Asanda Lobelo, the new president of the University of Cape Townʼs (UCT) Studentsʼ Representative Council (SRC), brings a quiet confidence and an inner resolve to her role. The third-year BCom student took the helm of the SRC after a shake-up by the Economic Freedom Fighters Students Command (EFFSC) in October.
In a break from the past, the EFFSC secured a 51% victory in the UCT SRC 2018/19 elections, with all eight candidates winning seats on the council. Lobelo, who is the chairperson of the EFFSC, topped the list for the highest number of votes.
The South African Students Congress (SASCO) secured two seats, with the Democratic Alliance Studentsʼ Organisation (DASO) taking three seats, and independent candidates making up the other two.
The SRC is the highest decision-making structure of student governance and is elected annually by the students.
The EFFSC win follows a shaky year for the SRC, during which in-fighting resulted in a split in the council, which had previously been led by DASO. The past few years have been difficult for student governance, but Lobelo said her team is embracing the diversity.
She is determined to build a united group through an inclusive style of leadership. The SRC members have already started working together to shape what they would like to achieve over the next year.
“We want to open up forums of debate and engagement, but also to work towards making practical changes at UCT,” said Lobelo.
“My focus is on making the team functional and relaxed. We want to move forward in the right frame of mind.
“So far it has been going really well and it’s been a good exchange of ideas from across council members. We want to use our differences to make a difference.”
Goals for the year ahead
The thread of transformation and decolonisation will run through much of what the committee intends to do in 2019, and will underlie many of their goals, she added.
A recurring theme is curriculum change. The rollout has been “a bit slow” at the university, according to Lobelo, and they plan to encourage some departments to pick up the pace and make some changes. Going beyond the rhetoric will be important.
“We want to have conversations, but we want to do more than that. We plan to have influence in the structures and policy at UCT.”
After a fragile past year for the university and its students, Lobelo said mental health issues will remain pivotal.
“We’d like to have some influence on how issues of mental health are handled on campus.”
Campaigning on gender-based violence is close to her heart and will be a central issue in the SRC’s work. She has been at the forefront of the student movement during demonstrations against gender-based violence and is a firm anti-rape activist.
“We want to spread awareness of respecting people’s rights and autonomy over their own bodies. These conversations aren’t being had at the university.”
She would also like to bring this issue into the discussions she is hoping to have with her counterparts from other universities.
“I’d like to link up with student leaders from universities in the country and have conversations around things that matter.”
“We want to spread awareness of respecting people’s rights and autonomy over their own bodies.”
Lobelo feels strongly about building more respect for the workers and staff at UCT, particularly people who work in residences, such as cleaning and catering staff.
“They need to be recognised as stakeholders in the community. We plan to bring them into discussions and open up spaces so that they feel included, without feeling like they are compromising their jobs. We all need spaces to vent.”
The SRC recently held a workshop in which they developed a five-pillar programme focusing on student empowerment, worker empowerment, academic success, organic diversity and an Afrocentric environment.
“I think the year ahead will be an opportunity to redefine the role of student governance,” said Lobelo, who believes the SRC was not in tune with the needs of students during the time of the Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall protests.
“When they feel the SRC is not serving their needs, people organise themselves. We donʼt think students should need to resort to an #RMF [protest] if we are here to listen. We are prepared to go through bureaucracy and committees to try to push their mandate, and where we fail, then to organise outside of these structures.”
Another key goal is to “centre the African child” and emphasise internationalisation in the context of the African continent.
“We want to bring meaning into what is to be African.”
“We plan to engage with issues of the continent beyond South Africa. We want to bring meaning into what is to be African,” explained Lobelo. Two of the SRC council members are from Kenya, bringing fresh ideas and a broader African perspective to the team.
Juggling her studies and SRC duties is no easy task, but Lobelo said she has drawn strength and inspiration from her mother, who she credits for being the greatest influence in her life.
“She is a very strong and driven woman. She inspires me in the way she tackles challenges and treats people fairly.”
The ability to adapt to change has also helped her in her new role. Growing up, Lobelo had to adjust to different schools and situations as the family moved between various places, including Johannesburg, Mafikeng, Mossel Bay and the Netherlands.
She has always had a natural inclination towards being a leader. She was head girl at the Knysna Montessori School and has moved into various leadership roles throughout her time at UCT. Among other positions, she was the treasurer for the Clarinus Village House Committee in 2016, the academic chair on the Commerce Studentsʼ Council, and the academic representative of the Forest Hill House Committee in 2018.
Lobelo hopes to use her SRC position to give students a platform.
“We need to give students a voice. I also think the university needs to realise that they don’t have all the answers. Sometimes they just need to listen to the genuine calls of students. That would help us in working together for a stronger and better UCT.”
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