My concerns in this chapter are two-fold. The first is to sketch the formation of SANSCO in late 1979. The second is to analyse SANSCO's ideology and politics. With respect to the latter, I show how SANSCO initially adopted the doctrine of Black Consciousness (BC) and sought to essentially continue the tradition established by SASO. Thereafter, I track its shift away from BC and its re-orientation towards the Congress movement, and also account for this development which was formalised by SANSCO's first national congress in July 1981. Finally, I describe and analyse the themes, beliefs, views and approaches that constituted SANSCO ideologically and politically.
The Formation of SANSCO
The banning of SASO in October 1977 deprived black higher education students of a national political student organisation. However, there were ongoing skirmishes between students and university authorities on some campuses. At UNIZUL in 1978, 400, mainly women, students boycotted classes in protest against the expulsion of a pregnant student. Thereafter, there were student protests around conditions in the science faculty which resulted in 7 SRC members being expelled, a number of students being refused re-registration, and some 200 students not returning to campus. During 1979, UNIN was the focal point of student-administration conflict. There, student protests occurred around the expulsion of students for organising a Sharpeville commemoration meeting, and around plans to hold a beauty contest on June 16, the anniversary of the Soweto uprising. In addition, the question of an autonomous SRC continued to be a flash-point.
Finally, there was a march by some 100 students through a nearby township protesting against the forced removal and relocation of the Makgatho community. At Fort Hare students demonstrated against the killing by campus security of a student for alleged burglary. At UWC there was a food boycott around the quality of food in the residences. Western Cape higher education students also pledged their support for striking workers at a local spaghetti and pasta manufacturer as well as for a consumer boycott of the manufacturer's products. At the University of Natal (Pietermaritzburg) black students went on a canteen boycott for alleged racist remarks by the manager of food services (SAIRR, 1980: 52, 293, 549-53).
The University of Natal boycott was, significantly, spearheaded by the Black Students Society, a campus-level exclusively black formation that was to be a feature of most of the white English-language universities after 1977. However, the initiative for the formation of a national student structure to replace SASO did not come from black campus-level organisations. Instead, in a reversal of the SASO-BPC genesis and relationship, it came from an Azanian Peoples' Organisation (AZAPO) conference of September 1979. Here, students elected an Interim Committee (IC) whose task was to prepare the ground for the launch of a national student organisation. The consultative process around the formation of a new national student organisation was however extremely limited and inadequate. As a result, although some 100 students from six campuses attended the inaugural conference most did so in their individual capacities. Mandated delegates were present from just two institutions - the universities of Fort Hare and the North.
The inaugural conference, held on 23 November 1979 at the Edendale Ecumenical Lay Centre near Pietermaritzburg, nonetheless established a new national student organisation called the "Azanian Students' Organisation". It also adopted a Preamble to serve as the new organisations' guiding principles, and elected a new Interim Committee. The adoption of a constitution and policy document was deferred to future conference which could be more representative of black higher education students. The organisation (renamed SANSCO in 1986) was to become the dominant force in black student life until 1991 when it amalgamated with NUSAS.
Ideology and Politics, 1979 to 1981
The Commitment to Black Consciousness
The Preamble of SANSCO expressed four basic points. First, it accepted Black Consciousness as "a philosophy of life". Second, it declared "we are members of the oppressed black community before we are students". Third, it noted that black students were the conscience of the community and the need "to maintain the traditional role of black students in the community". Finally, the preamble emphasised the necessity to "promote the role of the black student as a vanguard in the struggle for liberation".
The name of the new organisation - "Azanian Students Organisation" - and its adherence to BC doctrine reflected the process of its birth. According to Nkoane who was elected interim president,
[t]he whole process was left to AZAPO to organise. Invites, delegates to come to the conference,... they paid for everything... After the formation of AZASO we were given an office, one of the offices belonging to AZAPO, so we were effectively in the same office with AZAPO (Interview, 1995).
While sponsored by AZAPO and ostensibly BC in orientation, SANSCO was far from politically homogenous. At the inaugural conference there was much contestation around a preamble produced by AZAPO, with a clause that AZASO recognised AZAPO "as the only legitimate political organisation in the country" being especially contentious (Interview with Nkoane, 1995).
According to Nkoane, himself an adherent of the Congress movement, the party political allegiances of participants attending the conference was unclear since "around the time that the organisation was formed the lines were not clearly drawn" (ibid.). However, it was evident that there was not unanimous support for AZAPO and that many were disposed towards the Congress movement. Those supportive of the Congress movement argued for, and won, the removal of the clause that gave sole recognition to AZAPO on the grounds that the new student organisation had to cater for students with differing political allegiances. However, in the interest of ensuring that the conference did launch an organisation, Congress movement supporters compromised around other contentious issues:
Now we did not want the situation where we would come out of there without having formed an organisation...So we felt, okay, on some of the issues we are going to compromise. We are going to let the preamble go on as it is and we will take the responsibility of correcting this as time goes on (Interview with Nkoane, 1995).
The elections to the Interim Committee produced an interesting outcome in that Congress movement supporters were elected to key positions, including the portfolios of president and general secretary, and now required to spearhead an organisation that was formally committed to BC.
SANSCO's discourse was strongly influenced by that of SASO, a point confirmed by Nkoane:
Well most of us were influenced by black consciousness and SASO particularly. When we came into the political scene there was SASO and therefore our thinking was along those lines (Interview with Nkoane, 1995).
The students declaration that their oppression as blacks took priority over their status as students had been a central assertion of SASO. Furthermore, as with SASO, the term 'black' continued to be applied to all the politically oppressed national groups. The notion of preserving the "traditional role of black students" also suggested that SANSCO conceived its role as essentially replicating that played earlier by SASO.
The Impact of Political Developments during 1980
Although SANSCO was initially committed to BC, a number of developments during 1980 moved sections of SANSCO's membership, and particularly its elected officials, to severe their links with AZAPO, to reassess SANSCO's ideological and political orientation, and to align it with the Congress movement.
