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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 6, No. 16, 6 September 2007

In this Issue:


Red Alert

Intensified mass mobilization and in defense of the social sciences

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

The month of September is officially the SACP’s recruitment month. In line with the SACP’s prioritization of mass activism in our work, our recruitment will be done through convening of people’s forums throughout the country where the SACP has branches. The focus of these forums will be to report back to our communities on the outcomes of our 12th Congress, including a report back on the state of SACP campaigns, as well as engage our communities on the reasons for the latest class offensive directed against the SACP in particular, and the working class in general, and seek to mobilize in defense of our Party.

In addition we will use our September month to lay the basis for the launch of our Red October Campaign whose main focus will be on the challenges facing our public health system; as part of taking forward our flagship ‘Triple H’ (Health, Housing and Hunger) Campaign launched in the early 1990s by our late General Secretary, Cde Chris Hani. During this period we will also closely interact with COSATU’s main activities, including participation in the forthcoming COSATU Central Committee starting on 17 September 2007, shop stewards councils, the launching congress of the CWUSA, and the FAWU Congress, all taking place during this month. Party leadership in the provinces and districts have also been actively participating in the SADTU branch general meetings currently underway in the run up to SADTU’s National General Council in October 2007.

Our plan is to embark on sustained mass mobilization of our communities beyond October through till the end of the year. It is part of further entrenching the SACP amongst the workers and the poor, through taking up concrete issues facing our communities, as part of our Congress resolution on building working class hegemony in all key sites of power and influence. Details on this mass mobilization will be fleshed out by our Party Building Commission made up of the national secretariat and the nine provincial secretaries to be held at the end of this week.

An engaged social science

However the main focus of this issue is on the question of social sciences and their role in academia and potential contribution towards an overarching developmental strategy for our country. This question came back to mind once more as a result of two recent developments. The first one is the plan reported in the media that the University of South Africa plans to cut back on social sciences, including the possibility of closing down and merging some social science departments.

This matter was also raised as I was attending the highly successful 10th NEDLAC Annual Summit held in Kempton on Saturday 1 September 2007. Our National Chairperson and also Chairperson of the Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition (JIPSA) initiative, Cde Gwede Mantashe, gave an insightful and inspiring speech at this Summit, which focused on the challenges of skills development in our country. He shared with the meeting priority areas for training and skills development as identified by JIPSA, including engineering skills, artisan training and town and regional planning. 

Cde Mantashe further highlighted the persistence of one of the legacies of colonialism of a special type (CST) in our country, that in higher education black, particularly African, students are still predominantly in the social sciences, whilst white students still dominate in the engineering and science faculties. He further highlighted the fact that formerly black universities hardly have any engineering faculties. The impact of the persistence of this legacy is for instance highlighted in a study done by Pat Lucas, parts of its results published in the HSRC Review (Vol.1 No 3, September 2003). The study revealed that whilst 93,8% of all graduates find employment within a year after qualifying, graduates in medical science and engineering had more than 75% success rate in finding employment immediately, as opposed to 46% success rate with graduates in humanities and arts. In addition, the unemployment rate of graduates from former black universities was 64%, whilst that of graduates from historically white universities was only 34,6%.  These matters do indeed need to be addressed if we are to reverse the legacy of CST in skills provision.

Typical of the capitalist class and its neo-liberal thrust, some business representatives at this NEDLAC Summit latched onto this legitimate argument and sought use it to justify reducing our entire education system to exclusively and narrowly train for the labour market, with almost exclusive focus on technical skills and a diminished role for social science training.

Business response as well as UNISA’s plans to downscale social science education is a reflection of a very disturbing trend of the neo-liberalisation of our academia, at the direct expense of social sciences. The dangers of this trend is that the students we are likely to produce will be like robots, who only think numbers, drawing and balance sheets with no insights into, and tools to understand, broader societal challenges. Whilst it is important to drastically increase the numbers of black students in science, technology and engineering, caution must be taken that we do not bend the stick too far towards the other direction. This was also eloquently made by the General Secretary of the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU), Cde Ebrahim Patel at the same NEDLAC Summit.

Indeed the problem of ‘over-production’, as it were, of social science graduates is a matter of concern and a problem that will have to be urgently addressed. However it is important to distinguish between this ‘overproduction’ and the necessity for social science teaching and research.

Part of the problem is also the fact that in debating and developing an industrial strategy, building a developmental state, and broadly the transformation of our education system, there is no serious debate on the type of graduates and broader skills we need for a democratic South Africa, beyond just technical skills. There is also no coherent government strategy on the place and role of social sciences in our overall developmental strategy, and if there is any it is the alarming decrease in funding for social sciences in higher education.

The dominant neo-liberal discourse on this matter also manifests itself through donor funding for social science research, which is disturbingly diminishing for critical and developmental social science research with a bias towards research for production and capital accumulation.

However the task is not only for government, but needs to be confronted by the higher education sector itself. A struggle needs to be intensified for adequate funding of social science education. But perhaps some creative thinking is needed on how to deliver social science education and research beyond the confines of social science departments and faculties. For instance, it is absolutely essential for our developmental purposes that social science modules need to be integrated into all disciplines in the higher education sector.

