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The Congress of South African Students is an anti-apartheid student organisation established in 1979 in the wake of the June 16 Soweto Uprisings in 1976 in South Africa, the formation of COSAS from exile by president Oliver Tambo and COSAS’s first president was Ephraim Mogale and is Currently headed by Musa Shabangu


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About Cosas


The Congress of South African Students (COSAS) was established in June 1979 as a national organization to represent the interests of Black school students in the wake of the Soweto uprisings. During its formation the South African Student Movement (SASM) and other organizations of the Black Consciousness (BC) movement were banned by the apartheid government. COSAS organized students at secondary and night schools, as well as technical, teacher training and correspondence colleges. Soon after their formation, the organisation set up branches in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Transvaal, Orange Free State and Natal. Branches in the various provinces were set up with the aid of executive members specifically deployed into the various regions for that purpose. Other student organizations also assisted COSAS with establishing its branches in their areas. Initially a BC orientated organization, a year after its formation COSAS became the first organization to declare its support of the Freedom Charter. Its first president, Ephrahim Mogale was actually a clandestine member of the African national Congress (ANC) and was later to be convicted of furthering the aims of the ANC. At the time of its formation the ANC was banned along other liberation movements under the Unlawful Organisations Act. A guiding principle for COSAS was the view that the ANC was the authentic liberation movement of South Africa. In its first two years COSAS took up two commemorative campaigns that authorities saw as ANC-supporting; the 1979 hanging of uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) guerrilla Solomon Mahlangu and the centenary of the Zulu victory over British troops at Isandhlwana. The organization’s principle aims were the conscientising of students and the wider community to the repressive nature of education in South Africa, and to participate in the drawing up of an educational charter for a future, non-racial democratic education system. Its view was that a democratic education system could only be achieved in a democratic society based on the will of all the people. It recognized that Bantu Education was aimed at controlling and indoctrinating youth and that this could only be changed by transforming the country’s entire political system. Although it was primarily education focused, COSAS identified the relationship between educational and social transformation in its statement of beliefs: Students must be organized through democratically elected SRCs · Students must serve the community, we are members of society before we are students and thereby show that students can play a progressive role in the broad democratic alliance In serving the community, there must be a recognition that students play only a limited role in the overall struggle The duty of the students was to lend support to trade unions and community organizations. In 1982, COSAS adopted the theme; “Student-worker action” and promoted the formation of youth congresses to serve the interests of young workers and unemployed youth. These facilitated cooperation between school students, young workers and the unemployed youth. This had the dual effect of drawing COSAS into issues which affected young workers and the unemployed youth, and drawing the congresses into school-related struggles. The organization provided essential support to striking workers and community struggles around issues such as transport increases, rent hikes and the like. In 1983, the COSAS welcomed the formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and played a key role in the formation of the regional UDF structures in all of the provinces. It saw the UDF as representing a common platform to fight for a free and democratic South Africa. In its early years, COSAS, focused on educational issues but with its alliance to the UDF, by the end of 1984, its students were making demands around educational as well as political issues. Throughout the 1980s, under the banner of COSAS students have staged a variety of resistance tactics like boycotts, strikes, negotiated and laid down demands. In Cradock, Eastern Cape students from seven schools boycotted the transfer of Mathew Goniwe, a teacher and anti-apartheid activist. Goniwe was being transferred by the Department of Education and training (DET) to be a principal at