First, tension emerged between SANSCO and AZAPO after the suspension of the AZAPO president, Curtis Nkondo, for alleged "violation of policy and protocol". SANSCO hinted that there were manoeuvrings within AZAPO to oust Nkondo, while in some quarters it was suggested that Nkondo's alleged misconduct was an excuse for his removal since he was perceived as too close to the Congress movement (Phaala, 1983b: 3). The details of this controversy are less important than the effects. SANSCO challenged the suspension and demanded the immediate reinstatement of Nkondo. Significantly, it also asserted that it was not a student wing of AZAPO but an independent organisation.
The suspension was also challenged by the Congress of South African Students (COSAS), a national secondary student organisation. The latter had from its inception in May 1979 committed itself to the principles and programme of the Congress movement and also maintained a close relationship with Nkondo. Notwithstanding that there were political differences between SANSCO and COSAS, there was a working relationship between the two organisations. If Nkondo's suspension strained relations between AZAPO and SANSCO, it established further common ground between the latter and COSAS and contributed to SANSCO's gradual shift towards the Congress movement.
A second development that stimulated a re-thinking within SANSCO was the education protests of early and mid-1980. Beginning among secondary school students in the Western Cape, the protests spread to some other areas and also encompassed a number of higher education institutions. SANSCO was not involved in the Western Cape protests and was largely peripheral even to the actions at most higher education campuses.
Nonetheless, the Western Cape protests, and especially the ideological and political sophistication displayed by the Committee of 81, the forum of representatives from schools, colleges and universities that co-ordinated the student boycott, did not leave SANSCO's thinking unaffected. Since the positions of the Committee of 81 powerfully shaped the future ideological direction of student politics in South Africa they merit some attention.
The perspectives of the Committee of 81 were set out in pamphlets that were widely disseminated among students. In a pamphlet, " From the schools to the people ", education and schooling were related to the political and economic order and the nature of the state. Black education and conditions within black schooling were said to be "the outcome of the whole system of racist oppression and capitalist exploitation" (Committee of 81, 1980a: 1). The "system", in turn, it was argued, was maintained and reproduced by ideological and repressive state apparatuses, black collaborators within separate development institutions and the acquiescence of black workers. The students were of the view that black workers occupied a position in the social order which made them a potentially powerful political force, whereas the power of students was more limited:
If the workers could be put in a position where they could say for a few weeks: WE WILL NOT WORK TO MAINTAIN APARTHEID AND CAPITALIST EXPLOITATION, the present loud-mouthed kragdadige government would be shaken to its very foundations. Our parents, the workers are therefor strong . They have power. We, the students cannot shake the government in the same way. we can only warn them: we can serve notice on them that the youth will not tolerate the old order (ibid., emphasis in original).
The Committee of 81 argued that it was crucial to get black workers and parents on the side of the students. It invoked the worker slogan of the 1950s, "An injury to one is an injury to all", and called on students to contact church and civic organisations to win support for their actions and to "explain to them our struggle and how we see it linked up with the whole struggle for national liberation" (ibid.). At the same time, teachers were urged to also "stand up and be counted" and to begin to provide students with "real knowledge". It was argued that the struggles of students and workers had to be conjoined and students and workers had to jointly "work out a new future. A future where there will be no racism or exploitation, no apartheid, no inequality of class or sex" (ibid.).
The overall strategy had to be:
to reject, to challenge and replace this system... with a democratic system of free, compulsory non-racial education in a single democratic, free and united Azania (Committee of 81, 1980b: 1-2).
Student leaders emphasised that the school boycott was "not an end in itself" and would not "transform South African society overnight" (ibid.). A boycott of formal schooling, it was stressed, was simply one tactic of struggle, and, a planned political act, which is designed to achieve specific short-term victories within a given space of time, and also to raise the general political consciousness of broad layers of students (ibid.).
Limited struggles, with definite objectives, had the potential to "give students confidence in themselves, teach them through political experience the basic lessons of organisation and create the climate wherein political consciousness can flourish" (ibid.).
These statements of the Committee of 81 were not just so much rhetoric as much as a guide to political and organisational practice during the education school boycott and protests. Short-term educational grievances were put forward and linked to long-term educational and political demands. Awareness programmes around political and educational issues were organised. Teacher support was sought and a Teachers Action Committee was established. Furthermore, students aligned themselves with and participated in various contemporaneous civic and worker campaigns and struggles. They galvanised support for a red meat boycott called to express solidarity with dismissed striking workers belonging to the non-racial and democratic General Workers Union. They popularised and helped implement a bus boycott in protest against fare increases and organised commemoration services in remembrance of those killed in 1976. They also arranged rallies demanding the release of Mandela and all political prisoners.
As the education protests and other struggles meshed and began to assume the form of mass popular resistance, and as police responded with killings, attacks and harassment, they formed Parent-Student committees to co-ordinate mass action.
The principal gains of the education boycott were interpreted by the Committee of 81 as:
Political and organisational. The degree of unity is almost unprecedented. A base has been created upon which lasting buildings of the future can be created (quoted in Christie, 1985: 249).
Indeed, the interlocking factory, education and township struggles of 1980 created the conditions for, and spurred the emergence of, numerous local and regional umbrella civic, youth and women's organisations. They also provided fertile ground for the formation of SRCs and COSAS branches at schools, for the revival of the SRC at UWC, and for the establishment of SANSCO branches at universities and colleges.
The appeal of the ideological and political thrust of the Committee of 81 was however not the only factor that contributed to SANSCO's theoretical and political re-orientation. Also decisive in its gravitation towards the Congress movement was the increasing visibility of literature and icons associated with the ANC, heightened activity by the ANC's military wing (MK), and the growing presence and influence of the Congress movement. A spectacular attack by MK on the SASOL oil from coal refinery enhanced the reputation of the ANC and generated considerable excitement among students. However, especially important was the national "Release Mandela" campaign spearheaded by the Release Mandela Committee and various Congress movement student and community groups.
