Letter To Fezile Sonkwane.

Dear Fezile Sonkwane,

I write this letter at the backdrop of your own letter to the Central University of Technology, Free State, Vice-Chancellor Prof Thandwa Mthembu. Allow me from the onset to make it clear that my own letter does not serve to be a counter to your congratulatory one to the VC.
To make sure that I am not misunderstood on the last point, let me be the first to reiterate the undisputable facts you mentioned:

1. Six brand new state-of-the-art buildings and facilities were erected in order create a conducive learning environment for all. Namely the Academic Support Centre, massive improvements of the ZR Mahabane and Dirk Coetzee Buildings, Teacher Education Buildings at both campuses of the CUT.
2. Some R108 million was allocated to students in need of financial aid in the form of NSFAS in 2012 alone. The CUT Council increased student bursaries and scholarships from R13.1 million to R14.1 million for 2013.
3. Formation of the Stars of Academic Excellence and Research (SOAR) programme as an “in-house grow-your-own-timber strategy”. It has brought on board a stream of highly qualified talent onto our academic and research corps. This programme has managed to register 4 PhD, 12 Master’s, 2 Diploma, and 2 Certificate students.
4. CUT adopted the Vision 2020 concept which in turn has seen the formation of a) the Free State IT Hub that is meant to turn the Free State into an IT hub in software development b) A new International Office c) the Schools Advancement Academy etc.
5. In 2012, PhD holders increased from 58 to 70, and Masters-holders increased from 88 to 104. At the end of 2012, 23% of teaching/research staff held PhD degrees, while the percentage of academics with Master’s degrees was 36%.
6. CUT has also seen the introduction of new academic programmes such as a) Higher certificate in Renewable Energy Technologies b) Advanced Diploma in Agricultural Extension c) Diploma in Studio Art d) Bachelor in Radiography etc.

All the above is true and should be attributed to the leadership provided by the incumbent. And it is further true that under the surface of these laudable achievements there lay innumerate problems plaguing our university; hence we face academic and financial exclusion of our students’ year in, year out. However as already mentioned, this letter is not a counter to your complimentary one.

Now that we have dealt with the obvious, allow me then to shift my focus to the devious innuendos your letter sought to advance insidiously. I wish to expose that behind your somewhat sycophantic praise of the VC, lies your own agenda to continue your delusions of grandeur and constant refusal to accept the outcomes of the democratic processes that took place last year on the 28th August 2013, that declared your erstwhile Comrade, David Makhoali, representing SASCO, as the SRC President of the CUT Bloemfontein Campus. Your insidious agenda needs to be exposed for what it really is and student activism and the students ought to be defended by any means necessary. And to do this (advance your treacherous agenda) Fezile, you go short of declaring an obituary on student activism “In fact, I have long been convinced that the state of student formations in our country has somewhat degenerated and many, if not all, of the student formations have now become a shadow of their former self and as a result are either found deficient or sinking altogether.”. Surprisingly Fez, you seek to convince us that you have LONG BEEN AWARE of the slow decline of student activism a little less than 2 years when you were the Chairperson of the SASCO CUT Bloemfontein Branch and subsequently its deployee in the SRC Academic Office. Furthermore Fez, you lament at what you see as “Student fanaticism from modern-day student leaders that seems to have lost meaning and degenerated only to be used as a buzz word and a label for some cool politico.” I am not certain whether the use of fanaticism instead of activism is/was a deliberate or was a genuine oversight from your part; however what remains an eyesore to me, is how absolved are you as part of these “modern-day” student leaders? Has the rejection that the students of CUT inflicted upon you by electing someone else as their choice of representative elevated you to be an arm-chair critic of their preferred choice?

Fezile, you make an indictment on the degeneration of student activism and go on to express the “melancholic” state it has left you, yet you do not substantiate this claim. You simply make reference of the expulsion and reasons or lack thereof, of the #CUT12 as a major premise of your claim. You have not demonstrated how this “student fanaticism” has seemed to have lost meaning except being a buzz word for some cool politico (whatever that means). This failure on your part to substantiate and demonstrate your point, proves that your veiled attacks at “student fanaticism” is actually an attack on those the student masses elected last August. This is proven by your outrages claim “This sad reality is further deepened by how feebly modern-day student formations run their affairs.”, because Fezile, just over a year ago before your expulsion, you were a member of one of these feebly-run student formations. This is further compounded by your failure to show exactly what are these “gutter politics” that you see to have engulfed our student milieu.

Fezile, if we are to believe all your lamentations in spite of the shabby evidence or lack thereof, it would then mean that your election as both Chairperson of a SASCO Branch and the SRC Academic Officer were as a result of the “gutter politics” engulfing our student milieu, that you are by and large, a product of a degenerated student activism and fanaticism that has become a buzz word for some cool politico. The degeneration has to account for your absurd commentary on both FB that you had the right to speak on a national radio as a leader of a coalition you led and that why it is justified that the 12 CUT student leaders ought to be expelled, because they have “failed”, not because they are guilty of contravening the rules. The gutter politics should account why you saw fit to publicly pass on judgement over the performance of student leadership you neither elected nor mandated.

