Memorial lecture in honour of student leader who was not afraid of authority, Sandra Baloyi


By Theodorah Mawasha

The Congress of South African Students (COSAS), held a memorial lecture at Ga-Motupa village, Mohlatlego Machaba Secondary school to honor the memory of a fallen Sandra Baloyi.

Sandra was elected the first female president of the student organization (COSAS) from 2014 until August 2015 and died after a short illness

The organization saw it fitting to host the follow-up event at Ga-Motupa village where Sandra Baloyi hails from. Ga- Moleketla is a small village in Bolobedu where Sandra was born and bred. She was a 20-year-old young woman who was mature beyond her age. She was passionate about women’s rights and politics. Her short life was dedicated and a testament to this.

Sandra Baloyi, who died in Polokwane at the age of 20, was an extraordinarily talented, feisty, and uncompromising political leader.

At 19 she was elected president of the Congress of South African Students, the first woman president in its almost 40-year history. From the conservative, strongly patriarchal, largely rural province of Limpopo, she stepped into shoes once occupied by Julius Malema.

Her election was criticised by senior leaders who felt she was too young, too inexperienced and, of course, the wrong sex. Cosas had never had a woman president before, they muttered. She’d be too weak.

“They said I was just a girl from the rural areas who knew nothing about politics,” she said. It didn’t take her long to prove them wrong. She attacked corrupt politicians to their faces, shut down schools when she felt the security of pupils was being compromised, and told pupils to retaliate against teachers who brutalised them.

When the education department and the powerful South African Democratic Teachers’ Union tried to read her the riot act she responded in equal measure. Cosas had been engaging with them for a long time about corporal punishment by teachers which put pupils in hospital. She told them:

“Nothing has been done.”Instead of backing down, she repeated her call to pupils to “return fire with fire” and lay complaints with the police if they were assaulted by their teachers.

Then she led 2,000 pupils on a march through Pretoria to the Department of Basic Education in support of a demand for better sanitation at schools and for each pupil to have a tablet.

At a memorial service for Limpopo education MEC Thembi Nwedamutswu, she blasted corrupt government leaders, many of them sitting in front of her, who had looted public resources. She extolled Nwedamutswu, who was “unlike others who think that when they are in government positions they are there for themselves and their families”.She warned, “those who think that being in government positions is a ticket for them to loot public funds” that the student movement was “watching them”.

She told the premier to replace Nwedamutswu with someone ethical, unlike another former education MEC she could name but did not. Everyone knew who the man was: he was looking balefully at her during the service.

“We want a leader who will understand that we are not in Takalani Sesame,” she said, referring to a TV puppet show for children. When five schools in Malamulele in Limpopo were torched by members of the community during protests the previous year, she called for the closure of schools around the country until the government woke up and intervened.

She sharply criticised the police for watching while one school after another was set alight.” The police are always very quick to take bribes, but fail to protect the rights and the most primary asset of their children,” she said. She criticised the security cluster of ministers, which was “quick to defend Nkandla but moves slower than a snail to defend schools, which we believe are more essential than the security of President Jacob Zuma”.

While identifying with the anger of the community, she condemned “in strong terms the disruption of the culture of teaching and learning by our parents in Malamulele”.

Baloyi was born in the village of Moleketla outside Tzaneen on November 22, 1995. She began her political career at 13 while at Moleketla Primary, influenced by her elder brother, who was a Cosas activist. From that age, politics was her life. She was regarded as “a problematic child” because she chose to participate in Cosas programmes rather than go to school.

At the age of 15, she became the first female regional secretary of Cosas in the country, as well as the youngest.

She matriculated at Mohlatlego Machaba Secondary, where she campaigned for an end to corporal punishment and greater security for pupils. It was a violent neighborhood and pupils were frequently threatened, if not assaulted, by criminals who freely entered the school premises. When this happened she would immediately announce a shutdown of the school, send pupils home and negotiate with the school management to have security beefed up.

While still at school she became Limpopo provincial chairwoman of Cosas. In December 2014 she was elected national president. Her confrontational leadership style was not aimed exclusively at government bodies and teachers.

Cosas branches around the country began accusing her of arrogance and of ignoring them.

In August  300 delegates at a special national general council of Cosas passed a motion of no confidence in her. She said that it was unconstitutional and appealed, but the motion was upheld by all nine provincial executive councils and the national executive. She was fired.

Baloyi, who was studying human resource management at Boston College in Polokwane, had been ill for a while before dying in her sleep. She is survived by her brother and two sisters.1995-2016

Former president of COSAS Mr. Collen Malatji  was the keynote speaker at the event and sanitary towel were donated to the learners.

COSAS convened the provincial executive committee (PEC) lekgotla from the 23-25 October in Polokwane, Hayani lodge. The main focus of the lekgotla was to reflect on developments that affect the lives of learners and educators in the province. Furthermore, issues of gender based struggles, organizational renewals, school safety, drugs, and substance abuse were deliberated upon.

Dignitaries from the government, YCLSA, ANC, MDM, and former COSAS leaders joined the PEC lekgotla. They also put emphasis on the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on learners and they are pushing forward the pass one pass all mechanism because of this reason.

Additional reporting Sunday Times

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