Red Alert on Education
Direct contradictions of any genuine struggle for accelerated rollout of
free higher education for the poor
Umsebenzi Online, Johannesburg, 13 October 2016
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
South Africa is no longer a country under apartheid regime. 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.
Equally, or perhaps more important, the democratic developmental state that
we seek to build, as a national democratic transformation imperative, must
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 space giving play to a counter-revolution. The state must
democratically protect the constitutional rights, to peacefully and unarmed,
assemble, demonstrate, picket and present petitions, to the freedom of
association and the freedom to make political choices.
Let us now look at the programme of the strategic goal of free education
from its theoretical foundation and development in the world revolutionary
movement as well as in South Africa.
Firstly, the basic theory of the programme, most notably, emerged in the
Manifesto Communist Party, authored by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels and
first published in 1848. It thus became an integral part of the Party's
programme in South Africa from its founding in 1921. Secondly, the programme
emerged as a shared perspective in the Freedom Charter, first adopted in
1955 constituting the shared (basic or minimum) programme of the whole
ANC-led national liberation movement and alliance. However, in both cases
there are details that have been ignored by many, or even distorted, for
The second section of the Communist Manifesto, titled the "Proletarians and
Communists", contains a ten point programme. The programme lists measures or
principles 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 programme and its 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 itself, 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, because it is a product of a concrete analysis of concrete
conditions. In his preface to the 1872 edition of the Manifesto, Engels
explained the point. He clearly said:
"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, capacity and the overall economy as the base
structure upon which political institutions and economic policy rests, play
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, time and
space between 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, the so-called International
Bank of 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.).
But social transformation programmes such as education, as we all know, do
not require a one-off but sustainable expenditure. In particular, there was
a lacking, or insufficient, radical economic transformation to support those
social redistributive and 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,
curtailing 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, deregulation, reduction of corporate tax, etc.
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 and Poverty Reduction Programmes, etc., 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 make income and "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 (private)
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.
Towards the success of the national democratic revolution
This is why we must be rooted in revolutionary theory and realistic about
the immediate objectives of social transformation. The impression that the
goals of democratic social transformation can be achieved at a stroke is
misleading. 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
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, this 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 and more than R25 000 per annum at primary
and secondary school levels respectively. Meanwhile, 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
It is important to appreciate that we are faced with a deeply rooted legacy
of colonialism, apartheid, 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 back the pace of our
process of democratic social transformation. 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 US 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. 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 to deepen inequality in education or socially in general through more
advantages or otherwise simply use it to entertain themselves in leisure and
luxury 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 and
factional 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 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 are neither equal nor the same.
There are therefore learners who do their home works conduct research
through the aid of computer devices and the internet. Others do not have
those resources. There are migrant workers who do not live with their
children and are unable to help them with their home works. Other parents do
live with their children, but because of shift configurations and long hours
of work they are unable to help them with their school work, effectively, if
they are able to at all. Others do help their children effectively, not only
because they live with them but because of their attainments in education,
the time and resources they have. In addition, a proportion of them pay for
extra classes for their children to improve learner performance, over and
above paying school fees. Still, others take their children to ivory tower
"independent" schools as opposed to public schools.
It will take time to eliminate these inequalities and level the playing
field on the road to the realisation of the goal of "free, compulsory,
universal and equal for all children" in public schools. 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 know what the term "allowances", used
in the Freedom Charter, means.
Therefore, while higher education and training was indeed opened to all in
1994, access is still 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 and 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 achieved since then, 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 and 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. There
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 high incomes
and wealth to support not only education but other social transformation
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 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 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 redistributive
programmes for the poor, working class and lower sections of the middle
class that cannot afford to pay.
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