“Opening the doors of learning and culture”

Opening the Institute of Social and Economic Research’s (ISER) Summer School on the very day of Steve Biko’s assassination 34 years ago, Dr Saleem Badat, Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor, drew attention to the old divides of “race, class, gender and geography” and the “hunger and disease, poverty and unemployment  that continue to blight our democracy”. 

Pointing to the legacy of Biko and the early Black Consciousness (BC) movement, Dr Badat argued that “the right way is to tackle our challenges boldly and fearlessly, and with the aplomb, energy and uncompromising intellectual, cultural and organisational endeavor of the BC generation.”

The Summer School is an annual event hosted by the Rhodes based ISER and funded by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation which provides leaders and representative of NGO’s, political parties and government  with an opportunity to engage the research  of  leading academics in the country on key political and social policy issues.

The  three and half days of the Summer School were consumed by provocative, often controversial presentations on a range of issues related to political and social transformation at local level by Rhodes and visiting academics from across the country.

The presentations were followed by intense discussions and debate by the 45 summer school participants who are active in government, political and trade-union movements.   The issues covered included the scale of the social policy and poverty challenge, presented by Mr Wiseman Magasela, Deputy-Director General of Social Policy of the Department of Social Development. 

Prof’s Jeff Peires and Paul Maylam provided illuminating historical accounts of underdevelopment in Eastern Cape and the evolution of Black political resistance between 1912 and 1970. Prof Greg Ruiters of the University of the Western Cape and ISER senior research associate drew attention in his provocative talk on local government transformation.

In the discussion the participants raised concerns on how to develop mechanisms of accountability for local government representatives and to meet expectations for delivery in the context of limited human resources in the ex-Bantustan areas of the country.  

In a stimulating presentation reflecting on water boards and access to water Adv. Tshidi Hashatse, Director of Equity at Rhodes, provided an insightful recount of her experiences of transformation on the Rand Water Board. 

Another stimulating discussion was offered by Dr Ndangwa Noyoo on the Zambian experience of nationalisation.  He argued that many positive things came out of Zambia’s nationalisation process such as universal and near free education and quality health care.  Dr Noyoo warned however that the Zambian experience of nationalisation also had negative aspects such as patronage and state repression. 

A high light of the school was a presentation by Prof Chris Malikane of Wits University and chief economist of COSATU who discussed Cosatu’s Growth Path and economic transformation.  He argued that unlike the New Growth Path of the government, COSATU’s strategy unambiguously pursued a strategy of redistribution of income, wealth, economic power and resources and aimed at creating not only productive but also decent work for all South Africans.

Prof Malikane further stated that the goals and principles of COSATU’s labour market policies is the achievement of full employment, redress, workplace democracy, overcoming the apartheid wage gap and the obscene wage differentials between executives where the top 20 paid directors in JSE earn 1728 times more than average workers and where on average, whites earn seven times more than Africans.

In answer to a question on the concentration of economic power and the rise of a black middle class Prof Malikane argued that this was a significant factor in South African political life as there was a significant rise in black wealth in the democratic era - but this should be contextualised with the fact that blacks still only own a miniscule 1.7 percent of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

Mr Roger Adams, Deputy-Dean of students and governance and Yeukai Mukorombindo and Zuki Kota of the PSAM rounded off the summer school by doing presentations on sport and development and accountability respectively.  

Prof Robbie Van Niekerk, Director of the ISER, concluded with a presentation on the ANC and social democracy.   He provocatively argued that the substance of ANC policy, in its consistent call since the 1940’s in the era of Dr AB Xuma president-general of the ANC who was the architect of the policy document African Claims, through the era of the Freedom Charter of 1955 and the RDP “base-document” of 1994 that there was an identifiable social democratic underpinning in the ANC in its call for a state supported universal system of health, education and welfare as an entitlement of social citizenship.

Prof Van Niekerk further argued that the debates between Lenin and Bernstein, the latter unfairly dismissed as a revisionist, required revisiting on a social democratic, parliamentary path to socialism - as what was absent was a debate in the Alliance on the role of the state and the long term strategy of transformation. 

He said ISER would build on the foundation of the summer school to have a strategic and critically supportive engagement with the democratic state, NGO’s and political parties and saw the summer school as a small but significant step in “opening the doors of learning and culture” to those who ordinarily would not have access to institutions of higher learning but who were eager to engage critically on issues of social policy, inequality and poverty.

Copies of the presentations can be accessed on the ISER website



Please help us to raise funds so that we can give all our students a chance to access online teaching and learning. Covid-19 has disrupted our students' education.  Don't let the digital divide put their future at risk. Visit www.ru.ac.za/rucoronavirusgateway to donate