Student protests: The end of the 1994 consensus

Phillip Dexter says political leadership needed to tie issues together and use the popular sentiment to drive radical transformation

The System Must Fall: The End of the 1994 Consensus and the Need for a New Social Compact

The recent student demonstrations and demands; for transformation of educational institutions, for free education and their support and solidarity with workers facing outsourcing and casualization on campuses have breathed a new, progressive life into South African politics. The current leadership of the liberation movement have been stuck in a pattern that lacks radicalism, vision and compassion for the masses of our people. While we should never overstate what is taking place, as if we are on the brink of a revolution, there is no doubt that things will never be the same. Thank the students for that!

Some of the descriptions and comparisons of the student action and events have been, typically, facile. These demonstrations don’t represent an end to ANC hegemony and power. In fact, the ANC has rightly, supported the students and their demands. If the government leaders responsible for the higher education sector have shown no creativity or political will to solve these problems and to work with students in a constructive manner to address the challenges that our society faces, this is not a reflection on the positions the ANC holds, but on their weaknesses. This is not 1976, or the 1980s. But it is the radical moment post 1994.

As in other sectors; the labour market, with continued low wages and high unemployment, with rising food prices, with continued social problems such as high crime, with the dissatisfaction with poor service delivery and ongoing corruption, citizens, in this case the future leaders of our country are saying enough. What is lacking in this moment is the political leadership that will tie these issues together and use the popular sentiment to drive radical transformation. Instead, we see contradictory statements from leaders, the use of the police to brutally deal with peaceful protests and the continued carping of those who say we have no resources to address the plight of students, the poor, to address poverty, inequality and unemployment.

If ever there was a moment when we needed the likes of Chris Hani, Nelson Mandela, Elijah Bahayi, Ray Alexander, Joe Slovo, Dora Tamana, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and other leaders who had the courage to lead, it is now. Fortunately, while there may be none in government, we have seen them on the streets, outside Parliament, on the campuses, saying, not only #fees must fall, the system must fall. The negotiated compromises and the consensus of 1994 have run their course. They allowed us to establish our democracy and strengthen the institutions of government and to partially transform some of them. But the jury is out. We need deeper, radical, more thoroughgoing transformation that ensures that we address the challenges we face as a society.

Capitalism has failed the people of this country. All over the world, people are questioning the failure of the capitalist system and putting in place policies and leaders that will change the way we live our lives, manage our resources and cooperate for a sustainable future. South Africa needs to takes its rightful place in articulating the vision of the people of this country as it is captured in the Freedom Charter and implement it with a will to make it succeed. For far to long we have been governed by those who tell us what we cant do. We must now lead, as the people of this country and tell our leaders what they must do. If they will not or cannot, they must step aside and let those who can go ahead. We need a new deal, one in which the needs of the poor, the downtrodden, the discriminated against, the maginalised, the exploited are prioritised. This social compact is broken. The people must fix it. The students are our inspiration to do that. They have shown what can be done and just how political space there is in our wonderful democracy. Let us use it, as the founding mothers and fathers of our democracy intended it be, not squandered on the pettiness of bureaucrats and of myopic people in leadership positions.

Viva the class of 2015!

Dr. Phillip David Dexter is an activist, an academic and a former MP and trade unionist. He writes in his personal capacity.

This piece was published first on Interference on Facebook.