This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
Congress of South African Students (COSAS)
Cosas was established in June 1979. It was preceded by the South African Students' Movement (SASM), which was banned in 1977. Like SASM, Cosas was initially inspired by black consciousness, but during the 198o school crisis made a shift towards Charterism. The organisation concentrates on what it terms "medium level" educational institutions such as secondary schools, and technical and training colleges.
The Congress of South African Students devotes itself to informing its members about the history and struggle of the "oppressed". Ephraim Mogale, the organisation's first president, played a leading role in this respect. (After being sentenced to Rob-ben Island he later became president of the Northern Transvaal Youth Congress.) Cosas also devotes itself to the principles of non-racism and democracy. Being a student organisation, it has endeavoured to intro-duce a "free, compulsory, dynamic" education system in a non-racial South Africa. It mobilized students over grievances in the schools and demanded that schools have democratic student representation.
The frustration caused by lack of facilities at schools, together with other issues, including poorly trained teachers and corporal punishment, led to Cosas orchestrating a country-wide school boycott. Cosas had not been in existence for a year before the entire corps of national leaders and many members were arrested. Mogale was accused of promoting the aims of the ANC and SACP, and was incarcerated on Robben Island. Numerous other protest and boy-
cott actions were launched by Cosas. An anti-Republic Day campaign, centring round the slogan "Forwards to a People's Republic", was organised in 1981. A national boycott of Wilson Rowntree and Fattis & Monis products was called in sympathy with the treatment of workers at these factories. Issues such as "education for liberation" and "students and workers in the struggle" were discussed under the banner of "student worker action" at the 1982 Cosas congress. While Cosas never neglected its wider political role, the accent was on broadening its student base. The theme for 1983 was "United Action for Democratic Education". In the same year Cosas was involved in the founding of the UDF, becoming one of that organisation's strongest affiliates. At the time Cosas was involved in a constant struggle with the Department of Education and Training. Cosas also helped to promote the notion of "people's education".
During 1984 and 1985 very few school days were devoted to school-work in urban black and coloured schools. The black education system in particular was completely disrupt-ed. Although the government prohibited school boycotts in March 1985, hundreds of schools throughout the country remained empty. Slogans like "Liberation before education" were the order of the day. Against this background it came as no surprise when Cosas was restricted a few weeks after the partial state of emergency was declared. Despite the restriction order, the organisation's more than 150 branches countrywide continued to exist.
After its restriction, Cosas continued to play an active role with the founding of the South African Youth Congress (Sayco) in 1987. During the resistance campaign, launched by extra-parliamentary groups under the auspices of the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) in August 1989, Cosas unbanned itself. On 2 February 1990 the restrictions on Cosas were lifted, along with the unbanning of 33 other organisations. In May 1990 the organisation was reinstated at Orlando Stadium, Soweto. On the same occasion Rapu Molekane, general secretary of Sayco, said that Cosas should support the process of negotiation in South Africa. According to Molekane, "people's education" can be brought about only by the transfer of political power to the people. He supported the ANC's re-quest for discipline during the struggle. At the same time the publicity secretary of Cosas, Mike Dube, gave an exposition of the organisation's re-building process. In October 1990 two of Cosas's management members joined the Provisional National Youth Committee, established to reactivate the ANC Youth League. It is expected that Cosas will find a home within the ANC Youth League.