Pathways to a Free Education: Knowledge Production, Community, and Solidarity



Built in the continuity of the 2015 student and worker movement in South Africa, Pathways to a Free Education has been generating conversations around activism in South African universities, but also more broadly on the African continent. Asher Gamedze describes how Pathways acts both as a publication and a collective.

Toward the end of 2015, the South African student and worker movements became both increasingly fragmented by internal political differences, and demobilized by the repressive apparatuses of the state and capital. As a result, a lot of spaces for debating and strategizing around free education on campuses disappeared. Additionally, a lot of energy got diverted to responding to the tactics of repression: dealing with panic attacks, resting, bailing cadres out of jail, and getting wrapped up in seemingly endless university disciplinary procedures.

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Pathways pamphlet pinned to a University of Cape Town noticeboard.

The shutting down of autonomous Black educational spaces that were started by students at universities, and the mass-popular nature of the uprisings had led to a situation where the movement wasn’t engaged in the type of critical education work that had initially been its basis. Furthermore, despite some isolated attempts by Black students to  build relationships with progressive organizations beyond the academy, #feesmustfall and #outsourcingmustfall remained primarily centered on universities. As a response to this combination of circumstances, Pathways converged as a group of people who wanted to continue the work to which we had been participating on campus; collectively discussing and planning the non-partisan movement and struggles for free education. We wanted to create space to learn about, participate in, and contribute to the debates around free education, and through that, build relationships with people and collectives working in different sectors who were interested and committed to the project of free education. We had the position that education is something that implicates and affects everyone, and is connected to struggles around wages, disability, land, patriarchy, sexuality, housing, etc.

Pathways’ work has been based on a “community-building” approach to publishing. By this, I mean gathering people and getting perspectives on free education — the movement, histories, and debates — from people working and organizing in different fields and different places. This includes students from different institutions and levels, workers and organizers from trade unions, progressive academics, social movement activists and others. Our early efforts, which included late-night editing sessions at home and long meetings in deserted, after-hours University of Cape Town (UCT) buildings, came together as Volume i: Pathways to Free Education in July-August 2016.

Volume ii: Strategies and Tactics was then published in October 2016. The pieces in this volume range from the role of media in movements, guides to self-care for naked protest, reflections on hunger-strike, and occupation as methods, to cartoons on organizing community education sessions, as well as tips on chairing meetings.

Histories of experiments in educational and cultural projects from various parts of the world — with a particular bias toward the African continent and the Global South — have been part of a concerted attempt to broaden our political imaginations beyond the current moment in Cape Town. Volumes i & ii featured pieces on education politics in Ethiopia, Ghana and Brazil, in addition to contributions from local organizations in the form of poems, interviews and essays. This sensibility has been central to Pathways: understanding that any radical pan-Africanist project will, by necessity, start with us learning about other parts of the continent.

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Preparing a placard for Pathways pamphlet distribution at parliament.

This “reaching out” was extended in Volume iii: Third World Education and Social Welfare Programmes, which was published in August 2017. The third volume contains chapters on Tanzania, Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Cuba, the U.S., and Puerto Rico. Many of the contributors come from and/or live in the contexts about which they were writing. The chapters vary in form and content: looking at legacies of past organizing and radical social programs, interviews with people involved in historical and contemporary struggles, as well as responses to other authors’ essays. This booklet has been put together explicitly for the purposes of facilitating discussions, reading groups and the hosting of independent popular education spaces. This opens up to some of the dynamics and processes and relationships and workshops that have been created around the publications, which we understand as part of “publication” broadly.

Accompanying, and supplementary to the publications have been different kinds of educational interventions and engagements. Some of these have been distributions on campuses where Pathways members have engaged students and workers in discussions. Others have been at marches and protests, or outside the national parliament — speaking with people who were working in the area or just moving through it. Pathways also participated in the launch of Publica[c]tion, where hip-hop and autonomous Black publications were put into conversation with each other.

In August and September 2017 Pathways, in collaboration with activists from progressive organisations across Cape Town, ran and participated in “The Winter School,” which was initially imagined as a space to engage with the wealth of content produced for Volume iii. But it eventually evolved into something much more than that as the process and the curriculum became shaped by all the participants. The coordinating group was an open and ever-shifting collective that worked on a workshop-by-workshop basis — planning about six or seven Saturday morning sessions which rotated in venue, hosted by the various organizations involved. The sessions explored histories of revolution, walking tours of neighborhoods, art, and culture as sites of struggle, our personal stories and emotional lives as activists, urban and rural land politics and experiments in autonomous agriculture, and one session where everyone collectively cooked and shared a meal.

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Poster announcing distribution of Pathways pamphlets outside parliament on 7 October 2016. / Artwork by Patrick Schuster.

The Winter School is one example of how a radical practice and imagination of publication can open up to a multitude of different relationships of solidarity: from learning with each other, to organizing and eating together, supporting each other’s work and visiting each other’s contexts. There are many more including trips to gatherings hosted by progressive organisations and collectives in Tanzania, Uganda, France, as well as in rural and urban contexts in South Africa.

Pathways is currently in the throes of preparing for the completion of the yet-to-be-titled Volume iv which already has contributions on: school feeding schemes, language and power, struggles against water privatization, jazz and Black pedagogies, reports from solidarity trips, reflections on SAFTU, histories of Black radical education, and other interviews and histories. Due to to various pressures of school, work, and members pursuing various work and study opportunities, Pathways activities, of late, have been limited. The sustenance of an independent, non-funded collective requires continuous injections of energy — often by a few key people — and, since everyone is engaged in various other hustles, Pathways’ work often has to take a backseat. Despite this, our whatsapp group continues to be active as a space of information-sharing and organizing as many members are involved in a variety of activities with other progressive organizations.

Forward to Volume iv which is, like Pathways broadly, a community in process. ■