The campaign popularised Mandela and the imprisoned leadership of the ANC and awakened an interest in the history of the Congress movement and the struggles of the 1950's, and in the programme and policies of the ANC. The campaign also re-introduced the Freedom Charter into political discourse by presenting it as the basis for the fundamental transformation of apartheid society in the direction of a non-racial democracy. The Sunday Post'slead in 1980 in publishing the Freedom Charter in full, and in also carrying an article on the history of the Freedom Charter, was soon followed by student groups.
In this way, the programme and policies of the Congress movement began to be popularised at a mass level and this, combined with the building of mass popular organisations, contributed to the growing hegemony of the Congress movement within radical opposition politics. At a "Release Mandela" meeting at UWC, ANC flags were unfurled, beginning a trend that was repeated in other parts of the country.
Shifts in Political Orientation and Activities
All these developments and influences, and especially the unmistakable support that was expressed during 1980 by its constituency on the campuses for Mandela and the Freedom Charter and the impressive mobilising capacity of the Congress movement, could not, and did not, leave SANSCO unaffected. The first sign of a shift in political re-orientation came in September 1980 on the occasion of the funeral of Reverend "Castro" Mayathula, a prominent Soweto political figure. COSAS and SANSCO issued a joint pamphlet in which they paid tribute to Mr. Mayathula. The pamphlet said that as a guide to the political direction of the future, Mr. Mayathula had referred to the Freedom Charter as the most democratic document detailing the demands of the people.
Since this was a joint pamphlet with COSAS, and the latter had during "1980 declared its support for the Freedom Charter" (Davies et al, 1984: Vol.2, 371), one cannot be certain that the views expressed in the pamphlet necessarily reflected the views of the entire leadership of SANSCO, or/and the entire membership. Indeed, the first congress of SANSCO in July 1981 would demonstrate that there was by no means unanimous support among members for the Freedom Charter.
What is clear however is that the political developments discussed above resulted in SANSCO members "reassessing the political content" of the organisation, and re-aligning their political positions (Phaala, 1983b: 3). The process of reassessment was extended to incorporate the views of student activists outside of SANSCO. According to Phaala, "at the end of '80, a number of people were invited by the people charged with the duty of organising AZASO to come and share ideas about the direction" of the organisation (ibid.). Those invited were student leaders who were politically influential and occupied key organisational positions on various campuses and were in the main adherents of the Congress movement. Among them was Joe Phaala, the immediate future president of SANSCO.
The reasons advanced by Phaala for initially staying aloof of SANSCO were generally representative of most Congress student activists. He states:
[f]rom 1979... I was one of those people who strongly opposed the idea of an organisation like AZASO forming, at the level of tactics and strategy realising that what needs to be done is not just to duplicate what was done before. And also there was the political content of such an organisation (Phaala, 1983b: 3).
It was not the case that Congress student activists from the various campuses were a unified force linked by formal structures or in regular contact, or even strongly familiar with one another. Indeed, contact between these activists only began to occur during 1980-81 through national and regional political and popular campaigns and events and informal networks. Thus, there was no national decision among Congress activists to remain outside SANSCO. There were however common concerns.
In the first place, Congress student activists were uncertain about or opposed to a national student organisation. The immediate repressive actions of the state against the first AZAPO leadership raised questions about the advisability of a national formation without a strong grassroots base. Consequently, they preferred to concentrate on campus-level political mobilisation and organisation-building and to allow the formation of a national structure to be a more organic process. Second, like Phaala, "at the level of tactics and strategy" many activists refused to countenance, under the new conditions of the late 1970s, SANSCO simply replicating the role previously played by SASO. A University of Durban-Westville SRC conference around sport on campuses well-revealed the strategic concerns of the Congress students. While they expressed their support for the anti-apartheid South African Council on Sports (SACOS), they took issue with the SACOS ban on organised sport on campuses and called for a change in tactics.
The UDW SRC president argued that campus sport had to be looked at in relation to mass mobilisation and organisation and political consciousness-raising around the immediate interests of students. A member of the Black Students' Society at Natal University stressed that strategies and tactics could not be solely determined by principles, but had to take into consideration concrete conditions, including the level of consciousness of the black oppressed. This view was supported by the Wits Black Students Society which emphasised the need for a mass approach and mass based organisation. The essential argument was that people had to be mobilised and organised around all issues affecting them and on all fronts.
Finally, there was the all important question of "political content". For the Congress students, adherence to BC represented a stagnation in ideology and politics. They had embraced a class or race-class analysis of South African realities and were also committed to a non-racial approach to political struggle. Given this attitude, SANSCO had little or no presence on a number of campuses where Congress movement students were hegemonic, and had no influence in structures such as the Committee of 81 and the Natal Schools Action Committee that emerged to co-ordinate the 1980 boycotts. It also meant that the platforms of the Release Mandela Committee which attracted thousands of students were largely closed for the popularisation of SANSCO.
Further, and more decisive, public evidence of the shift of SANSCO towards the Congress movement was provided by the Anti-Republic Day protests of early 1981. To oppose the celebration of the twenty first anniversary of the white republic and also politically mobilise against apartheid, a loose alliance of national, regional and local political, community and student organisations and trade unions formed the Anti-Republic Day movement.
The theme of "Nothing to celebrate" under apartheid was coupled to that of "Forward to a people's republic", with the Freedom Charter advanced as the basis for the "people's republic". Anti-Republic Day activities occurred at almost all the black and white English-language universities, with mass meetings being coupled with limited class boycotts. On many campuses, South African flags were publicly burnt, an offence carrying the charge of treason. Charney observed that there was also an unmistakable mushrooming of support for the non-racial ANC on the campuses, with slogans, flags and speakers associated with the organisation much in evidence at the recent protest meetings.
The student organisations within the Anti-Republic Day movement included COSAS, SANSCO and, significantly, the predominantly white National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), which in the late 1970s came under a radical leadership that aligned itself with the Congress movement. At a Wits Anti-Republic day meeting Reveal Nkondo, the SANSCO organising secretary, noted the audacity of the apartheid government in expecting blacks, "suffering from the ravages of colonialism, imperialism and from capitalist exploitation", to celebrate the anniversary of the republic, and ended his speech with "Mayibuye", a slogan associated with the Congress movement (quoted in Frederikse, 1986: 40).
