Volume 15, No. 35, 6 October 2016
Direct contradictions of any genuine struggle for accelerated rollout of free higher education for the poor
Destruction of the very infrastructure needed to deliver education and human rights violations affecting other students are a direct contradiction of any genuine struggle for accelerated rollout of free higher education for the poor.
South Africa is no longer a country under apartheid. It is a developing democracy. It is important for progressive and revolutionary forces, inclusive of students, to advance their demands and win the majority to their side by democratic means. Democratic students must therefore distance themselves from the tiny minority of fringe elements who exploit genuine students' struggles and destroy infrastructure in universities, commit other acts of crime and violate the rights of other students in the name of free education or "fees must fall".
Equally, or perhaps even more important, the democratic developmental state that we seek to build must, as a national democratic transformation imperative, fulfil its responsibility to protect the rights of all the people who live in South Africa - not excluding students. Any persisting signs of failure in this regard can only bring discredit upon the very nascent state and widen the space that gives play to a counter-revolution. The state must democratically protect the constitutional rights to peacefully and unarmed assemble, demonstrate, picket and present petitions; freedom of association and freedom to make political choices.
Let us now look at:
The strategic goal of free education from its theoretical foundation and development in the world revolutionary movement and South Africa
Firstly, the basic theory of the strategic goal of free education most notably emerged in the Manifesto of the Communist Party authored by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, first published in 1848. It thus became an integral part of the Party's programme in South Africa from its founding in 1921.
Secondly, it emerged as a shared perspective in the Freedom Charter, first adopted in 1955 constituting the basic programme of what became the ANC-led liberation alliance.
In both cases there are details that have been ignored by many, or even distorted, for different reasons.
The second section of the Communist Manifesto entitled the "Proletarians and Communists" contains a ten point minimum programme of the Party. The programme lists the measures that the working class must pursue both during the struggle for liberation and social emancipation and through the state after winning the battle of democracy. The principles cannot be treated like a one-size-fits-all neoliberal globalisation that has been, and continues to be, undemocratically imposed universally by imperialist forces without regard to a country's particularities. In the words of the Communist Manifesto, those "measures will, of course, be different in different countries".
This is an important point of departure on understanding the Manifesto and waging the struggle to achieve its objectives - the Manifesto is a product of a concrete analysis of concrete conditions. In their preface to the 1872 edition of the Manifesto, Marx and Engels explained the point as thus:
"The practical application of the principles will depend, as the Manifesto itself states, everywhere and at all times, on the historical conditions for the time being existing, and, for that reason, no special stress is laid on the revolutionary measures proposed at the end of Section II."
We need not go back to the very induction level lesson that economic organisation, strength and capacity function as the base structure upon which political institutions and social policies rest. The economy plays a determining role not only on education development but other social redistributive or transformative programmes. This includes fiscal policy, which basically deals with raising taxes from economic activity and managing the expenditure of public funds including striking a balance between time and space on different priorities.
Political economies north of South Africa, in Latin America, and in other formerly colonised countries of the global South found themselves under the dictatorship of Western imperialist financiers, most notably the so-called International Bank for Reconstruction and Development also known as the World Bank (Group) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). One of the main reasons was to try to deliver on social transformation through credit (loans, bonds, etc.).
Social transformation programmes such as education, as we all should know, do not require a one-off but sustainable expenditure on an uninterrupted basis. In particular, there was a lacking or insufficient radical economic transformation to support those social redistributive or transformative programmes on a constant basis. At the end of the day the economy could not generate more resources to repay both the primary loans and interest rates.
What then happened?
Political suicide, abortion of the revolution or its postponement for a very long time to come
The United States (U.S.) controlled World Bank and the IMF, backed by the U.S. Treasury, Western financiers and transnational corporations demanded privatisation of state-owned assets, out-sourcing or out-contracting; curtailment of the size of the public service and therefore job cuts; an end to state subsidies of social programmes and production; cutting down on social spending; liberalisation and deregulation; reduction of corporate tax and so on. There are many people who would like us to believe that these and other neoliberal measures imposed through the World Bank, IMF and private financial monopoly loan conditionalities, the so-called Structural Adjustment Programmes, "poverty reduction strategies" or other misleading programme names were just ideas only of an ideology as an article of faith.
