Thando Mgqolozana

EXTRACT: Unimportance by Thando Mgqolozana

An extract from Thando Mgqolozana's new novel

If one faculty managed to argue successfully against the readmission of an SRC member, this would mean that the said comrade wouldn’t be allowed to register as a student, and thus had no business leading, or being at university at all. We would have to announce this shameful news to the student populace. Who wants a stupid leader? Who would ever believe anything saidby an organisation that had deployed a leader of such questionable intellect? This wouldn’t be well received by the mother body. The Azanians would milk the story, and it would be a dark cloud hanging over the organisation’s proverbial head for years to come. A precedent would have been set, one that would surely lead to the amendment of the SRC constitution to add the deathly clause of academic merit. Many of our current comrades would be excluded from even considering leadership.

When meeting one on one with the Deans, I argued that there was much more to leadership than just academic excellence. Being an A-grade student doesn’t automatically make one the fittest to govern. The scenario in the country’s parliament made my case strong. Indeed, the scenario of any parliament or boardroom anywhere in the world strengthened the logic of my argument – in our era, no country is being presided over by a professor. It is average former students all round. The academics who are selling the idea of academic merit as a leadership quality to students are hypocrites too, for the same reason: the Vice-Chancellor, Deans and Heads of Departments in the academy aren’t the best scholars, and they lead these very same clever academics who want to impose the suspect idea on us. The best lawyers, accountants, doctors, nutritionists out there aren’t necessarily those who made it to the Dean’s Merit List every year. The single most influential politician in the country, Steve Biko, the founder of our organisation, whose ideological proclivity will outlive any hegemonic regimen, never graduated from any university. After all, the university is a microcosm of society. It wasn’t that the argument wasn’t tight enough to be tested by the full committee; it was that this would be a subject of discussion at all. Controversial discussions always get out to the masses, even if they are conducted behind closed doors. Student politics, on the other hand, is all about perceptions. If the perception was created that the SRC was failing, a stain would be painted on us. What stays in the minds of the masses is not whether or not you failed; it is that you were associated with failure, that it was a debate at all – and that was the reality I was avoiding. Sometimes I took on not only SRC cases, but some for which I had no good argument, and depended on the mercy of the Dean. That’s how I managed to smuggle back into university a number of shamed students. Some of them have graduated and are functioning expertly in their professions without being questioned. The university proudly refers to them as alumni, and doesn’t refuse their hefty donations.

Unimportance by Thando Mgqolozana Extracted from Unimportance, published by Jacana and available from



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