07 August 2019 | Story Thabo Kessah and Selloane Mile | Photo Thabo Kessah
Dr Tshepo Moloi Gille de Vlieg Prof Monique Marks Zama Khanyesa read more
Dr Tshepo Moloi (far left) with some of the panellists during the Cosas Colloquium: Gille de Vlieg, Prof Monique Marks, and Zama Khanyesa (Cosas President, 2015-2017).

They came from near and far; the attendees were both from the founding and the contemporary generation – up to the current President, John Macheke. This was reflected in the guest and speaker lists of the colloquium, which was hosted by the Qwaqwa Campus Faculty of the Humanities and the TK Mopeli Library to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Congress of South African Students (Cosas).

Acknowledging Cosas pioneers

“The two-day colloquium was aimed at enabling all Cosas generations to engage meaningfully, while highlighting the role of its leaders in the struggle for a democratic system of education and country,” said the organiser, Dr Tshepo Moloi from the Department of History.

“We must appreciate the founders of Cosas, as they have not been adequately acknowledged in the democratic dispensation. The organisation fought many battles – one of which was to enable many of us to finally register at institutions of higher learning when it was not as fashionable as it is now,” said Patrick Letsatsi from the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture (DSAC). 

Letsatsi also expressed the DSAC’s mission of facilitating such dialogues on matters of national interest. “Talking enables us to see that burning a library when we need a road is not the right way of dealing with matters,” he said.

Limited research on Cosas

On the academic research front, it is clear that minimal work has been done to reflect on the role played by Cosas over the years. “There is limited scholarly research on Cosas,” said Prof Noor Nieftagodien, the Head of the History Workshop at the University of the Witwatersrand.

“Despite this, we know for a fact that the founding members of Cosas found themselves under serious threat from the state. They were detained almost immediately after its formation in 1979, yet the organisation continued to produce leaders who not only played a pivotal role in the underground movement and formation of youth congresses and trade unions, but also in the shaping of our democratic state,” he argued.

The colloquium also featured Prof Monique Marks, who spoke at length about Cosas in the 1980s and the 1990s. There was also a presentation and photo exhibition by veteran anti-apartheid activist and former member of the Black Sash, Gille de Vlieg, whose photographs back then were inspired by the energy of the students. Other panellists were, among others, founding members Oupa Masuku, Vusi Gqoba, Super Moloi, Titi Mthenjane, and former Free State MEC, Oupa Khoabane.  

The colloquium was hosted in partnership with the national Department of Sports, Arts and Culture and the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS).

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