However, most crucial was not so much the content of Nkondo's speech, which reflected the growing anti-capitalist thrust of 1980s black student politics, as much as his presence at a meeting that was chaired by the white president of the Wits SRC.
"Such a scene", as Charney has written with regard to another Anti-Republic Day meeting where "the platform where Mr. Boraine [president of NUSAS] spoke also held representatives of the black Congress of South African Students and the Azanian Students Organisation", was "impossible not long ago". As far as student politics was concerned, the significance of the SANSCO participation in the Anti-Republic day activities was four-fold. First, in sharing a platform with NUSAS and white representatives of the democratic trade unions, SANSCO broke with the SASO strategy of conducting the political struggle on a racially exclusive basis.
Second, for the first time in over a decade national black and white student organisations joined together in common opposition to apartheid. Third, the joint action with NUSAS was to be the harbinger of the emergence of a non-racial higher education student alliance committed to the Freedom Charter. Finally, the SANSCO involvement in the Anti-Republic Day movement clearly signalled the break of its leadership from BC and its new alignment with the Congress movement.
SANSCO's sharing of platforms with white radicals drew a hostile reception from AZAPO, and the two organisations publicly clashed at a meeting to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the June 1976 uprising. An AZAPO speaker rejected white radicals as liberals, and criticised black students for being "duped" by their "rhetoric colour-blind, orthodox Marxist language". The criticism provoked a bitter counter-attack from SANSCO and COSAS. BC members were described as "black liberals", and BC organisations were accused of being "reactionary" and of having links with the American Central Intelligence Agency.
AZAPO was criticised as a practitioner of "cheap politics", and for forgetting that "the struggle continues all the time", for an irregular public profile and for avoiding day to day mobilisation and organisation-building. This public clash between SANSCO and COSAS and AZAPO reflected a sharpening of the ideological and political differences between the Congress and BC movements, and contributed to their wider and deeper estrangement. In the case of SANSCO, the clash severed virtually all links between the SANSCO leadership and AZAPO and accelerated the movement of SANSCO into the Congress fold.
The First National Congress of July 1981
It was against this backdrop that the first national congress of SANSCO was convened at Wilgespruit, near Johannesburg, on 24-26 July 1981. The 30 delegates and 70 invited observers included a number of Congress student activists, although the political loyalties of all the delegates was unclear. While the SANSCO leadership had taken the organisation down a path of public alignment with the Congress movement, it was uncertain whether this would be endorsed by the delegates. Those Congress activists who had remained outside of SANSCO attended the SANSCO congress with no pre-conceived objective or strategy of wresting control of the organisation. Indeed, all attended as observers, having been invited, as student leaders, to debate the political direction of SANSCO.
The fact that SANSCO had during the eighteen months of its existence generally failed to mobilise students and root itself organisationally among black higher education students was beyond dispute. What was the subject of great controversy and debate however was the future political direction of the organisation. Congress activists argued that the failures of SANSCO were the result of limitations of BC philosophy, and the reduction of this philosophy by opportunists to a "mere rejection of whites rather than a positive assertion by the oppressed to free themselves from both racist oppression and exploitation". Their attitude was that BC "has served its purpose. We must move on". They further asserted that SANSCO "had to adopt a broader but clearer approach defining the issues at stake". The criticism of BC was challenged by AZAPO supporters and the questions of "issues at stake" and "approach" stimulated considerable debate.
In the heated arguments and exchanges that ensued, there was a walkout of some AZAPO supporters although most adherents of BC stayed the duration of the congress. To their surprise, the Congress activists discovered that although some delegates had concerns or reservations about the Congress movement, they were not implacably wedded to BC either. Such delegates were also open to re-orientating SANSCO along a different path if that had the potential to contribute to its development. Many of these delegates, as well as some BC adherents, were eventually won over to supporting the formal re-orientation of SANSCO's ideology and politics. When it came to elections, delegates voted to eliminate the distinction between student delegates and observers.
In the resulting elections, many of the previous critics of SANSCO were persuaded to accept nominations to key leadership positions, were duly elected and now became its inheritors. As a result, "with near unanimity among the 30 delegates... and overwhelming support from the 70 invited observers, AZASO was able to change direction without a BC breakaway". SANSCO, then, was spared intractable disputes and battles and any resultant major organisational cleavage and paralysis. Indeed, it took, as the Sunday Tribune put it, "no more than a gentle nudge of a toecap to ease the political philosophy which did much to rekindle black political activism in the seventies, out of its prime position".
The first congress drafted a constitution with a new preamble, and adopted a Policy Document (Appendix 2). The aims defined for SANSCO were seven-fold. The first three aims concerned SANSCO's relationship to its defined constituency. Thus, the organisation proclaimed itself open to "all students in institutions of higher learning and training", committed itself to "unite" and to take up the "demands of students", and to be the "national and international voice" of black higher education students. Another three aims related to relations with other social groups and formations. In this regard, SANSCO undertook to "forge links" with progressive organisations committed to national liberation; to identify with the "liberation of the black worker", and to "strive for the eradication of exploitation". A final aim specified SANSCO's intention to work for a "relevant and non-racial education". The purpose of organising students was defined in terms of enabling them to "take up their demands for a relevant role in society", and to play a "more meaningful role in the community in general" (Appendix 2).
Significantly, in the opening key sections of the constitution covering the "preamble", "membership" and "aims and objectives" there was no explicit or specific reference to the organisation being restricted to black students. The opening line of the preamble to the constitution did refer to "... we the Black students of South Africa", but this in itself did not necessarily preclude SANSCO from organising white students, since this merely reflected the reality that SANSCO had indeed been founded only by black students. At first glance, then, nothing in the constitution appeared to prohibit SANSCO, were it so inclined, to organise, and extend membership to white students. Curiously, only in the penultimate section of the constitution, under "definitions" was it made explicit that "students shall denote any black person who is registered as a student at any institution of higher learning or training..." (emphasis added, Appendix 2).