The fact is that the global imperialist regime imposed those and other neoliberal measures as part of its efforts to force different nation states, starting with those that were most affected, to generate income and make "savings" to pay back their loans plus ever growing interests rates. In addition, transnational corporations pushed for a global operating environment for profit maximisation. The common thrust in both instances is that monopoly capital wanted, and to this day still wants, the working class to be the one to pay and, in the same vein, to labour more and more on an intensified basis to produce maximum profits for accumulation by the capitalists (ruling class) through private enterprise.
This is not the road for South Africa to take. Revolutionary sounding calls that are presented as radical but lead to such a road can only serve the interests of monopoly financial capital and sell-off or sell-out our democratic national sovereignty.
Towards the success of the national democratic revolution
This is why we must be rooted in a revolutionary theory and realistic about the immediate and long-term objectives of our democratic struggle of social transformation. The impression that the goals of the struggle can be achieved at a stroke is misleading. Related to this, let us also highlight that the Communist Manifesto was authored from a point of view of class struggle as the motor of social transformation rather than some momentary event.
Having underlined the preceding points, let us now return to the substantive content of the Manifesto and the Freedom Charter on our main question, free education.
The tenth programmatic principle in Section II of the Manifesto is about making education free for all children in public schools. The phrases "all children"and"in public schools" are equally important, as is the phrase "free education". This programmatic principle was worded in almost the same way in the Freedom Charter. The charter states that: "Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children". The words "compulsory", "universal", "equal", "for all children", are not just words but principles that are equally important, as is the word "free". The ANC-led government delivered massive progress in this direction since our April 1994 democratic breakthrough.
Based on our country's concrete conditions, the progress was, and is still being driven through school subsidies and the policies of no-fee paying schools, exemption of fees for the poor in fee-paying schools, the school feeding scheme and scholar transport subsidies. In this regard, in particular economic capacity, linked with it state revenue and the fundamental need to reduce and ultimately eliminate social inequality are crucial in appreciating that we are in a process, that Rome was not built in a day.
We still have - and there are many - fee-paying schools. There are school fees that are more than R18 000 or more than R25 000 per annum at primary and secondary school levels respectively. Yet there are voices from within the ranks of leadership echelons in some of the structures of our ANC-led movement that ignore the ANC's approach and the realities briefly highlighted above, while seeking to penetrate the public's ears as the champions of free higher education.
Such sowing of confusion impact negatively on the ANC's capacity to provide coherent leadership not only on the ongoing situation facing a number of our universities but, if we are to be more frank, on varying extents on other issues as well. The ANC needs to look at this from the point of view of political and organisational discipline. If it cannot prove to be coherent, if it cannot lead its own structures and members, it will find it more difficult to succeed in leading the whole revolutionary movement and society.
It is important to appreciate that we are faced with a deeply rooted legacy of colonialism, apartheid anchored on capitalist economic exploitation and imperialist domination to address. This legacy is supported by a deeply-rooted complex structure of structural forces (nationally and globally) that, unless we overcome, will continue to wield their power and hold the pace of our democratic social transformation up.
Rather than allow factional behaviour to weaken the ANC-led progressive and revolutionary forces, to narrow the struggle we are facing, to turn it inward into a struggle of "comrade" against comrade, what we need is principled unity and strategic discipline based on a revolutionary clarity of thought in relation to our nation's challenges, objective realities, as well as based on the immediate objectives of our democratic transformation, its ultimate goals and vision.
Let us now look at post-school education and training. Our basic theory as communists in this regard emanates from Karl Marx's "Critique of the Gotha Programme" written in 1875. As a shared perspective of the ANC-led alliance, it emerged in the Freedom Charter and the ANC 52nd National Conference resolutions adopted in 2007 in Polokwane:
Must, or is it reasonable for, the rich and wealthy to privately enjoy the wealth accumulated from social production and still receive social programmes for free?
In his "Critique of the Gotha Programme", Marx states that:
"If in some states of the latter country", referring to the U.S. at that time, "higher education institutions are also ‘free', that only means in fact defraying the cost of education of the upper classes from the general tax receipts."
What this means in simple terms is that the rich, the wealthy and the well-off who can afford to pay must pay for higher education instead of defraying the cost for them from tax payers' money in an unequal society. If they do not pay, especially in South Africa, a society still characterised by economic inequalities articulated in all sorts of socially constructed phenomena - wealth inequality, income inequality, racial inequality, gender inequality and spatial inequality - all arising out of capitalist production relations, inequality will widen. It will be more difficult to roll it back. Some, if not most, or all of them, will simply redirect the money that they should be paying; they will use it to deepen inequality in education or socially in general through more advantages; otherwise they will simply use it to entertain themselves in leisure and luxury; and all without regard to societal needs.