Fezile, you and I served in the SRC 2012/13 and simultaneously led an intervention on the unfair assessment writing BMR 20 and 30CB students were compelled to write despite the University not actualizing its promises and dignifying our agreement. We both sit here, knowing that our intervention contravened set rules and regulations, yet we were not labelled as marauding gang of students, despite our intervention not being peaceful too. It is disingenuous of you to sit wherever you are sitting, as a HEAD OF A COALITION THAT LOST ELECTIONS, to speak of “gutter politics” engulfing our student milieu and the “degeneration” of student formations, when you too, over a year ago, did exactly, what they did this year, which is halt whatever processes that were taking place because their grievances had not be properly and satisfactorily handled. Fezile, Mr Head of a Coalition do not dare sacrifice our hard-earned right for student activism and governance that came as a result of genuine sacrifice and political action, at the altar of patronage and self-glorification.

Behind your deceitful attacks lies the depoliticisation of student governance and activism agenda. Current student leaders are all in agreement that, student activism has struggled to readapt itself over the changing HE landscape and that it should continuously reassess and find ways to remain relevant in the current context, no matter how obscure it is. However the January protests were not as a result of the problems with student activism but as a result of the paralysis of relations between student leadership and the University. You’d know well, as one student leader reminded you that, at the heart of students’ frustrations lies a bureaucratic system and indifferent students’ services administration, that has seen numerous student leadership submissions at CUT, remain relegated to the periphery. How many times has the student body converged to amend its constitution and we are yet to see a fully consolidated and functional SRC Constitution? Do you know about the shuttle service especially for the Welkom Campus that has continued to be ignored? Despite lack of residences at that Campus and numerous reports of student falling victims to crime on their way to and from campus, not to mention the gruesome murder of one of our students in 2009. Students that have not embarked on a massive protest like the one early this year, whom as you claim are part of a “of a diverse and vibrant community of students and staff along with an open dialogue which is a hallmark that has characterised our university since your ascendance of the VC,” would not just one day, after so many years, fall victim to “gutter politics” and “student fanaticism” by choosing to halt registration processes. If indeed since the ascendance of the incumbent, there has been a “culture of open and robust dialogue”, why would the current SRC and the student masses that supported them, decide to embark on the sort of programme that unfolded early this year? Are we then to assume that you see their actions as part of the “political bullies that tried to impeach the VC in 2012?” Should we assume that student activism, whose constituent element is demonstration, and which in itself is an inherent part of the academic community of the University, as part of the “sinister agendas” that seek to oust our very “first young black VC”? Doesn’t the abrupt protest give us a different reading to how we perceive and treat our students? Have you ever stopped to think that if indeed there is a degeneration of the student formations, it is due to a deliberate attempt by the University to code “politics” as terrorism through frustrating, suppression and intimidation of student leadership? After all Fezile, it is under the tenure of the incumbent that we have been told innumerate time that politics are no longer relevant. Perhaps Fezile, since 2012, the University suffers not only from the “hysteria” it has always suffered from with regard to student activism, but also from acute paranoia, thus labels anything that challenges “authority” and its failings, as an agenda to “politically bully” our “first young black VC”.

Fezile, you letter is quite repulsive not least because it lauds the VC for expelling (your words) 12 CUT students, but precisely because it celebrates the ostracizing of 12 young lives for daring to air their frustrations in the only manner they best know how, especially on the face of indifferent university administration over issues that are of significance to them as students. Fezile, it is evident that you neither have a will to contribute nor know on how student activism and governance ought to be like in the 21st Century, post-political apartheid South Africa, in fact, you are simply interested in getting back at those that ousted you from SASCO and subsequently emerged victorious against your coalition at the 2013/14 SRC Elections.

I am tempted to engage you right here right now on what are the weaknesses of our student activism and governance, as well as the trappings the HE system has put in place to not only frustrate but also destroy student activism and the genuine agenda it exists for and seeks to advance. It is however unfortunate that I cannot, simply because you have inadvertently become a bitter young man thus a spokesperson of the class enemies of the strata that is full of the parents of the very same students you are openly attacking under the auspices of daring to be “young, free and opinionated.”. That you hold the right to air your views under no duress is a known and accepted fact, but one that shall not go unchallenged especially when it seeks to buttress the continuous crushing of genuine student voices and their hopes. Incidentally, Fez, this serves as not the only first time that I warn you of the trappings of patronage, especially at the sacrifice of breaking with your own generation, a lesson that many a wise men know very well.

You remain gifted I suppose as we are all born to manifest in the glory of God and I do hope and pray that you soon discard your delusions of grandeur and most importantly, you let go of the bitterness you still hold against SASCO and its members.

Kind regards
Lerato “Che” Lephatsa

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