The lack of emphasis on 'race' (indeed, in the entire constitution the term "black" only appeared three times) was a conscious attempt on the part of SANSCO's activists to move away from a preoccupation with 'race' and colour. In line with their ideological and political orientation, they sought to stress that the experience of being oppressed and exploited in South Africa related not just to 'race' but to prevailing economic and political structures, and that the struggle was not simply "between black power and white power" but "between the power of exploiter's and people's power" (see below and Appendix 2). It was also an attempt to reflect a commitment to not just a future non-racial democracy in South Africa but also to non-racialism in practice.
Still, SANSCO organised and was open to only black students and was thus an exclusively black formation, a seeming contradiction to its commitment to non-racialism in practice. SANSCO activists however saw no contradiction between a commitment to non-racialism and the organisation restricting itself to black students. In their view, political and organisational strategies were not shaped exclusively by ideological and political commitments but also material conditions.
The reality of racial and national oppression, the vastly different conditions on black and white campuses, and the particular problems experienced by black students on white campuses justified the existence of a separate and exclusively black organisation. Furthermore, although SANSCO did consider the organisation of white students, and whites in general, into progressive formations as an important moment of the democratic struggle in South Africa, it was felt that this was a task best left to NUSAS.
In the arguments around the future direction of SANSCO the Congress students had emphasised the need to view class exploitation as a key feature of black oppression. According to Phaala, the first national president of SANSCO, the congress was of the view that:
Racism was... a secondary problem which had been introduced to facilitate exploitation of the majority... What is important is that we do not only struggle against racism but see beyond it and recognise... the primary problem - exploitation of person by person.
The first part of Phaala's statement tends to rather crudely posit a simple functional relationship between capitalism and racism, and to reduce racism to an epiphenomenon of capitalism. Nonetheless, what was significant about it was the attempt to link racial and national oppression and capitalist exploitation, and especially the view that it was insufficient to simply oppose racism without also challenging capitalist relations of production in South Africa.
This analysis was the determinant of a crucial resolution that was to serve as the bedrock of SANSCO's policy document. The resolution stated that what SANSCO learnt from an examination of "the struggle of oppressed people in the world against oppression, pertinently in Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe", was that "they fought against the system and not individual Portuguese colonialists or white Rhodesians" (Appendix 2). The resolution furthermore noted and reproduced a long statement of Samora Machel, the important lines of which are :
We always say that we are struggling against the exploitation of man by man... There are nationalists... who think that the purpose of our struggle should be to establish black power instead of white power... Their ultimate aim is to 'Africanise' exploitation. For them our struggle should be a struggle between black power and white power, whereas for us the struggle is between the power of exploiters and people's power (See Appendix 2 for the full quote).
Finally, the resolution sought to dispel the myth that all blacks are workers, whilst we confirm that black workers in South Africa are the most exploited and therefore the vanguard in the national struggle for democracy (Appendix 2).
The resolution, and the policy document in general, was a clear signal of SANSCO's ideological and political commitments. As will become evident, because of the repressive conditions phrases like "people's power" and "true democracy" were really euphemisms for socialism.
In a direct rebuttal of the AZAPO thesis that all blacks were workers, SANSCO also acknowledged the existence of class divisions among blacks and asserted the primacy of black workers "in the national struggle for democracy". The according of the vanguard role to black workers was a clear refutation of the previous SANSCO position that black students were a "vanguard" of the national liberation struggle. The need for links with worker struggles conducted by progressive trade unions was emphasised as were links with organisations that generally shared SANSCO's views. Finally, priority was accorded to the tasks of building mass organisations among oppressed and exploited social groups and to building the unity of all the oppressed since, in SANSCO's view, a crucial determinant of the success of the political struggle would be mass mobilisation and mass organisation.
Ideology and Politics: Race, Class and National Liberation
The policy document adopted at the first congress in July 1981 provided one, and early, indication of SANSCO's new ideological and political orientation. Various speeches of SANSCO leaders, interviews with the progressive media, and the newsletters and pamphlets of the organisation in the years that followed make it possible to identify in greater detail the ideology and politics of SANSCO. In this section my object is to examine SANSCO's analysis of the South African social formation, its principles and programme, its analysis of education and the role of students, and its general strategy. In other words, the core components of what SANSCO members came to commonly refer to as the "SANSCO approach".
Conceptualising South African Society
In an attempt to capture the importance of 'race' and class, and racial and national oppression and class domination in South Africa, the ANC conceptualised South Africa as a "Colonialism of a Special Type" (CST) ( Davies et al, 1984: Vol.2, 289). However, despite its political affinity with the ANC, during the early 1980s SANSCO's characterisation of South Africa was not identical to that of the ANC. Indeed, on only one occasion during this period was South Africa conceptualised by a SANSCO leader in terms that approximated to that of the ANC's.
This was at the 1982 NUSAS July Festival, when Phaala argued that in South Africa "the political and social system resembles that of colonialism except for the fact that there is no specific metropolitan state to which the dominant white group owes allegiance" (1982: 35). On the one hand, to have conceptualised South Africa in terms of CST would have been a brazen act that would have attracted unnecessary attention from state security agencies. On the other hand, even though ANC literature was more widely available, the formulation of CST was not generally well-known. Furthermore, the conception that was already popular within the Congress movement was that of "racial capitalism".
Consequently, at all other times and until the mid-1980s, the South African social formation was characterised as a system of "racial capitalism", both by SANSCO leaders and members themselves, and by political, trade union and civic leaders invited to address SANSCO workshops and national conferences. While the formulation "racial capitalism" was regarded as not totally adequate, it was viewed as a useful way of capturing the simultaneity of racial and national oppression and capitalist exploitation in South Africa.
SANSCO activists who were familiar with and loyal to the CST thesis neither challenged nor rejected the racial capitalism formulation, and until the mid 1980s there was also not much debate, public or private, as to which of the two formulations was most appropriate. Over and above the question of security, there were three reasons for this. First, within SANSCO there was a general attitude that while theory was important, to the extent that there was general consensus about the goals and political direction of SANSCO the more crucial object was to build a mass organisation and to mobilise students in educational and political struggles.
