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Tebogo Thothela current Deputy President of the South African Union of Students (SAUS) addressing a crowd of students

Former SRC president, Tebogo Thothela, will next month be the only Witsie at a national conference where the South African Union of Students (SAUS) hopes to shake up policies on university residence and academics.

Thothela, 3rd year BComm Law, is the union’s deputy president and the only Witsie to have been elected as an executive member of the union’s National Executive Committee (NEC).  The NEC is one of five governance structures within SAUS.

“I’m second in command so, in the absence of the president, I take on some of his duties, but what rests in my office is policy formation. I’m the custodian of policy in the union…anything that’s got to do with policy relating to students.”

Thothela said he was excited about the policy conference scheduled for the mid-year break. During this conference, the committee would be working with the Department of Higher Education, and hoped to formulate and revise policies around university residence and academics.

Protecting the rights of students

The committee had also realised there was huge student victimisation within many university structures, he said. Many student leaders had been charged by their respective universities for protesting against the institutions.

“There is a national campaign that we are undertaking to protect the rights of the very existence of the SRCs. The union supports whole heartedly [the right to protest].”

[pullquote]“My highlight [so far] was meeting different student leaders from all across the country”[/pullquote] This year, Thothela said there would also be an “adopt a school” campaign, which meant all SRCs would be encouraged to adopt a school.  In August, the union would also start a gender-based anti-violence campaign, encouraging victims to speak out against abuse.

Aims and goals

Thothela said one of his biggest goals during this year would be to challenge some of the policies that made it difficult for student leaders to do their tasks.

“If we can make substantive and quality changes in higher education then I think, collectively [as a union] we would be happy.”

SAUS comprises all South African university SRCs and is considered one of the most representative student unions in the country. It is the umbrella body of more than 20 university SRCs with their head offices in UNISA, Pretoria.

The aims and objectives of SAUS are listed in their constitution as promoting, protecting and advancing the interests of all students. One of the core functions of the union is to liaise with other national and international students’ organisations, unions and government.

Highlight of his experience

On his first five months in his SAUS position, Thothela said: “My highlight [so far] was meeting different student leaders from all across the country from different political affiliations, all centred on increasing the student voice, so that we are heard by government.”