a school in Graaf-Reinet. According to Bahman 2003, the decision to transfer Goniwe was part of a plan to remove him from his community as he was seen as a strong opponent and champion of the residents. Two years (1985) later Goniwe was assassinated together with Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkonto and Sicelo Mhlauli on what became known as ‘Cradock Four’. On 14 February 1984, a 15 year old student, Emma Sathekge was killed and scores were injured when police clashed with pupils boycotting classes as they were demanding, among other things the removal of the age-limit law and the right to form Student Representative Council’s (SRC). Emma Sathekge was killed in the black township of Atteridgeville, Pretoria. Her funeral was attended by more than 10 000 mourners. At the funeral, the COSAS speaker Tlhabane Mogashoa said; “We will prove in action that Bantu education is evil. We will revolt against it until it has been utterly scrapped, dumped on the junk-bin of history and buried once and for all.” At Minerva High School in Alexandra Township boycotting students were given a right to form SRC. The students boycott on age-limit law spread countrywide. The recommendations by the age-limit law were rejected by students as from the inception in 1981. By the end of 1984, it had succeeded in drawing community support for the students struggle when it successfully called on the community to participate in the Transvaal regional stay-away. Demands made by the organization included: The withdrawal of the SADF and police from the townships Cessation of rent and bus-fare increases Resignation of all community councillors Unconditional release of all political prisoners and detainees Reinstatement of dismissed workers Educational reform The termination of unfair tax discrimination By 1985, school boycotts had rendered the schools unworkable and ungovernable and mirrored the collapse of the Black Local Authorities in the townships. Their slogan “Liberation now, Education later!” saw chaos in schools across the country and resulted in the National Education Crisis Committee being formed in 1986. Eventually COSAS was banned in mid 1985 as the state of emergency was declared by South African government. At the inaugural conference of the UDF, COSAS claimed a membership of 44 branches nationally and by the end of 1984 it had developed a well organized structure with branches in nearly 50 centres around the country, with the majority of its membership coming from the Eastern Cape and the Southern Transvaal. By the time of its banning in 1985, it was estimated that the organization enjoyed the support of almost 3 million students, or more than half the country’s Black students. However, COSAS continued to play an active role although it was banned. The organisation helped to establish South African Youth Congress (SAYCO) which was secretly established in Cape Town 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, President F.W. de Klerk announced the release of Nelson Mandela and unban of liberation movements. 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 (ANCYL). During the national congress of COSAS held in December 1995, the South African President Nelson Mandela said; “It is refreshing for me to brush shoulders with the young lions of a democratic South Africa. Your organisation earned its proud reputation in the crucible of struggle. Yours is not an association of arm-chair critics. From the day of its formation, the Congress of South African Students demonstrated that it practises what it preaches. Above all, we are proud that, today, COSAS is making its mark as a leader in the reconstruction and development of education, as a builder par excellence. Through positive and creative campaigns, you are showing that when you mobilised for militant action against apartheid education, you did not see this as an end in itself. When you refused to succumb to the apartheid jackboot, it is because you knew you had a role not only in eradicating racist education, but also in the introduction of the new system. As we join efforts to build a new educational system in a new society, COSAS has not been found wanting…” The COSAS continued to play an important role in education and other social issues in South Africa. In 2011 the Chairperson of COSAS, Mr Ntsako Mogobe called on learners to hit back at teachers who use physical violence against them. In January 2012 while the country was celebrating matric results, the COSAS took to the streets in Durban to protest against the results being published in newspapers. Provincial deputy chairperson of the organisation, Goodman Machi, said they had marched from the City Hall to the regional Department of Education office to hand over a memorandum.