Second, while among political tendencies critical of the ANC the racial capitalism formulation was advanced in opposition to CST and linked to a project of immediate socialism, the manner in which the thesis of racial capitalism was presented in SANSCO did not contradict that of CST. Moreover, while, as will be seen, SANSCO was committed to a socialist future, it also had as its goal national liberation, and had a particular conception of the relationship between national liberation and socialism.
Finally, there was general agreement that rather than become fixated on short-hand descriptions, the more important object was to give due recognition to the moments of both racism and capitalism, and their inter-relation, in the shaping of South African society and the implications of this for political struggle. In this regard, SANSCO argued that there was a close inter-relationship between racial and national oppression and capitalism in South Africa, and that the former facilitated and reinforced the latter. While capitalism was identified as the "primary problem" and racism regarded as a "secondary problem", racism and national oppression were not reduced to epiphenomena of capitalism but were recognised as important and real material factors and objects of struggle.
This analysis led SANSCO to identify two broad and oppositional political camps in South Africa. On the one hand there was a "people's" camp consisting of black workers, large sections of the black petty bourgeoisie, other classes, strata and categories among the black oppressed, and white democrats. On the other hand, there was an "enemy" camp comprising the capitalist class, the white petty bourgeoisie, white working class, and sections of the black petty bourgeoisie. As can be seen, the demarcation of the "people" and the "enemy" was not strictly in terms of ‘race' or class. There was a strong politico-strategic element to the definition of the two blocs.
Two issues were emphasised. First, the dividing line between the two camps was not, and ought not be conceived of as, static. The line was subject to change with the ebb and tide of political struggle, and it was the task of concrete analysis to determine the precise constituents of, and correlation of forces between, the two camps. Second, it was also stressed that political work among those constituting the "enemy" camp had the potential to corrode the apartheid social base and broaden the "people's" camp. In other words, flexibility of tactics was encouraged. The apartheid state was perceived as safeguarding capitalism and white privilege, as representing the general interests of the "enemy" camp, and as attempting to co-opt sections of the "people" so as to extend the social base of the ruling bloc.
SANSCO: Political Principles
SANSCO espoused four political principles, derived from its analysis of South African society as well as from its ideological and political goals. The first principle, was that of non-racialism in practice. Phaala stated that "because of our emphasis on exploitation as the main problem we are non-racial in our approach to our problem". Thus, conceiving of the essential 'problem' as a particular social structure meant that the political target was identified primarily in systemic terms rather than in terms of social groups and 'race'. Political commitment rather than social origins or 'race' was to be the determinant of inclusion or exclusion in the political struggle. For this reason SANSCO accepted "anyone, irrespective of colour who commits himself or herself to the struggle against exploitation as an ally".
If, for strategic reasons, SANSCO shared with the BC organisations a racially exclusive membership, it was its commitment to non-racialism in practice, as contrasted with non-racialism purely as a goal, that was one of the key features that distinguished it from BC organisations. The adherence to non-racialism in practice provided the basis for an alliance with NUSAS and other progressive non-racial organisations.
A second principle espoused by SANSCO was that of democratic practice. It was argued that "democracy becomes real and relevant for us only if students participate in decision-making", and in this regard a strategic objective was to "ensure that democratically elected, representative bodies (SRCs or AZASO branches) exist at all campuses" (AZASO National Newsletter , June 1983: 5). A third principle was unity and struggle, these moments being regarded as "essential for victory" (ibid.: 4). However, two differing bases for unity were suggested. One was programmatic, in terms of which it was frequently asserted that "all democratic forces in South Africa should be united in the struggle and that the basis of the unity should be...the Freedom Charter" (ibid.).
Occasionally, the insistence on a programmatic unity gave way to a call for the "unity of all progressives" - lending consistency to the statement that "despite the differences between us and AZAPO we still hope to work with them in any progressive campaign which they may support". While an emphasis on programmatic unity does not in itself preclude a concomitant commitment to broader strategic and tactical alliances, under certain circumstances it can breed a sectarian approach to political struggle. How SANSCO fared in this regard is an issue that will be examined in a later chapter.
The final principle of SANSCO was that of working class leadership of the liberation struggle. A race-class analysis of South Africa and its ideological commitments had led SANSCO to reject the "Africanisation" of exploitation. Instead, "people's power" was asserted as SANSCO's immediate political goal, and SANSCO proclaimed that "black workers are... the vanguard in the national struggle for democracy" (Appendix 2). The necessity to develop and assert working class leadership within the liberation struggle, was consistently emphasised by SANSCO's leaders and intellectuals, in educational workshops and forums, and in SANSCO's mass media (Phaala, 1981: 10; 1982: 40; AZASO National Newsletter , June 1983: 4).
In adhering to the above principles, the leadership stressed that it was essential for the organisation's ideological and political commitments "to be reflected in our daily activities" (Phaala, 1981: 9). Methods of struggle and goals were linked: principles and "ideals are not only to be built after liberation, but during the struggle for it"; and it was argued that "the nature of the struggle is going to reflect the type of society that is... to come" ( AZASO National Newsletter , June 1983: 4; Phaala, 1982: 40).
Political Programme and Strategy
Like its principles, the political programme and strategy that SANSCO embraced was shaped by its ideology and by structural conditions. To the racially exclusive and authoritarian political order was counterposed a non-racial democracy. In opposition to the colonial and imperialist legacy of self-determination for solely the minority white population, formalised by the "Union of South Africa" in 1910 and the declaration of South Africa as a republic in 1961, it advanced the objectives of national liberation and self-determination for black South Africans. In place of separate development and the balkanisation of South Africa, SANSCO sought an unfragmented country and a unitary South African state. Critical of bourgeois power and rejecting any "Africanisation" of exploitation, it was committed to the establishment of "people's power".