What does the Freedom Charter and the ANC's Polokwane Conference resolutions say about higher education?
In contradiction to the distortions by those who are propagating narrow, factional or misleading politics, the Freedom Charter is very clear. It says: "Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit". This does not need any interpretation. There is a categorical difference between what the Charter says about higher education and technical training and what it says about basic or compulsory education as already underlined.
The challenge is therefore also that basic education is not yet equal. There are rich communities. There are poor communities. There are well-resourced schools. There are under-resourced or poorly resourced schools. Other schools have libraries, laboratories, professionally qualified teachers in mathematics, science and technology. Others do not, but have learners in those and other learning areas affected by inequality (in education). While the content of teaching and learning is largely the same, the quality and environment of teaching and learning - including at home and in the community where home works are done - are neither equal nor the same.
There are therefore learners who do their home works and conduct research through the aid of computer devices and the internet. Others do not have those resources. Others live in upmarket suburbs while others live in noisy townships. There are migrant workers who do not live with their children. They are therefore unable to help them with their home works. Other parents do live with their children, but because of shift configurations at work, long hours of work, exploitative and stressful work environment, they are unable to help them with their school work, effectively, if they are able to at all. Others do help their children effectively, but not only because they live with them but because of their educational attainments, because they have more time and resources than other parents. In addition, over and above affording and paying school fees a proportion of them pay for extra classes for their children to improve learner performance. Still, others take their children to ivory tower "independent" schools with no problem of overcrowding as opposed to the public schools that are affected by the problem.
It will take time to eliminate these inequalities and level the playing field on the road towards the realisation of the goal of the Freedom Charter in relation to basic education - that is free, compulsory, universal and equal education for all children in public schools. It is clear that learners in schools do not stand an equal chance to become top achievers. Not every learner qualifies for bursaries or, as the Freedom Charter says, "scholarships awarded on the basis of merit" that are mostly given to, if not reserved for top achievers. Related to this, we all should know what the term "allowances" used in the Freedom Charter means.
Higher education and training was indeed opened to all in 1994. In addition to curriculum transformation, access - emanating primarily from social inequality - remains a challenge even if it was to be administered through "state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit" in line with the Freedom Charter. There are many learners who achieve matriculation by meeting minimum requirements for university admission without necessarily making it in the categories of top achievers. They therefore do not attract bursaries or scholarships both from the private sector and the state awarded on the basis of that merit.
This is the thrust of the context in which the ANC, supported by its alliance partners the SACP and Cosatu, had to intervene in 2007 in Polokwane when it resolved that the ANC-led government must:
"Progressively introduce free education for the poor until undergraduate level".
Still, in this regard, it is very important to underline the phrases "progressively introduce..." and "...for the poor until undergraduate level".
Elements from within the leadership ranks of the ANC-led structures and movement who say the goal must have been achieved yesterday are, therefore, clearly pushing ulterior motives in isolation from the ANC's policy concerning the need to accelerate the progressive rollout of free higher education for the poor. By the way this objective received a hugely increased support since 2009 implemented by the first ANC-led administration post-Polokwane. Ignoring the massive progress that has been achieved and therefore not acknowledging it can only serve the agendas to marginalise not an individual per se but the ANC's achievements as a governing party.
In addition, those elements ignore the fact that the ANC President Comrade Jacob Zuma in his capacity as the executive authority and head of our state established the ongoing fees commission to explore measures to accelerate the rollout of the progress, and that they in fact did congratulate him for taking the decision. They also simplistically ignore the phrase "for the poor". They instead improvise. Without a mandate, they bind the ANC: "for all". They clearly depart from ANC policy positions in order to try and isolate the Minister of Higher Education and Training (HET) Dr Blade Nzimande just because they want to marginalise Communists. That is a factional agenda to liquidate the nature and character of the ANC, its leadership composition and capture it in order to change it into something else it never was destined to become.
It is important that we appreciate progress, but this without being in denial that there is indeed more work that needs to be done. However, the confusion sowed by factionalists and some sections of the opposition and academia personalising the challenge of access to higher education as if it has been created by the Minister must be dismissed as gibberish. The problem is systemic, structural and will not be solved without radical economic transformation. It will also not be solved without radical fiscal policy reforms, including in particular a progressive tax on wealth and high incomes to support not only education but other social transformation priorities.
