In 1997, the young African National Congress (ANC) government – which had been in the Transitional Executive government in 1993, then swept the 1994 general elections, and the 1995 local government elections – continued its implementation of neo-liberal measures. These had surprised many people, because the ANC was elected on a largely Keynesian social democratic platform (exemplified by the Reconstruction and Development Programme, or RDP).
The issues around why the ANC made the shift do not matter here. What concerns this entry is that a) this entailed cuts in spending to all universities; b) hardline ANC supporters presented this as an attack on “elitism” (especially since it affected the top, historically white, research universities); butc) in reality, it meant higher fees for working class students, including the majority of blacks, job cuts to (and outsourcing of) service staff (again, largely black and poor), and worsening conditions all round (including for academics).
Senior leaders of the ANC-aligned SA Students Congress (SASCO) found themselves championing the neo-liberal measures.
By contrast, rebels within SASCO, and other left forces, opposed the cuts. The leaflet below was issued at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), where the independent (and quite Marxist) “Wits Against Cuts” group was active. The anarchist Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF), then active on that campus (it was soon to shift its focus off-campus), issued the below statement in early March 1997 and supported the Wits protests in various ways.