Jabu Kumalo is an organiser without an organisation. The government banned his organisation in August this year. Jabu worked for Cosas – the Congress of South African Students.
Many people do not know much about Cosas. Some people think that Cosas told students to stay out of school. Some think that Cosas members were wild – and that Cosas made young people do bad things.
But to the students, Cosas was their organisation. Cosas helped them to come together and talk. Cosas helped students to fight for their rights. We asked Jabu to tell us more about Cosas.
Learn and Teach: Jabu, can you please tell us when you joined Cosas?
Jabu Kumalo: I knew nothing about Cosas until we had a problem at our school. One of our class mates was expelled. His parents did not have enough money for his school fees. We thought that this was very unfair.
So we walked out of class – and we stayed out. We told the principal that we wanted our classmate back. In the end we won. Our friend came back to school. And we learnt something. We needed an organisation to look after us.
We talked about starting an organisation. Then some students told us about Casas. “What is this Cosas?” We asked. So they took us to a Cosas meeting. We liked what we heard. Everyone in our class joined.
Learn and Teach: When did Cosas start?
Jabu: Cosas was started in 1979. Students met at Wilgespruit, just outside Johannesburg. Two years later there were branches in many schools all over the country. Some of the branches were big, others were small. And there were students who supported Cosas but weren’t members.
It was difficult organising for Cosas. School principals hated us. We could not have our meetings at schools. We had our meetings in our homes. We had many problems — but Cosas grew fast.
Learn and Teach: Why do you think so many students joined Cosas.
Jabu: In Cosas we spoke about problems students had at schooI. The big problem was Bantu education. But there are many smaller problems that make up the big problem. So we started with the smaller problems.
One of these problems was the aqe-limit law. The government said that people over 21 years must leave school. People in Cosas felt that this was unfair. Many people miss a year or more at school because of money problems at home.
Another problem was the way teachers treated the girls at some schools. These teachers wanted to sleep with the girls – and they did not take no for an answer. Or they taught badly because they were thinking about their girlfriends in the class.
In Cosas we all agreed on one thing – we needed a way to fight our problems. We wanted to have Students Representative Councils (S. R .C. ‘s) at our schools – so that the students could have a voice at school.
Learn and Teach: Did Cosas ever win any of these fights?
Jabu: The government did stop the age-limit law. And at some schools teachers were fired for worrying the girls. The government also offered us S. R C. ‘s – but we did not want the kind of S.R.C.’s that they planned.
Learn and Teach: Did Cosas only fight for better schooling?
Jabu: Cosas felt that our parents’ problems were also our problems. For example, if the rent goes up, it could hurt me. Maybe my parents will not have enough money for the higher rent and my school fees. Then I will have to leave school.
So Cosas did not only fight for a better education. We were fighting for a better life for everybody. We supported other people and other organisations in their struggles. For example, when the Simba Chips workers went on strike, our members did not buy from the company – and we told others to do the same.
Learn and Teach: Most of the people arrested under the state of emergency were Cosas members. Can you tell us why?
Jabu: The police think that if they arrest the students, the unrest will stop. They do not understand that when they arrest students, they just make things worse. They also think that they will frighten the students. The police want the students to drop their demands. But it doesn’t help to arrest students.
Learn and Teach: Many people think that Cosas started the fighting in the townships. What do you say to this?
Jabu: I do not agree with this. We had peaceful protests. Then the police came – and the army. They sjambokked the students, and shot at them.
Learn and Teach: People also say that some Cosas members were stoning their parents on the way to and from work. They also say that some members rob and beat up people in the name of Cosas. What do you say about this?
Jabu: The stoning of buses is a difficult question. Many people hate Putco because they say Putco helps apartheid. The police know this – but they only blamed Cosas for stoning buses. We in Cosas did not believe in stoning our parents in buses. As I have said, our parents’ struggle is our struggle!
We knew about people robbing others in the name of Cosas. We were against these people – and we still are.
Learn and Teach: Did Cosas try to stop students from giving Cosas a bad name?
Jabu: Yes, the National Council punished people. For example, some students collected money from people and shopkeepers. They said that the money was for Cosas. Then they took the money and used it for themselves. They were expelled from Cosas.
Even after Cosas was banned, thugs still go around in the name of Cosas. I am happy to say that some of these thugs were caught a few weeks ago. They were caught robbing and raping women in Soweto. Some old Cosas members and their friends in other organisations like the Soweto Youth Congress have decided to stop this nonsense. They have opened an office to hear complaints for people. Everybody has had enough of thugs robbing and raping in the name of the struggle.
Learn and Teach: Why do you think Cosas was banned?
Jabu: The government banned Cosas because they think that with no Cosas the students will go back to school. But it will not help. The students’ demands will stay the same.
They thought by banning Cosas there will be peace in the schools. But as long as there is Bantu Education, there will be problems.
I think there was also another reason. The Department of Education agreed to SRC’s – their kind of SRC’s. But they did not want any kind of SRC with Cosas around. I think they were scared of Cosas taking over the SRC’s.
Learn and Teach. Did Cosas have weaknesses?
Jabu: Like most organisations, Cosas did have some weaknesses. Cosas did not stop the fighting between the students and the people whol ive in hostels. We were not able to teach students to work together with migrant workers. This led to the big fight in Tsakane.
Another problem was that some members did not know what Cosas stood for. At one meeting, a young boy stood up and said, “Viva Savimbi!” This showed us that we need to talk more about the struggles in other countries.
Sometimes we were not properly in touch with some of our branches. Some students would start a branch. But they did not know how Cosas worked.
Learn and Teach: What do you think students should do in the future, now that Cosas is banned?
Jabu: Students must just carry on and organise themselves again. They must learn from their mistakes and go forward. There is no other way to go.