CALUSA was founded in a political climate where the best place for “troublesome” people was the grave. The murder of struggle activist Batandwa Ndondo made it clear that the Apartheid regime would do more than detain those who resisted the system.
When CALUSA was founded in 1983 by, Meluxolo Silinga, Bambo Qongqo, and Lungisile Ntsebeza, the intention was to find the best political system to replace Apartheid. Since then, CALUSA has always responded to context. When founding members, Meluxolo Silinga, Lungisile Ntsebeza and Michael Mgobozi were arrested in June 1976, they were in their early twenties. Other activists that were arrested at the time included Dumisa Ntsebeza and Matthew Goniwe. The activists studied and attained their degrees via UNISA in prison study groups. When they were released in 1981, they were banished to Cala.
Elderly Cala community members who were trying to get their professional degrees approached the group with their assignments, hoping that they would write their essays for them. The activists said no and introduced a version of the prison study groups instead. Their approach was this: “We won’t do it for you, but together we will make it work.”
So emerged the Cala University Students Association. The name was intentionally made to sound purely educational so that the Apartheid-era police wouldn’t pounce on the association. But CALUSA introduced Cala to new political material, providing a political education vital to the struggle, in addition to a literal one.
This involved distributing and engaging in political material, circulating newspapers and organising debates. The context shifted again when Kaiser Matanzima (the head of Transkei under the Bantu Authorities Act at the time) decreed that all expelled students weren’t allowed to go back to school. CALUSA then saw the need for a building a library. They further responded to the context with night programmes and literary programmes that expanded to cover almost the entire Xhalanga district.
At this time, young activists were being detained, harassed, tortured and killed. The security police asked people who associated themselves with CALUSA: “What are you doing with those communists”. With the 1987 coup in the Transkei, the context shifted once again. CALUSA introduced a training unit for community members to organise, mobilize and train. The political education continued in this unit with a focus on broad politics rather than party politics.
CALUSA was started by young people in the 80’s and now, it has come full circle. With the Youth Commune run by Siphiwo Liwani, the focus has returned to youth and education. The Youth Commune provides education geared towards production: The kind of education that is located within real everyday experience. This is education to benefit society rather than education in the abstract. It addresses themes of rural democratisation, land development, political awakening, sports and the arts. It is education for collectivity as opposed to individuality.
In this sense, the ideas that informed CALUSA over thirty years ago are still relevant today: The conviction that, together, we will make it work.
As the context continues to shift, CALUSA will continue to respond accordingly. But the common thread in the association’s approach has remained. It is to equip people with the intellectual resources to determine their destiny. It is to facilitate self-reliance and the confidence that comes with it.