The Congress of South African Students (COSAS) was established in June 1979 as a national organization to represent the interests of Black school students in the wake of the Soweto uprisings. .


Throughout the 1980s, under the banner of COSAS students have staged a variety of resistance tactics, negotiated and laid down demands,  focused on educational and political issues.


Above all, we are proud that, today, COSAS is making its mark as a leader in the reconstruction and development of education, as a builder par excellence, through positive & creative campaigns,.

COSAS ANC must pledge support for Free Education



To continue to play an important role in education and other social issues in South Africa and South African Schools

March Against Drugs

Free Education


These are articles involving the COSAS contribution to our South African Schools


Free Education

The Congress of South African Students (Cosas) has called for Bantu education and Afrikaans to be scrapped at schools. And it wants government and private sector to foster free education for South Africans. These are among the many issues discussed at Cosas’s national press conference in Johannesburg on Friday. It highlighted demands for free school uniforms‚ safety and security on school premises and a feeding scheme. Cosas national secretary general Khulekani Skosana said the organisation wants the curriculum of basic education to be restructured: “History must be made a compulsory subject and history of Africa should be taught to promote patriotism.” He said Cosas was also calling for a “complete scrapping of Bantu education and Afrikaans”. The organisation also believes “entrepreneurship must be taught in schools and learners must be assisted in open and registering businesses”. It wants free education at technical and vocational education and training colleges “and formerly disadvantaged universities so that it benefits the poor”. “Those institutions that have deeply commoditised education [will] continue selling it. Those who can afford to pay will go there and those who can’t will go and enrol in no fee institutions‚” Skosana said. On a feeding scheme‚ he said: “More needs to be done to improve the quality of food offered‚ and breakfast should be introduced‚ especially in our primary schools. “We want to eat what (Basic Education Minister) Angie Motshekga eats. If she eats the pap and soya provided at schools‚ we are happy to eat it too.” Cosas wants different sporting codes to be introduced and libraries and laboratories built or improved – as well as sports facilities. And corporal punishment must be eradicated‚ Skosana added.

March Against Drugs

Cosas president John Macheke said that the pupils will be marching to the African National Congress (ANC) headquarters to call on the party to respond to a memorandum of demands that was handed to it in October last year. He says they want the Education Department to improve the school’s infrastructure and implement a safety programme to rid places of learning and South African streets of drugs. “The drugs that contribute towards violence into our own schools and our own country must make sure that they force these drug dealers to stop selling drugs or we as Congress of students will take charge and turn ourselves into police officers.” Meanwhile, the Johannesburg Metro Police’s Wayne Minnaar says the protest will affect traffic in major parts of the city. “Traffic will be diverted in the Johannesburg CBD as well when members of the Congress of South Africa Students are going to protest. “They will march from Park Station, move up De Villiers, turn left onto Harrison Street and then right into Helen Joseph Street to gather at Beyer Naude Square into Luthuli House.”

School Shutdown

Cosas says there’s serious challenge of school infrastructure in the country including shortage of classes and ablution facilities. There are threats of a possible disruption of schooling as members of the Congress of South African Students organisation (Cosas) call for a national shutdown on Friday. Cosas members, comprising mainly of school learners, are planning to march to the Union Buildings and the Basic Education Department offices in Pretoria where they are expected to hand over memorandums. Cosas says there’s serious challenges of school infrastructure in the country, including shortage of classes and ablution facilities. Cosas president John Macheke says a lack of security in schools is also a serious problem. “We need cameras in our schools. Our computers are being stolen. So we need security, CCTV to monitor. The issue of corporal punishment in our schools, the issue of rape of learners is part of security. So we need proper security in our schools so our learners can be safe in different schools.” Meanwhile the Department of Basic Education says police will be called to intervene if learners and teachers are prevented from reporting to school today. Basic Education spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga explains, “All issues that COSAS has raised will have to be dealt with by the relevant authorities. If they cause disruptions we will ask the police to help us because the law is very clear that no one should prevent learners and teachers from going to school. The Schools Act makes that point very clear. We just want our learners to be in school and go there without fear. We have days that are for learning and teaching and we don’t want to lose any of those days because there is a struggle when it comes to curriculum coverage. So any deliberate attempts to disrupt learning and teaching will be viewed in a very serious light.” Pretoria Union Building


The Congress of South African Students lead a march through Sandton CBD on Friday afternoon and handed a memorandum of demands to JSE representatives, to assist with free education for poor pupils.

School Violence

The organisation is reacting to the latest incident of violence involving learners which took place in Polokwane. Thoriso Themane was allegedly assaulted by a group of young people and was taken to hospital for medical treatment but he later succumbed to his injuries. Six suspects between the ages of 15 and 17 were arrested by the police following the circulation of a video showing the horrific attack on social media. Police say the 28-year-old was killed in suspected gang-related violence last week. His lifeless body was found dumped in Flora Park on Sunday.



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Chief Albert Luthuli House, 54 Pixley Ka Seme Street, Johannesburg, 2001