Khethobole Sekgota is an EFFSC leader at the University Currently Known as Rhodes University (UCKAR). The decision to interview an EFFSC member came after hearing the Julius Malema, the Commander-in-Chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) say, in a press conference, that the EFF is flourishing at the institutions of higher learning. So I needed to know why is this the case. By PHUMLANI MAJAVU.
Phumlani Majavu: What you are studying, and at what level?
Khethobole Sekgota: I am currently finalising my PhD project in Medicinal Chemistry. In this project, we seek to develop affordable and potent dual-target drug with dual anti-HIV and anti-TB activity. These drugs will be assayed against malaria as well as sleep sickness in addition to cytotoxic studies.
PM: There are so many political parties in the country, why did you particularly choose the EFF?
KS: Not only through its documents but also through its actions, the EFF has demonstrated an intimate relationship with the society. Within its five years of existence, it has changed the political landscape and directed political attention to the people who have been ignored. It has identified all factors we have to change in order to redress racial inequality and class prejudice and as a consequence evade potential instabilities in the future. I am greatly inspired by the notion that political power without economic emancipation is meaningless. The service provided by the EFF leadership is to continuously seek to restore dignity and pride in the black masses and reposition us to where we can confidently trade and compete with the rest of the world as equals. Hence, the seven non-negotiable cardinal pillars.
PM: Why not join the PAC or the ANC?
KS: The advent of democracy, for various reasons, was accompanied by the demise of the PAC and as a result, PAC can be considered only for their prudent ideological guidance pertaining black consciousness and their long quest for land ownership. The latter is an ideology the ANC has abandoned and has shifted quite significantly to the right. For complete emancipation of the oppressed, Africans and Blacks, in particular, the land question must be addressed including nationalisation of strategic resources including mines and banks. I was never a member or supporter of the ANC but in my earlier years, I have been inspired by some members of the old ANC. The ANC has consistently sought to distort the liberation history, position itself as the only liberation movement despite a movement being far bigger than organisations and has atomised, packaged and presented the liberation struggle as it was for attaining democracy. It further moved to blind us with the rainbow fallacy where certain colours are brighter than the others and psychologically disarmed us blacks. Surely, it does not require an astronaut’s intelligence to realise that for sustainable development one has to invest in quality education, pragmatically deal with corruption and invest heavily in higher education, particularly in science and technology. In fact, research reveals that there is a direct correlation between development and quality education, and in this regard, the ‘ruling’ party, fascinated with ruling, has done absolutely nothing. I am among many PhD candidates in Science, and most likely in other fields, who have no funding not even a dime.
PM: What exactly attracted you, a chemistry PhD student to the EFF?
KS: The aspiration of any Chemist is to either provide service in higher education and research institutions or in the industrial sector. Behold, the National Research Foundation and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research were recently facing financial crisis and structural readjustment that include retrenchments was envisaged. Furthermore, there is no tangible industrial development in my country and the government has prioritised a consumer-based economy, not production. All pharmaceutical companies, a space ideal for practising my skills, produce generic drugs – you do not necessarily need a skilled chemist to do this work, a physical science matric can be sufficient. Worse, the government has not provided oversight in this regard. This is despite South Africa being amongst the highest consumers of antiretroviral drugs, which are provided by the state through private pharmaceutical companies, yet such companies do not convincingly contribute in drug discovery research, which requires researchers. At this point, realistically speaking, it is through the EFF government that we will realise the full potential of our economy through massive protected industrial development. Take, for example, if you visit various car workshops you will find black engineers being managers instead of practising their skills. Just to summarise, unlike most of my colleagues who aspire to go work in Europe, USA, Asia or Arab states, I seek to build my country guided and inspired by the ideology and values of the EFF and through the EFF.
PM: Is there a link between your studies (chemistry to be specific) and politics and particularly the kind of politics that we associate with the EFF?
KS: Yes, chemistry is in the centre of goods production – food, clothes, furniture, automobiles, and so on. Take Unilever, for example, it provides almost all household detergents and other products. It is chemists involved in productions of such goods. We are also involved in petroleum, whether conversion of coal to oil to petrol, you can name it. All drugs in the market are developed by chemists. We have schools developing these skills yet there is no political will to develop industries where people with these essential skills can significantly contribute to the economy through goods production. Even in defence, speak of chemical weapons. In water purification, forensics, almost everything. If you check the so-called first world countries, you will find that the ministers of science and technology are scientists and hence understand what they are doing. Unlike in our case.
PM: What is the role of an EFF member in the broader scheme of things?
KS: Beyond affiliating through a form and belonging to the branch, one should commit to the struggle for economic freedom in our lifetime and to build an ideal society we want our children to inherit, which guarantees equal access to quality education, quality health care and sanitation. One’s conducts in the pursuit for these ideals is guided by the EFF’s code of conduct.
PM: People like political analyst Prince Mashele say that the EFF is a fascist political party, do you agree with this point of view?