In addition an interdisciplinary approach to the teaching of social science is of vital importance. One way to counter the ‘MBA’isation’ of our higher education system needs to be counter-balanced with the strengthening and adequate resourcing of schools and centers for developmental studies, in line with the developmental imperatives of our society. There is also very weak social science teaching and training in the former Technikon sector in our higher education system. The latter issue requires urgent attention, including the place of social sciences in the FET stream. In addition a critical review needs to be made for instance on the decision to locate teacher and nursing education at universities. One consequence of this is that it is currently estimated that more than 80% of student teachers are white, a reflection of the inaccessibility of university education to the overwhelming majority of our people.

A debate and strategy also needs to (re) fashioned around what role social science theory, research and practice are playing in critically informing, supporting, and undertaking ongoing critique of government social and developmental programmes. Government has for instance embarked on a programme of appointing community development workers, and yet there is no linkage between social science practice inside and outside our higher education institutions with this. This is not an argument for a traditional ‘outreach’ model or functionalist approaches to social science practice, but a call for a new and creative paradigm for social science practice, in academia and in broader society, within the overall context of our developmental challenges.

Of significance here is the opportunity now provided by government’s belated but nevertheless welcome commitment to develop an industrial strategy for our country. Without critical and rigorous social scientific engagement with, and critique of, the emerging strategy, it is likely to be reduced to nothing more than a top-down programme, pre-occupied with hard skills and co-opted by the dominant capitalist agenda. It is only a working class driven and an informed social scientific engagement with this programme that is best capable of for instance asking questions like what is the national, class and gender content of such a strategy? What are the environmental implications of such a strategy? What are its energy implications, especially on our non-renewable energy sources? Is it premised on creating decent and quality jobs or merely to lowering the cost of doing business?

In short one of the key challenges our country faces is a synergy between our overarching developmental goals and our education system as a whole. In many instances the state of social science teaching and research is a mirror of the developmental assumptions underlying our national agenda

Marxism: Social science of a special type

One of the main casualties of the ‘neo-liberalisation’ of our academia, especially the social sciences themselves, have been a disturbing decline in Marxist discourse in our higher education system. Certainly the current situation is a far cry from especially the 1970s and 1980s, where at least there was a strong presence of a Marxist analytical tradition.

We are raising this issue because it is necessarily not any social science that is capable of rising to the challenges identified above. Instead we need progressive social science, particularly informed by Marxism; as it is such social science best capable of making a significant contribution to our broader developmental agenda. But it will not be a Marxist social science merely confined to the hallowed chambers of academia, but a social science that dynamically and creatively interact with concrete working class struggles, in constant debate with organic Marxist and other progressive intellectuals in the trade union movement, the NGOs, communities and government.

We firmly believe that the SACP’s Medium Term Vision to build working class hegemony in all key sites of power, including in the state, the economy, the workplace, the communities, ideologically and in the international sphere, provides one such critical platform for dynamic and creative linkages with progressive social science teaching, research and practice. In addition, linkages, dialogue and debates between progressive social science publications with publications of progressive political, trade union, community and other sectors of society.

This is indeed also a challenge for engagement with progressive social science community in our country!



SACP statement on the withdrawal of the SABC From SANEF.

The withdrawal of the SABC from SANEF has created a huge rupture in the media fraternity and brought to the fore for the first time the nature of differences that exist within the media fraternity.

Over a period of time, as the SACP we have been concerned about the growing trend of self-righteousness that is finding expression in the newsrooms, particularly the print media, under the guise of being a public watchdog. The levels of professionalism and adherence to ethics in the print media have reached its lowest zenith.

The right to inform the public brings along the responsibility to act with dignity, respecting both the audience and the subject of the report and to report accurately. A major sickness engulfing our media is the trend to chase sales and thus in the process forego these principles and values. We need to firmly unite against this Hollywood style of reporting. Sensationalism is not in the interest of the public.

From the SACP's standpoint, this rupture is a reflection of two other phenomena within South African media. Firstly, South African media seems to have positioned themselves in an extremely factionalist manner in relation to debates or disagreements in all of our Allied organisations. These come to the fore more sharply especially in the run up to our major events, with media allowing itself to be used as vehicles for one set of leadership to discredit another section, through vilification, smear, selective publication of destructive information, including manufacturing of outright lies. Prime examples in this regard are the City Press (seemingly having unlimited access even to some privileged information from inside the state), sections of SABC TV News, pockets of the Independent Group, and the Mail and Guardian. Such behaviour will surely lay the foundations for media to completely destroy whatever credibility sections of it might still have.

Secondly, the debate raised in the ANC policy conference about the parameters within which media must operate, especially the tendency to elevate freedom of expression above the human rights of particularly those holding public office, needs to be taken up in earnest. This might include interrogating the question of self-regulation by the media. Our own struggles in the financial sector have shown the severe weaknesses in, for instance, the self-regulation of the credit bureaux. It was for these reasons that we now have an independent national credit regulator, although the jury is still out as to how independent this regulator will actually be.

Is it not time that as a country we debate the extent to which a national but independent media regulator is desirable, something that will also provide swift remedy but neither controlled by government nor by the media itself? Just like we have the South African Human Rights Commission, the Public Protector, etc, do we not need something along these lines for the media, as the only way to strike an appropriate balance between freedom of expression and human rights contained in our bill of rights?

The time is now to firmly place on the agenda the question of the role of the media, including our experiences over the last 13 years.

Issued by the SACP.

4 September 2007