amongst us as a people is of paramount importance. If we are not united and one, then the enemy will have a field day with us, we will self-destruct and it will be the end of us all. Let us be united and conquer together, because we can as the future of this nation willing and able to live the full manifestation of the dreams of those who came before us, enjoying the fruits of our freedom.
ANCYL: Students should enjoy what they are studying, work as hard as they can and they should not be afraid to ask for help, because working in the collective is far easier than working as an individual. Students should also give help. I also encourage students to be involved in political organisations, because any participation in a democratic system is a positive contribution
SASCO declined the offer to publish responses, despite multiple opportunities to comment.
Article has been edited for length and clarity.