KS: None of them ever provided valid reasons to back up their claims. I do not agree with his views. I believe he confuses nationalisation with fascism. Regarding this, our Chairperson Advocate Dali Mpofu gave him a proper lecture. I hope we all learned something.
PM: Tell us your role in founding or establishing the branch at UCKAR.
KS: I was involved in the recruitment for the first Branch Student Assembly at Rhodes University from the first membership form to the last one. For strategy purposes, I contested the SG position and was elected uncontested. It was a difficult process that most Fighters in the region had come to peace with the belief that Rhodes is not a space for the EFF. None of them bothered, I worked tirelessly with Zweli and Tenda whom were subsequently elected as chair and deputy chair, respectively. We had to be extremely diligent as we constantly faced threats from some organs of the institution whilst gaining student support. Within three months from the day of our first student command launch, there were oncoming SRC elections and Provincial Student Command Team (PSCT) elections and we were just a new kid on the block. We immediately launched a blow-the-whistle campaign which caught national coverage and was later adopted at other campuses. This campaign sought to address the scourge of violence directed, particularly, to women in and around campus. For the PSCT I volunteered to be a chief lobbyist for the deputy president position and we won the position. Immediately after the PSCT there was SRC elections where we got the SG position and four additional members which later reduced to two as one member officially dropped us for SASCO and the other distanced herself and the SG had to step down due to personal reasons. After the SRC elections, we launched and successfully ran a joint march with the Makhanda community entitled Grahamstown march against gender-based violence, all expenses taken care of by the office of the VC and the office of equity and institutional culture.
PM: Tell us your experience as the SG of the EFFSC at UCKAR.
KS: It takes passion to exercise this role else it can be very tiresome. To sustain the EFFSC in a space considered elite takes consciousness and principle. Otherwise, you cannot survive. I have served well and this year the student population rewarded us with two positions in the top 5 which are deputy chair and treasurer.
PM: How do you balance being a PhD student with being an SG of the EFFSC?
KS: As Fanon said, “each generation must, out of its relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it”. I want to fulfil the mission set by the generation of economic freedom in our lifetime. We need to stop the fate of Africans who are exiles on their own land, as political and economic refugees. This is a result of the entitlement to lead by the so-called liberation movements. For me, I view schooling as a necessity in the struggle for economic freedom and that a scholar who does not know the society he claims to serve is as dangerous as an uneducated leader. Schooling gives me skills essential for serving my country whilst political activism develops a cordial relationship between myself, as the agent of development, and the society I serve. Knowing the value of education first hand, we have on many occasions through the office of the SG successfully defended students who were expelled on financial grounds – a service we would not have rendered if we were not conscious. I believe that to realise our full potential as a society we need to start shifting from populist politics and focus on capacity and efficiency. Scholars too must stop creating imaginary walls that keep them away from the reality they enjoy its academic debates.
PM: Your CiC recently said that the EFF is flourishing in universities, how do you guys at the UCKAR ensure that you maintain the relevance in around campus?
KS: The president of the SRC is an independent candidate whilst the Deputy President and the treasurer general are EFF members in good standing. Thus, we have two out of five positions in the executive. In the additional members, we have two out of 10 members – a sports and societies councillor, and a media and communication councillor. In addition, it was through the EFFSC three delegates were delivered to ward committee members in the municipality. The only branch that so far has ward committee members in the entire Makhanda.
PM: The Eastern Cape is one of the provinces where the EFF is weak. How can this be changed?
KS: It is true that over the past years the EFF was struggling in this province. However, the dynamics have changed and we are gathering momentum. In fact, some surveys have suggested that it is likely to grow the most in the Eastern Cape. The challenge remains in higher education institutions probably because of the strategy employed. We need to review our approach. If Rhodes University can have crucial positions in the top 5 so should Nelson Mandela University, Walter Sisulu University and the University of Fort Hare, but so far Rhodes is the only branch with executive positions. This is one of the things I will prioritise, as per the mandate of my branch, in addition to NSFAS funding, entrepreneurship development and some cases of forced removal happening in farms. One more thing we should take into consideration is the capacity of the individual we nominate as that is an indication of potential success. Politics has become more complex – it is both paper and grassroots-based. One has to be able to mobilise and influence people on one hand, and possess the literary aptitude to can influence policies and where necessary analyse documents for the rest.
PM: What are these three provinces doing differently from the likes of the Eastern Cape?
KS: We are all guided by one document. The reality is that Eastern Cape has a deep-rooted history with ANC and to a greater length than all other areas, PAC. Many times, I have come across people who are directly or indirectly related with the previous leaders and feel that they should remain loyal to the organisation for heritage purposes. This is not limited to the EC. We had to break through that mindset and it takes a while. So far, we have managed to appeal to the people and more and more are joining the EFF.
Phumlani Majavu is a post-graduate student at the University of South Africa.
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