Before the 2018/2019 Student Representative Council nominations close on September 20, here’s some advice from a person who has experienced the office first hand.

IT’S THAT time of the year again when students who are aspiring to a life in politics look to offer themselves up for the highest executive office a student can hold in the university: a position on the Student Representative Council (SRC).

The office is attractive for a wide range of students: from those who want to make a difference in their community, to those who have realised that many of our most prominent political voices from Steve Biko to Dr Mbuyiseni Ndlozi cut their teeth on student politics.

Three years ago, I was one of those aspiring hopefuls. In the second year of my undergraduate degree at Rhodes University, I was swept up in the political climate of the time and believed I could and should play a direct role in fostering decolonisation at the university. I offered myself up and to my amazement, I was elected into the office of Activism and Transformation Counsellor.

I made the transition from private figure to public representative, which came with an enormous amount of responsibility and a certain amount of power. What I had not anticipated was that my year on the SRC would, without any doubt, be the most difficult year of my life yet. My life was no longer fully my own. I functioned on little sleep and a high volume of criticism directed on both a personal and professional level.

So for those considering making that transition this election season, here is what I learned.

Firstly, being in the SRC means becoming hyper visible. There is no divide between you as an individual and you as an SRC member. This shows up in small ways, such as having people you’ve never seen before call you by name. It also shows up in bigger ways. Your social media activity is under greater scrutiny. What was once a cheeky post made in jest can snowball into a full-blown scandal.

I remember once sprinting across campus at 8pm to deal with a personal emergency only to be confronted by a group of students who had been left stranded by the university transport. In that moment I was forced to put aside my personal life for my SRC duties. This will happen constantly throughout your term on the SRC and at the most inconvenient moments.

Theoretically, your academics come first. Practically, your academics take a backseat as meetings, SRC duties, student emergencies, and petty politics compete for top priority. It is common for SRC members to slip academically or even fail. During my year in the SRC, in one block for one of my courses I attended only three lectures, and in another course I slid back by nearly 10% because the demanding and disruptive nature of the office made me prioritise my duties over my academics.

The SRC takes a toll on your physical and mental wellbeing. You are more accessible to students than top management, and as a result the bulk of student anger towards management will fall on you, even, and especially, when there’s little you can do to address the issue. On top of this, there will be internal SRC politics which can be a combination of partisan differences and personal vendettas.

There are many who don’t survive a full SRC term. However, those who do, come out with more than an impressive CV reference. I came away with a bulletproof skin, a deeper understanding of people, political processes, and of myself.

The SRC is an environment where one can forge invaluable, lifelong relationships, and learn how to bring one’s idealistic views down from the air and ground them in a practical reality. It reveals who your real friends are and what the word ‘loyalty’ truly means.

A term in the SRC is not for the faint-hearted. For those of you offering yourselves up this election season, you’re in for an unforgettable roller-coaster ride of an experience. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

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