26 September 2017

South Africa: Pathways to Free Education

Taking the university beyond the ivory tower

Two years after the student-worker uprising a new collective, Pathways to Education, invites the youth to engage with the idea of free education through workshops and pamphleteering.

The work of Pathways to Education is broad and the scope, impressive. Since the launch in July 2016, the collective has participated in a commemorative conference of Neville Alexander through the participation of Thabang Bhili, collective member Simon Rakei was flown to Uganda to partake in the Annual Writivism festival in Kampala and hosted a winter school where sessions ranged from a discussion on art and protest to a jam session at Bonteheuwel Freedom Square. We caught up with scholar and activist, Brian Kamanzi, to talk about the popular education collective, from putting together pamphlets to creating green spaces, and how these tangible changes link to the goal of free education.

Since the birth of the Fees Must Fall movement, there have been many actors who have come together to work towards the realisation of free education. From taking to the streets to number crunching, academics, workers, social activists and economists have contributed to the debate in all spheres of society. But one project in particular has taken seriously the notion of taking the knowledge from the ivory towers to the people, creating a continent-wide network of academics and youth to think through the pathway to free education.

Brian Kamanzi, academic and activist, has participated in the popular education collective, Pathways to Education and says that the origin of the idea is 'impossible to trace' but certainly emerged from the 2015 Fees Must Fall movement as well as a conversation with anti-apartheid activist and committed journalist Zubeida Jaffer.

"After a conversation with [Zubeida] where she reflected on the role of publishing and "writing where you are" in the struggle, the idea of a more targeted effort to engage in the processes of pamphleteering to tease out, open discussion and debate around issues facing the movement at a time began to flower across many independent contexts across the country," says Kamanzi.

He says one of the critiques of the student movement has been the emphasis on the university space, while community spaces have largely been left out of the debate.

"It was important in our case to make the effort to organise and work alongside activists working in community spaces which tended to be far from the confines of the intended ivory towers of the likes of the University of Cape Town," he says.

In 2016 the collective started using pamphlet as a way to engage 'a wider net of people than were present in our own campus contexts'. The collective began printing and distributing pamphlets and flyers on UCT campus and surrounding areas like Mowbray, engaging with students and the public on "Free for All" vs "Free for the Poor" education. During this time they handed out Volume i: Pathways to Free Education, a 26 page booklet of poetry, essays and articles on free education from academics, workers and high school learners and held a workshop.

"The first workshop received the most constructive criticism, the approach was too 'academic' and took too much for granted in the space for real, honest deep engagement to take root," he says. After the first workshop members stepped forward to create a more collaborative approach to the next sessions.

"In the sessions that followed song, debate and critical reflection on the discussion themes and the kinds of social change many of the participants envisaged formed the heartbeat of our programme that felt like it went from strength to strength," says Kamanzi.

Based in the feedback from the first volume, they produced Volume ii: Strategy & Tactics which included a range of information from 'How to run a meeting' right through to lessons from historic boycotts.

"With Volume ii we handed out these copies at shared events with other groups and organisations and participated in collective readings of the content," he says. The collective released the third volume last month titled, "Third World Education and Social Welfare programmes" which is a free book containing 8 chapters and cover artwork by local Cape Town artist, Leila Khan.

"We launched Volume 3 through our first political winter school in July-August, over 6 consecutive Saturdays, bringing together people from movements based in student, labour, art, community and civil society struggles to engage on broad ranging issues such as Energy, Food, Water and Art in relation to "education" as we understand it," says Kamanzi.

"At a practical level activities such as making food with produce from a local community garden facilitated by Ekasi Project green in Khayelitsha and a collective dance, poetry and jam session hosted by BLAC, Bonteheuwel Arts Legacy Collective, opened space for thinking about how educational spaces can be shaped differently through creating space for different types of participation but also by making an intentional effort to bring together people and activists across time and place in a context where we are discouraged and often accosted for working outside of the Apartheid enforced boundaries between our communities," says Kamanzi, reflecting on the work done so far.

The next volume is already in the pipeline. "On 1 October a call for submissions will also go out for our next publication Volume 4 which will look at the ideas, dreams and programmes coming out of our winter political school. This will also be made open to everyone, and editing, fundraising and writing help is at the top of that agenda. If all goes well this will open up space for a Summer political school using the content from Volume 4 as the base," says Kamanzi.

The collective takes seriously the engagement of civil society and this is the real beauty of the project, from written words there is tangible action. During October the collective will be working alongside organisers from the Housing Assembly to conduct surveys and a community speakout against the privatisation of water and electricity.

"What is proving to be most important is to continue to grow and support the learning community we have been working with and are accountable to as well as to honour the commitments we have made with collectives and organisations we have started to work with. We have already gotten to a stage where the collective is consistently publishing content and I would like to think there is plenty more to come on the horizon... There is still a long way to go but with time, a little good fortune and plenty of hard work and healthy mistake-making hopefully the Pathways collective will continue to grow into something that is positively contributing to our ongoing struggles," says Kamanzi.

Want to find out more: Follow Pathways to Education on Facebook.

After graduating from Rhodes in 2009, Leila produced and edited environmental documentaries. Subsequently she worked as a journalist for Carte Blanche, covering stories such as rhino poaching, public servants' strikes and government corruption. Somewhere between a strike and following the rhino she was awarded a fellowship from the University of Southern California (USC). She packed her bags and moved to the United States where she completed her MA in Specialized Journalism (The Arts). While at USC she reported on musicians and visual artists in Los Angeles and Cuba. She has written for publications including Africa is a Country, the Daily Maverick and is currently working as a journalist in Cape Town.

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