The South African Union of Students (SAUS) held its 8th National Elective Conference from Friday, 25 June until Monday, 28 June 2021. It was unprecedented that SAUS National Elective Conference was held at the University of Venda (UNIVEN), in Limpopo province. The elective conference, which was due in June 2020, follows a 12-month extension of the term of office of the current National Executive Committee (NEC). The extension was in accordance with section 9(4) of the SAUS constitution invoked because of the global COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown level 5 regulations issued in June last year.

After careful consideration of the ongoing challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, its health implications and alert level 3 (three) lockdown regulations, the National Executive Committee convened a Hybrid Elective Conference. The number of Student Representative Council (SRCs) delegates who physically attended the conference was reduced to acceptable numbers in compliance with alert level 3 regulations. The other delegates attended the conference using online platforms.

Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Bernard Nthambeleni

The Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Bernard Nthambeleni welcomed SAUS delegates to the UNIVEN SAUS National Conference Gala dinner that was held at the University Auditorium in the evening of Friday, 25 June 2021.

In his welcome message, Dr Nthambeleni said ‘We are delighted to be hosting this august event at the University of Venda, more especially during June as the country is celebrating and commemorating youth month.’ He congratulated SAUS for fifteen years of existence and championing robust engagements which is a significant milestone in student politics. He reminded the young leaders to continue to honour the bravery and sacrifice of the courageous youth who were at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid and Bantu education.

‘You represent over 1 million students from the 26 public universities. Therefore, you should champion their course and advance their interests. You play a critical role in the governance of higher education institutions in this country.’

Dr Nthambeleni applauded progress made by the government in introducing a fully subsidised free Higher Education and Training for the poor and working-class South African undergraduate students which was implemented since 2018. He also commended the Department of Higher Education and Training and NSFAS for rolling out funding to over 1 million disadvantaged undergraduate students over the years.

He briefly told SAUS delegates about developments at UNIVEN in terms of its infrastructural development, student throughput rate, research outputs and community engagement initiatives.

Limpopo MEC of Economic Development, Mr Thabo Mokone addressed the delegates on behalf of the Premier of Limpopo Province, Honourable Stan Mathabatha who couldn’t make it to the conference due to ill health. The MEC commended SAUS leadership for choosing Limpopo Province, and UNIVEN in particular, to host the important assembly of student leaders who hailed from all corners of the country. Mr Mokone wished the conference to be a festival and contestation of ideas.

‘As members of the FEES MUST FALL generation, you can be proud of the advances your generation has made in forcing the doors of learning to be wide open,’ Mr Mokone said.

He further deliberated the issue of safety in various campuses in the country which is a serious challenge which requires the government’s attention. ‘No student should walk in fear of harassment, assault or rape on campus or off-campus,’ Mokone emphasised. The student leaders were encouraged to take the issue of security with the seriousness it deserves. Mokone reminded student leaders about the painful story of Precious Ramabulana, a Capricorn TVET college student who was brutalised, raped and killed in her room. He concluded by challenging the young leaders to make education fashionable to seize many opportunities that are available to them in the country.

The 7th SAUS outgoing President, Mr Misheck Mugabe delivered his opening remarks centred on five key aspects namely, Commitment to the revolution; Revolutionary morality; Ethics in leadership; Accountability of Leadership and structures; and Critical thinking. ‘It has always been our hope and it is still our goal to see the rise of historically disadvantaged universities hence we decided to come to Venda as a vote of confidence to our black universities,’ says Mugabe in his conclusion.

Delegates also received a presentation on the state of Student Affairs and Governance in the PSET sector by the President of SASSAP (University Deans), Dr Sibusiso Chalufu.

Dr Blade Nzimande addressing student leaders through Microsoft Teams

In his address to the student leaders, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande thanked UNIVEN leadership for hosting the conference. ‘One of our key challenges facing our higher education system is that of the urgent necessity to transform the patriarchal, class and racialised nature of knowledge and its production in our country. It is a crucial dimension in the dismantling of barriers, through access to relevant, transformative and liberating knowledge’, said Dr Nzimande.

‘Another key dimension of dismantling barriers is that of ensuring that we build student-centred and student-friendly universities and other post-school institutions.’ He criticised institutions that are not student friendly as they constitute a serious barrier to effective financial and epistemological access.

‘As student leaders sitting in institutional forums and committees where these matters are debated and decided upon, you need to make sure that universities are designed for student success, and that there are adequate academic and non-academic support systems to ensure student-centred institutions.’

When concluding his address, Dr Nzimande recapitulated that the government is committed to supporting the post-school education and training system by progressively introducing financial support for students from poor and working-class backgrounds in South African Universities as resources become available. ‘We are committed to addressing the current gaps in funding, depending on the affordability and sustainability of the funding systems that should be put in place.’

Issued by:

Department of Marketing, Branding & Communication

University of Venda

Tel: (015) 962 8525 /8710

Date: 28 June 2021

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