Other than this, any further expansion - if immediately possible - of the progressive intervention recently announced by the Minister will require additional funds to be allocated to the HET department. The Minister announced that the state will pay fees and fee increases for the poor and fee increases (all capped at 8%) for 2017 for students from lower sections of the middle class (the so-called missing middle) or households with an income of up to R600 000.
It is reasonable to expect the academic programme in universities to proceed while the fees commission finalises its work and while simultaneously deepening the struggle and taking it to the door steps of the people who alone accumulate society's wealth on a private basis - the bourgeoisie.
The extent of progress in this process - of class struggle - by the working class in alliance with students and progressive strata must open space for the state to make headways in terms of taxing wealth and high incomes to finance accelerated rollout of free education and other social transformative or redistributive programmes for the poor, the working class and lower sections of the middle class that cannot afford to pay.
Lastly, national (fiscal policy) consensus emerged during the course of the struggle for free education for the classes and strata that cannot afford student fees.
The ANC made the call for the government to reprioritise the national budget. The SACP agreed. In addition, the Party consistently called for the plight of the working class and the poor to be prioritised. It continues to be resolute in this regard. It has also advanced, and continues to advance the struggle against capital leakage as a result among others of corruption, rent-seeking, unscrupulous price inflations, illicit capital flows and corporate-capture. These tasks must go hand in hand with the immediate task of eliminating wasteful and fruitless expenditure to optimise the utilisation of national resources to meet the needs of the people. This is the position of the SACP.
The Sunday Independent editor Wally Mbhele replies
Mashilo's cowardly attack against this newspaper is curious to say the least. There has never been any instance where this newspaper refused to publish any opinions, whether we agree or disagree with such. Unless such opinions are deemed either defamatory or fall foul of journalistic code of ethics. Contrary to Mashilo's assertions, I in fact find Cronin's contribution to the whole debate about Mbeki Presidency very refreshing. Mashilo's suggestion that this newspaper is intolerant of different views is not only absurd but sounds so much like the delusions of a paranoid politician. I urge him to (in future) think before he embarks on wild allegations which add little or no substance to the current national discourse.
Reply to the Sunday Independent editor, Wally Mbhele
Dear Wally, your response is noted.
We would like to express our sincere gratitude for the complete agreement that we reached, as a result of the engagement that took place between us after your response, on the best way we should handle matters of this nature going forward. Engaging each other can contribute in ensuring a meaningful discussion and formulating an informed perspective not only about one another but societal discourse.
There is no doubt that you would have formulated a different assertion if you did what you urge Mashilo to "(in future)" do.
The response by the SACP First Deputy General Secretary Comrade Jeremy Cronin, "Yes to the struggle against corporate capture, no to Mbeki nostalgia" to Professor Tinyiko Maluleke's "Mbeki's recall a virtual coup - Palace revolt that changed ANC's course" carried by the Sunday Independent (25 September), was emailed to you. As stated in the previous email, on 28 September. You did not acknowledge receipt. It was also emailed to the Independent Media op-ed editor Janet Smith, as per the advice from a reply email by the group's opinion and analysis editor Vukani Mde. Further, follow ups were made by telephone. After all there was no feedback. Cronin's contribution was then published, a week later, via Umsebenzi Online Volume 15, No. 34, 4 October 2016 with an editorial note expressing disappointment about the fact. As you correctly say in your response, indeed the contribution offers a refreshing perspective.
It was three days after Umsebenzi Online published the contribution that an email was received from you, asking for the piece and checking if it is the one you saw in the SACP website. Your email address that you used to make this follow up is the same one the piece was previously emailed to. These are some of the reasons we believe thinking first in future, here we purely borrow from your good advice as we agree with it, would have guided you to formulate a different assertion.
Thank you for carrying the piece on 9 October after the facts.
The allegations that Mashilo did not think first but made "wild allegations which add little or no substance to the current national discourse" and "...not only absurd but sounds so much like the delusions of a paranoid politician" are at least unfortunate and at most without a correct basis. The allegations, and the labelling, of an insult type, accompanying them clearly appear to have been emotionally formulated against the backdrop of an "attack" and do not set a good example in relation to the need for "substance to the... national discourse". We get attacked a lot, and often through baseless allegations. We do not always respond to every attack, as stated in the Umsebenzi Online Volume 15, No. 34, 4 October 2016, because we are guided by a strategic focus.
Umsebenzi Online is an online voice of the South African working class