By Mischka Lewis
From the first days at Stellenbosch University(US), I knew I wanted to make a difference. My first year experience at US was challenging as I struggled to adapt to my new surroundings. I struggled with the urge to practice freedom of thought and think independently. The lecture halls became a place of confinement where we learnt to be obedient to the authority without questioning. There were many instances where I was silenced while exercising critical thinking, especially in matters pertaining to socioeconomic inequalities in South Africa. It is with this that I realized that a university is a space where we are expected to regurgitate and memorize knowledge and to conform to the ideals taught in the lecture halls.
The shaping of my consciousness and the knowledge I had gained being involved in non-positional and positional leadership structures has brought the desire to reignite the Student Representative Council as a voice to promote a mandate in the interests of students. Students come first and with this in mind I will be accountable and will serve with dedication, integrity and commitment. Therefore, it is the students not a political party that elects their student representatives. As an SRC candidate, my loyalty lies with the students that have instilled their confidence in me.
Earlier this year, more than 200 underprivileged students faced academic exclusion at US for financial reasons. The decline in subsidies contributed to the scrambling of resources for many students, it is unfortunate that fees shut out these poor students in a historically privileged university such as US knowing all too well that it is that education that would guarantee an escape from the cycle of poverty.
The diverse composition of the student body requires strong moral leadership not staunch defenders of the status quo. It is particularly encouraging to note that the ongoing transformation in higher education has culminated in a change in the profile of staff especially within the senior echelons of the academy, but US has been lagging behind especially in issues relating to gender equality and so forth. If US intends to deal with the disease that prevents transformation and progress then it ought to transform the structure of the university to allow women and queer representation.
On the 02 August 2016,eight Student Representative Council(SRC) candidates running under the banner of Afriforum were suspended from the electoral process by Student Court. The candidates contravened several election rules relating to campaign posters, electioneering, monetary limits and attendance of presentation meetings (caucuses). The Election Committee will need to investigate and compile a report regarding the irregularities, specifically the campaigns of the eight candidates which will be ratified by the Student Court and made public 9 August 2016. Until then the SRC elections have been suspended.
The verdict of Student Court is welcomed as it ensures a fair electoral process. Afriforum purports to respect law, but they couldn’t help themselves to exceed the R650 budget limit. Once again Afriforum flexed their capital to buy power. Their ignorance is not bliss as it has compromised the 2016/2017 elections and made it into a mockery.
Afriforum has been prancing around in green overalls, using it as a gimmick for attention. However, when workers put their bodies on line during #EndOutsourcing to demand human dignity, the organisation looked the other way. The green overalls represents the living and working conditions of those who are marginalized, living on the outskirts of Stellenbosch. The green overall does not evoke a sense of pride or happiness, it represents an underpaid worker.
The role of the SRC is to act as an advisory and intermediary between university management and students on issues regarding policy and related decisions affecting the students. Therefore, it is important that the SRC is depoliticized to avoid a particular agenda being enforced. This is respecting the structure as a body representing students from all walks of life. The contravening of rules by Afriforum candidates is indicative of the advancement of the exclusive Afriforum mandate and an agenda of one dimensional leadership intent.
The SRC, being the highest form of student governance must be able to respect the rules of the Student Constitution in order to ensure that the student body is protected and fairly represented. It is unacceptable to have SRC candidates disrespect the student body and the Student Constitution that they intend to abide by.
I understand that the most important principle and my duty is to work towards creating a US that is a truly democratic in terms of decision making processes, a non-sexist academic hub but more importantly an option for working class families. I believe being grounded in service and centered on lobbying for core student issues will break barriers to transformation.
A call to the students: let us break barriers together!
Mischka Lewis is a student and an independent candidate running for the Stellenbosch University SRC elections.