WHY SHOULD YOU VOTE FOR THE CANDIDATE THAT PROMISED YOU NOTHING? By Malaika Mahlatsi
At the SRC Grazzle last night, I opened my presentation by informing the student body of Rhodes University that as a candidate for the Activism and Transformation Councillor, I promise them nothing. At the end of my presentation, loud applause ensued, but some students were left perplexed and stunned that a candidate who ought to impress them with answers and solutions to problems would stand before them and boldly declare that she had no answers to give them and no solutions to offer. Time made no allowance for the in-depth qualification of the position I was articulating and as such, I have written this article for the SRC page and am on the process of shooting a video outlining and qualifying the sentiments that I expressed last night.
Last night, I asserted in my presentation that there are race, class and gender contradictions that exist at our university which, for the creation of a prosperous institution, beg for critical analysis. This means that there is a need for the student body of Rhodes University to engage in an honest introspection about the constructs of the institution that will lead to the removal of self-imposed myths and limitations that have come to be accepted as natural. The student body of our institution cannot afford to remain imprisoned by notions that undermine the potential of the university to produce thought leaders of an astute intellectual and social calibre. It is with this understanding, which is in line with the mission of the SRC to “be a student-oriented, approachable institution which fosters a conducive, developmental environment in and outside the academic sphere…”, that the nurturing of thought-leaders who have the responsibility of shaping the future of the African continent becomes relevant. But what are thought leaders? Are they born that way or are they made?
A thought leader is “a futurist or person who has innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote or share those ideas as actionable, distilled insights”. This means then, that Rhodes University has the responsibility to produce such individuals; men and women who, outside of their academic excellence, are going to be agents of positive change to the society to which they belong. It is here that I want to emphasise that thought leaders are not born, but made. They are a product of their primary and secondary socialisation as well as a product of their own choices which can only arise from a consciousness determined by their material conditions. This means that thought leaders are not merely theorists and ideologues who have the skill and ability to analyse society and diagnose its problems, but individuals who have been tested in the terrain of experience. After all, leadership is born out of the understanding of those who will be affected by it. Because a leader is a creation and a product of the prevailing material conditions of his environment, his/her consciousness is determined by the knowledge of the constructs that define his/her society. These are the people that Rhodes vows to produce, for its motto itself says that the university is “Where leaders learn”.
My campaign is founded on this premise; that Rhodes is a factory where leaders are made. As such, the student body must at all times, be placed on a terrain where it is the one that determines the politics of the day. There is a need for us to annihilate the defeating reality that places students as spectators of a game in which they must be players. I will not, and it is a conscious decision that is informed by years of working in the NGO sector, both as an intern and as a volunteer, allow myself to be placed in a situation where I decide the fates of the masses of our people (in this context our students) without their active contribution to the determination of those decisions. The benefit of working in numerous NGOs, from the Alternative Information and Development Agency in Cape Town to Khanya College in Johannesburg, is that one learns to appreciate the importance of involving people in the politics that define their own lives. On numerous occasions, we had gone out into townships with brilliant speeches prepared and ready-made solutions to what we believed were the biggest problems of the working-class people, only to be rejected by those same people. This happened because our people, illiterate and poor though they may be, are not stupid. They understand their own conditions better than we do and thus, they must be the ones who tell their stories and propose remedies to their situations. The same is applicable to Rhodes University students, who have an advantage over the general populace in that we are not illiterate. Students are the ones who experience the unjust nature of the race, class and gender contradictions which I indicated last night that are still existing in the institution. They live with this reality every day. As such, the only way that these issues can be resolved in such a way that students come out true victors in the end, is to create a platform where they engage on these issues. I vowed to create this platform and that is the closest thing to a promise I made. I want students of Rhodes University to sit at the driver’s seat of the Activism and Transformation portfolio which I am running for. Students have the responsibility to shape their own discourse and just as they decide who must represent them, so too must they decide what must be represented in terms of the campaigns that the Activism and Transformation portfolio takes up.
Here, people might be wondering if the I am proposing that the Activism and Transformation office be an all systems go office, where any idea a student raises will be supported and taken to its logical conclusion. I want to emphasise that this is not the case at all, for under no circumstances will disorder and total anarchy be masked as the measure of true democracy in the institution. What will happen is that students will be allowed to raise issues that relate to their problems with the institution and management, as they relate to the race, class and gender questions. A platform will be created in the same way as the Grazzle, where there will be a public debate that will comprise of the students themselves, the Activism and Transformation councillor and where necessary, a representative from the management and other relevant stakeholders such as the community of Grahamstown. From such platforms and debates, it can be determined what the topical issues are, by the decision of the majority. In this way, students will be empowered and feel that they are truly being represented by the SRC, that the SRC is serving them as opposed to them serving the decisions that are determined by the SRC itself. I believe that an idea, no matter how great it may be, is useless if it is not a product of those who are the motive force that will benefit from its implementation.
Once again I will state that the epoch of rule-by-noise politics need to come to an end. Students cannot and must never agree to be governed through rhetoric and unrealistic promises to deliver on the improbable. The epoch where the SRC acts as a decision-making body as opposed to a decision-implementing body needs to come to an end. Students must reject being reduced to a mere voting fodder that is only ever seriously engaged at the SRC Grazzle when we as candidates want their votes, only to be remembered the following year for the same reasons. Students must be engaged on every issue. Students must lead with the SRC and more importantly, students must rebel against the imposition of ideas that are birthed without their input. Our SRC institution must become a festival of ideas where ALL students participate and are active. As a powerful Zambian proverb says:
“When you run alone you run fast. But when you run together, you run far”.
We must reject the individualisation of power and understand that nothing is for us without us.
1st year BSS (Geography)
Candidate for Activism and Transformation