The challenges of rising higher education costs, student financial aid cuts, fee debt and institutional transformation loom large for the new University of Cape Town (UCT) Students’ Representative Council (SRC). But president, Hlengiwe Gugulethu Lisa Dube, said the 2022/2023 SRC team is united in its task and ready to serve.
“Overall, I feel challenged, but I am also ready to serve UCT selflessly,” said Dube. “By doing so, I give back to my campus community, and ultimately to South Africa.” She spoke to UCT News.
Helen Swingler (HS): Please tell me about yourself. What were your ambitions growing up?
Hlengiwe Gugulethu Lisa Dube (HGLD): I was born in Johannesburg, grew up in two provinces and went to about four schools. My dreams and ambitions growing up were rather different to individuals of my age group. Sure, I always wanted to study law and specialise in criminology, but there was always much more I wanted – and still do want – for myself in terms of self-understanding and awareness. I want to grow and become a better person; spiritually aware of myself and my surroundings. And with a greater understanding of my purpose on Earth at this specific time.
HS: What are you studying and why did you choose UCT?
HGLD: To be honest, it was always part of my path, designed by God. I am studying law (LLB) having just completed my Bachelor of Social Science degree, majoring in social development.
“The diversity has also afforded me the opportunity to learn about and view issues from many angles.”
HS: How do you feel about being chosen to lead the SRC, given UCT’s very diverse student community with their different needs and expectations.
HGLD: Being granted such a great opportunity makes me feel purposeful and honoured. The diversity of UCT’s student community reflects the diversity of South Africa as a whole and is a real representation of our rainbow nation. I am confident that I will be able to follow in the footsteps of other great leaders in carrying this baton. I have often seen women leaders from similar backgrounds to mine rise to the challenge and excel in their leadership roles. The diversity has also afforded me the opportunity to learn about and view issues from many angles I wasn’t previously exposed to. It is also a chance to contribute my own perspective to leadership, which, though different from former SRC presidents, I believe is necessary for true change and development right now. My background and experiences have made me aware of student needs such as food security, study materials and other additional support – gaps the SRC team has identified. Overall, I feel challenged, but I am also ready to serve UCT selflessly. By doing so, I give back to my campus community, and ultimately to South Africa.
HS: Describe your leaderships style in five words.
HGLD: Stewardship, conceptual, understanding, assertive, considerate.
HS: Have you had other leadership opportunities? What strikes you most about the responsibilities of a young leader?
HGLD: As early has my first year I was afforded the opportunity to be a class representative for two courses. I became a head residence mentor twice and was the deputy chairperson of the Residence Mentor Council. Apart from the volunteer leadership positions, I was granted a student leadership role within Student Housing & Residence Life and I am an orientation leader. One very important responsibility of leadership is to serve, and by this I mean to be profoundly part of someone’s life; to not only touch it but be a part of changing it is a beautiful thing. Learning, living and teaching are very profound concepts linked to leading. But one cannot only teach; leaders need to learn and live by what they teach and this is what makes student leadership much bigger than one can imagine.
HS: What does the SRC’s slogan/mission statement for the 2022/2023 term encompass?
HGLD: It encompasses themes of justice, resilience and intentionality; a common objective that centralises students, placing them in the centre by advocating for them and representing them through advocation and representation.
HS: Do you have a role model/s for leadership?
HGLD: I do. Jesus. Such a purposeful leader, and I use the word leader here loosely because it’s relevant to the context. Jesus was a server and that is what makes Him my role model. It’s about how He served and why.
“The priority is a well-functioning SRC and co-creating an environment with the team that is supportive and intentional.”
HS: What are your priorities as SRC president and what is the SRC’s ‘wish list’ for the term ahead?
HGLD: The priority is a well-functioning SRC and co-creating an environment with the team that is supportive and intentional so that our work expresses that. It’s ensuring that we serve. Policy change is another one. Former SRCs have dealt with this [aspect] and our team will build on the hard work of former SRCs in this regard and continue to fight the pre-existing challenges preventing institutional change. Other priorities include fees, transformational change and fundraising.
HS: What do you see as the main challenges facing UCT and higher education, given shrinking government budgets, National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) cuts, and growing youth unemployment?
HGLD: The main challenge with NSFAS is that in 2022 it had a reported R10 billion deficit, and it does not seem like there might be a plan to fund that because they have further capped budgets allocated to residence/housing and food allowances. The year before that, the shortfall was funded by cutting subsidies and that cannot happen again.
“Despite the many years of Fees must Fall protests and lobbying, there is still no evident plan for the missing middle.”
Unpaid student debt is truly a vicious cycle. Students cannot afford to pay historical debt even once they leave university because of high unemployment and the rising cost of living. And universities cannot afford to write off debt. Additionally, to my knowledge, there is no national policy managing this. Furthermore, I believe that despite the many years of Fees must Fall protests and lobbying, there is still no evident plan for the missing middle.
HS: What was the voting participation like this year?
HGLD: It was low. We achieved 0.9% over the 25% requirement. It was a close one. However, we hope and believe that the SRC’s work this year will not only encourage students to be a part of voting processes within our student governance structure but to become part of it and its role in institutional change.
HS: The SRC has three EFF candidates, 10 independent candidates and two ActionSA candidates, the first time this party has contested a UCT SRC election. Will party politics interfere with the SRC’s job: to serve all students regardless of their political affiliations?
HGLD: In theory, there is nothing wrong with having organisations that are politically affiliated run for SRC. The problem is once individuals are elected. Their service, dedication and loyalty should be to all students and not just to their party or the people who voted for them and/or their own interests. We see the same issue in [national] Parliament. MPs [Members of Parliament] take an oath to serve the people and the Constitution, but always vote according to party lines and struggle to work together for the betterment of the country. Party affiliation is not in and of itself the problem, the lack of servant leadership is. Power belongs to the people, not to political parties, and we need to correct that culture. However, with the knowledge that there is multi-party coalition within our SRC, each member has a specific portfolio and will ensure the best service to UCT’s students.
HS: As the president, how will you build a cohesive SRC?
HGLD: Differences are inevitable, and they are bound to arise. There is no strict formula to avoid this. To build cohesiveness as a leader, one needs direction and an understanding of common objectives, and those have been established within our SRC. We know what we need to do for the students. Putting students at the centre of our work, or student centralisation, is our objective and I will ensure, with my team, that this is accomplished.
HS: Are there any other observations or comments you would like to add?
HGLD: Thank you for this opportunity. We are hopeful and excited for the year ahead. Our plans will be communicated via our website and UCT and social media platforms. May the students of UCT stand together – and never forget to look up.
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