However, its political commitments extended beyond a non-racial democracy, and political transformation to include revolutionary social transformation. The stress on the creation of a society "free of exploitation... in which harmony among people will prevail", on the social emancipation of the working class, and on the necessity of working class leadership of the liberation struggle, signalled an explicit commitment to socialism. Frequently, in public meetings and workshops, reference was made to "people's power" and the creation of a "true democracy", and the two concepts were elaborated in a way that meant that they essentially served as synonyms for democratic socialism. A "true democracy" was said to be a society in which the major means of production were socialised, and the "people", particularly workers, exercised hegemony over and within the economic, political and social institutions and processes of society.
The commitment to socialism becomes even clearer when one considers how SANSCO conceptualised the Freedom Charter and how it dealt with the relationship between national liberation and socialism, both being issues that provoked considerable debate within liberation organisations. SANSCO formally adopted the Freedom Charter as its political manifesto in 1983, the AZASO National Newsletter proclaiming it as "the programme of minimum demands to which we commit ourselves". However, its commitment to the Freedom Charter was already evident in late 1981 when it endorsed a resolution at the Anti-South African Indian Council Conference that described the Freedom Charter as "a universal document containing our minimum demands", and providing "a framework within which all struggles today are conducted".
The phrase "minimum demands" requires some discussion. The precise character of the Freedom Charter was a matter of considerable debate. In some quarters, the document was criticised as a bourgeois manifesto which ultimately safeguarded capitalism in South Africa. In other quarters, and often in response to the above criticism, the document tended to be presented as a manifesto that guaranteed a socialist future in South Africa. SANSCO's own position was to reject both these interpretations of the Freedom Charter.
Instead, its view was that the Freedom Charter was neither a bourgeois document nor as a socialist manifesto, but rather best understood as a revolutionary national-democratic programme. To the extent that the programme incorporated most working class demands as well as those of other classes experiencing national and racial oppression, the Charter was seen a positive response to the problem of racial and national oppression. Moreover, although the Freedom Charter did not proclaim socialism as the goal, and its immediate objects were a non-racial democracy and a national democratic state, it was seen as generally anti-capitalist in orientation. It not only did not retard socialist transformation but, indeed, provided a foundation for such a transformation.
The assertion that the Freedom Charter represented its "minimum demands" sought to draw attention to the fact that SANSCO had certain demands and goals that went beyond those embodied in the Charter. These demands sought to build on and extend the freedoms and rights contained in the Freedom Charter and related to the transformation of South African society along socialist lines. However, there was also an emphatic insistence that while manifestos were important in articulating a vision, they guaranteed, on their own, nothing. It was stressed that, ultimately, the precise outcome of the national liberation struggle would be determined by mass organisation and actual struggles, and the extent to which working class leadership and hegemony was exercised within the mass movement.
Turning to political strategy, South African realities were viewed as necessitating a "particular format" of struggle (Phaala, 1981:9), one referred to as "National Democratic struggle" (AZASO National Newsletter, 1985: 2). The thesis was that conditions in South Africa not only made imperative, but also favoured the construction of a non-racial multi- class alliance under working class leadership.
The Freedom Charter in turn, was seen as providing an excellent basis for such an alliance. The term "national" went beyond simply a geographic connotation. It defined the content of the liberation struggle as anti-imperialist; denoted the task of mobilising and uniting all the black oppressed and white democrats in political action, and the need, through political struggle, to lay the basis for the emergence of a single South African nation and culture. The term "democratic" on the other hand referred to both the goal of the liberation struggle - a democratic social order based on universal franchise - and the necessity for democratic participation, decision-making and practice in the conduct of the liberation struggle.
If SANSCO was committed to socialism, but also adhered to the Freedom Charter, and conceptualised the struggle in South Africa as, in the first place, a "national liberation" struggle rather than as a purely socialist struggle, how did it relate the national and class dimensions of the South African struggle? SANSCO was adamant in its rejection of bourgeois nationalism, and the "type of petty bourgeois leadership which wants to maintain itself, such that with the success of the struggle they can be the ones who can climb the political ladder" (Phaala, 1982: 37). Its viewpoint in this regard dovetailed with similar assertions by the ANC. The ANC recognised the dangers of bourgeois nationalism. It understood that a movement founded on such a nationalist outlook would be hard pressed to redress the inequities and injustice of colonialism and apartheid. Thus the latter's "Strategy and Tactics"stated that:
Our nationalism must not be confused with chauvinism or narrow nationalism of a previous epoch. It must not be confused with the classical drive of an elitist group among the oppressed people to gain ascendancy so that they can replace the oppressor in the exploitation of the mass.... (quoted by Innes and Flegg, 1978: 2).
However, the ANC sought to be, and was, a political home for a wide spectrum of anti-apartheid forces, ranging from communists to liberals, whereas an explicit socialist commitment would have constricted its social base. Thus, it remained a national liberation movement committed to a project of national democracy. Still, it did hold out the possibility, under particular conditions "of a speedy progression from formal liberation to genuine and lasting emancipation" and suggested that this was made more real by the existence in our country of a large and growing working class whose class consciousness complements national consciousness.... (Strategy and Tactics, quoted by Innes and Flegg, 1978: 2).
This perspective of the ANC, of a first stage of national democracy followed, under favourable conditions, by a second stage of socialism, came to be referred to as the "two stage theory" of revolution.
Within SANSCO, there was no adherence to the so-called "two stage theory" of revolution, if this implied that the struggle for national liberation and for socialism were distinct and consecutive stages. Statements around the necessity to develop and assert working class leadership, and to ensure that the content and methods of struggle were related to political objectives, pointed to a rejection of any rigid two-stage theory of revolution. Indeed, there was strong agreement with the view of Ruth First that:
The national and the class struggle are not part of some natural order of succession, but take place coterminously.... It is because national demands cannot be met under capitalism that the proletariat is the essential leader of the SA revolution, and the struggle for national liberation, given this political leadership - which has, I agree, to be asserted - will at the same time be part of the struggle for socialism (First, 1978: 98).
