Having formed both the EFF and the EFFSC, one has had the privilege of observing various EFFSC branches over the years and seeing varying trends that lead to a branch either becoming successful or dying a poor death. In the period between 2014, we took part of a group of 6 fighters who visited every university campus in this country (except Western Cape province) setting up EFF structures in institutions of higher learning, with the intention to officially establish EFFSC the following year.
Following the founding assembly of the EFFSC, we assisted new branches to launch, organize students and even contest SRC elections. This exposition uses the experience gained, to canvass 6 signs that indicate that an EFFSC branch has gone to the dogs. These, although a product of one’s studied observations, intend to punctuate the thinking of future student leaders on tendencies that may lead to their success and failure as a collective; it is by no means authoritative nor cast in stone.
First, the branch becomes synonymous with violence, rowdiness and chaotic exchanges among comrades: When branch meetings descend to flying chairs and fists, it usually means two things, (1) the reasoning capacity of the branch has reached its ceiling and (2) contestations have become so rife, transcending politics, rather becoming unhealthily personalized. The former is a product of an anti-thinking and post-ideology climate in the student movement, wherein differences are no longer resolved by way of debate and persuasion, but rather by fists. The latter is true when political differences are construed as personal difference; also brewing from the post-ideology reality, wherein comrade X disagrees with the opinion of comrade Y, the branch assumes that the two hate each other, comrade Y also feels that comrade X o na le le nyatso.
Second, the branch outsources its collective thinking capacity to campus-based trade unions and forums, handlers, basically: Post #FeesMustFall and #OutsourcingMustFall period, many pre-existing university formations were woken up to the mass power of student formations, as a result, many continue to capture the EFFSC for their selfish ends. For instance, trade unions piggy bag on the EFFSC’s rapport with vulnerable previously outsourced black workers, effectively using EFFSC branch leaders to do union work and recruit for the union. In return, a select clique of EFFSC branch leaders are bought with food, alcohol and the promise of jobs in the university. Worse than unions, are forums who use EFFSC branches as a rented crowd for their events, which range from quasi-academic seminars, right up to public pickets. The consequence of this reality is that branch leaders of the EFFSC cease to become leaders of the branch, but invariably become puppets, hand-clappers and lapdogs of the bloodsucking elite that lead these unions and forums. Even worse, the branch loses its distinct intellectual identity, assuming the squalid character of its handler of choice.
Third, the branch stops taking up genuine worker and student struggles, instead focusing on internal factions and squabbles: When you are under the jealous handle of unions and forums, befuddled by a culture of violence among comrades, the inevitable consequence is that you lose sight of what matters, consequently forgetting your very reasons for existing. The reason why an EFFSC branch must be independent is that it allows it to think soberly, reflecting on issues that face workers and students, thus its continued unholy relations with unions and forums makes it blind to matters that it should be taking up. The reality is that the branch fails to raise matters of student services as well as matters pertaining to the transformation of the university/TVET when it is laden with the tawdry task of fighting the career battles of their mostly-academic forum handlers. In this period, middle-class university councils and elitist senates, approve draconian policies that undo the gains made by the broader working class movement, and to the detriment of downtrodden black students.
Fourth, the branch actively shuns engaged political, intellectual and ideological work, preferring empty sloganeering, phrase-mongering and related populist attitudes: This point cannot be stressed enough. The trend among branches that do not value the essence of dedicating time to political education is to substitute it with the bizarre tendency of empty slogans, the throwing around of catchy phrases and other forms of performative populism. The idea here is to show face at other people’s events, then grab the microphone, only be heard chanting the words, “pedagogy, epistemology, decolonization, imperialism, and so and so forth”, to this, the captured branch leaders get loud cheers from fellow branch members, without engaging the substance(or lack thereof) of the phrases that are thrown around. This is a terrible culture that is synonymous with social media proclivities, the Woke cadre hiding behind the desktop appears more revolutionary or knowledgeable than the rest, where in reality there is no shred of engaged intellectual responsiveness about him/her.
Fifth, the branch bashes women, treats feminist discourse with suspicion and relegates the female members to sub-members: The female cadre is a perpetual child in a politically decaying EFFSC branch, her role is to wear the red EFF doek, be pretty for the male gaze and remain as silent as possible. In discussions about the leadership question, the trend is that “Chiefkazi so and so should emerge as the deputy chairperson or the treasurer”, never the chairperson nor the secretary. When she avails herself for any strategic position she is told that she is “not ready”. When she insists that she wants to lead, the male leaders become aggressive in shutting her down, reminding her of who she has had sex with and the number of her current sexual partners. In silence, and embarrassment, she shuts her mouth and continues looking pretty. The relatively thriving and/or prominent female is the one(s) that is girlfriend(s) of the chairperson and the secretary, she is no longer “comrade Thando”, and instead is referred to as “comrade Ntando’s girlfriend”, at best she will be referred to in some patronizing titles such as “first lady” or “headquarters”. The politically decaying EFFSC branch normalizes these anomalies, throttling any chance of a discourse on women’s liberation; feminism is reduced to a swear-word, and feminists are accorded the status “sfebe”.
Lastly, the leadership core of the branch deliberately neglects its academic duties, either by way of repeatedly failing their modules or sometimes going a semester or 2 without registering all: We do not come to universities/TVETS to be student leaders, instead we come here to study, learn and graduate. This has become a sensitive topic to discuss among comrades of the EFFSC, instead we gloss over it, preferring to preserve good relations with old comrades. As a result, among us, there will be comrades who will insist on contesting for the position of branch secretary for 4 years in row, while he/she is registered for a 3 year degree. The branch can never succeed in its broader collective tasks, when its members and leaders are failing to lead themselves into achieving the primary role of any student. Leaders must graduate.
In conclusion, each branch has the duty to engage in the strenuous task of self-introspection. Each must measure itself in accordance to its conduct and in line with the normative values and standards set out for every member in the four basic documents of the EFF namely, the constitution, branch induction manual, founding manifesto and the code of conduct & revolutionary discipline.