By Sian Cohen
Tokyo Sexwale spoke at the sixteenth anniversary of the South African Students Congress (SASCO) in Barratt lecture theatre on Tuesday, September 25.
Sexwale is a former anti-apartheid activist, the former premier of Gauteng and is currently a prominent businessman. Sexwale was imprisoned on Robben Island for his defiance of the apartheid government, alongside Nelson Mandela.
Sandile Thole Mandla, regional chairperson of National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU), introduced Sexwale as “a comrade who has shown us our common humanity” and spoke about Sexwale’s will to sacrifice his life for the struggle. Mandla noted Sexwale’s roles as a successful businessman, former politician and anti-apartheid activist, illustrating his “tremendous leadership ability”.
SASCO was formed in 1991, here at Rhodes University, with the merger of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), a progressive but predominantly white organisation, and the South African National Students Congress (SANSCO), which adhered to the Freedom Charter and congress movements lead by the ANC. SANSCO was banned in 1988.
In the first week of September 1991, students from across the nation gathered under the banner ‘Towards a single non-racial student organisation’. SASCO’s principles are in the promotion of democracy, non-racism and African leadership.
In anticipation of Sexwale’s speech, SASCO members led the singing of revolutionary songs. “Awethu Zumana”, SASCO chairperson at Rhodes, opened the evening. “[We are] here to celebrate our victories and successes, but also to acknowledge shortfalls,” he said. “[We] acknowledge comrades who have lost their lives in the context of our struggle,” Zumana continued. He highlighted the importance of a move to an “integrated, public education system”.
As Sexwale entered the Barratt lecture theatre to give his speech, the room erupted into a flurry of cheering and singing. Sexwale’s charisma enthralled the audience. He entertained with well–poised jokes and ironic comments. When reflecting on events of the past, he remarked, “Many of you were not born at the time, so welcome.” Regarding his surviving the anti-apartheid struggle, he said, “What you see in us is a bonus. We were born again, we died manyyears ago.”
Sexwale then addressed the issue of South Africa’s future. “I am here to say that we want to deliver South Africa into safe hands,” he said, “we hope and trust that we have a clear understanding of what is put in your hands. There is a great and grave responsibility in those hands.” He urged, “Don’t just shout slogans –a slogan is a summary of a very powerful message.”
“You can’t take a chance with revolutions,” he said, discussing why revolutions fail. “Our revolution was about first building a nation,” he continued, “[revolutions] are about understanding [the society and] limitations.” His key reason for the failure of revolutions lay in divided political leadership.
In this regard, he addressed the issue of African National Congress leadership and the need for unity. He handled the question of his potential nomination as ANC president in a very subtle manner, remaining seemingly neutral. Sexwale said that leadership was about identifying problems and finding solutions. “Leadership is about courage [and the] courage of your conviction,” he said. Sexwale encouraged students to have courage