Moreover, the contention of Joe Slovo, a leading member of the ANC and general-secretary of the SACP, that:
[T]here is no Chinese wall between the stages of our revolution.... [W]e are not saying that the problem of social emancipation is something that will be postponed until we have some vague form of people's power (1983: 87) was strongly supported by SANSCO members and also widely cited.
Slovo argued that the ultimate outcome of the South African struggle would be strongly conditioned by the class forces that were hegemonic during the national liberation struggle. For this reason it was essential to convince workers that:
... In the long run, racism cannot be overthrown without the destruction of its foundation, which is capitalism. We cannot postpone the spreading of these ideas until we have achieved the so-called first stage of revolutionary advance. They must be spread now (ibid.).
Within SANSCO it was socialist ideas that were hegemonic, and these were spread among other students and filtered into other popular organisations. If the spread of socialist ideas was combined with an emphasis also on national liberation, and popularisation of the Freedom Charter, SANSCO could have well claimed that far from being inconsistent, it was guided by Lenin. Another popular figure among SANSCO activists, Lenin had insisted that the revolutionary struggle against capitalism had to be coupled with a "revolutionary programme... on all democratic demands : a republic.... equal rights for women... etc.", and that "the social revolution is not a single battle, but a period" (quoted by Innes and Flegg, 1978: 3-4).
With respect to the forms of opposition to racial and class domination, SANSCO was of the view that these needed to be shaped by the acknowledgement that the apartheid ruling class would not "voluntarily relinquish [its] privileged position". While it accepted the need for a flexibility in tactics it refused, however, to countenance operating within separate development political institutions, and asserted that "no government-created institution will ever be instrumental in ushering total liberation" (SANSCO Policy Document, Appendix 2). In view of the above, a extra-parliamentary opposition movement was defined as the only viable vehicle of resistance. Concomitantly, it was stressed that opposition and struggle should not be restricted to the political sphere or confined to only political issues.
Instead, all arenas of society - the workplace, residential townships, educational and health institutions, places of religious worship and sport - had to be transformed into sites and fronts of opposition and struggle around political issues and issues specific to particular institutions. For the "waging of a disciplined, protracted struggle against all aspects of oppression" a "strategy of mass organisation" was argued to be "the most important weapon" (Phaala, 1983a: 4; 1983b: 12). Organisation building and the forging of unity among oppressed people was viewed a dynamic process. Thus, it was stated that "it is through mass mobilisation and the taking up of day to day problems that people experience struggle, and organisation and unity is built" (AZASO National Newsletter , June 1983: 4).
Education and the Role of Students
According to a SANSCO official, the education system was not "separate from political and economic structures in society, but materially interwoven into the wider social totality" (quoted in Anon, Africa Perspective, 24, 1984: 71). Education in South Africa served "the important function of ensuring the continued existence of society itself". More specifically, education was seen as performing three roles. First, was the training of students in numeracy and literacy. Second, the socialisation of individuals whereby they "absorb the values, norms... of society such as obedience, passivity, hierarchy, racism etc."; and third, the allocation of individuals into different occupational and social roles. The effect of apartheid education was to "subjugate and subordinate the oppressed majority" and to "perpetuate white prosperity and supremacy" (ibid.)
A report commissioned by the World University Service and the Association of University Teachers stated with respect to SANSCO that "the... leadership is well aware of the dangers of an elitist education and the reformist role assigned to a black middle class by the white regime" (WUS/AUT, 1986: 10). According to Phaala, state strategy in the educational arena during the 1980s was constituted by the "the carrot and stick method of co-option coupled with repression" (Phaala, 1981: 10). Co-option referred to the attempt by the state to win the support of "a more significant number of people from the ranks of the oppressed" (ibid.). Two important elements identified in the co-option strategy were "privilege" and "ideology".
The former was related to the "increasing trend towards the modernisation of the existing racial universities and colleges", a process viewed as attempting to accustom higher education students "to a privileged life" so that they could be more "easily lured into joining the machinery of control" (Phaala, 1983a: 4-5). "Ideology" was seen as the mode through which black higher education students would be inculcated with notions of superiority relative to other blacks, and beliefs that "class divisions of society... are... natural and inevitable" (ibid.). Black higher education students were, then, seen as an important target group of the efforts of state and capital to "strengthen the already existing black middle class" and to obtain "agents for effecting an institutionalised class division" (ibid.).
Moreover, it was among higher education students too that the ruling class was searching for "allies to help control the voteless and exploited black majority" (Phaala, 1981: 10).
In view of this perceived strategy of the state and capital, it was stressed that black students needed to develop a clear understanding of their specific position in the process of ongoing political conflict in South Africa. Two choices were said to be open to black students:
"To be part of the oppressive system or part of the oppressed majority" (Phaala, 1983a: 5).
Those opting to identify with the oppressed majority were in turn confronted by two further choices. The first was an alliance "of convenience" between students and the black petty bourgeoisie and, more broadly, with black workers and the poor, based on the realisation of students "that without the involvement of the masses" apartheid cannot be eradicated (Phaala, 1982: 35). Here, students would be simply striving "to eradicate the barriers which prevent them from climbing the ladder of social division" (Phaala, 1981: 10). Such an "opportunistic alliance where the petty bourgeoisie uses the masses as ladder of climbing to the top" was firmly rejected by SANSCO.
A second choice available to students, and the path favoured by SANSCO, was where students "throw their lot behind the efforts of the large majority of exploited black workers to eradicate inequality in all respects" (ibid.). Such an alliance between the black petty bourgeoisie and black working class would not seek to blur the class contradictions among the black population, and here the black petty bourgeoisie would play a facilitative role in which the "masses learn through struggle to take their destiny into their own hands" (ibid.). In this scenario, the role of students would be to turn the privileges granted them "into instruments strengthening the struggle for democracy", and furthering "the workers struggle" (ibid.).
It was SANSCO's view that "there is much students can do. Historically students have played a vital role in catalysing and strengthening the struggle..."(AZASO National Newsletter, June 1983: 3). With specific reference to the government's constitutional proposals of 1982, it was argued that:
[A]s intellectuals, students can grasp and understand much better the inadequacies and injustices inherent in the proposals and how they will affect the