Rocking the boat? lived experiences of three student leaders at a higher education institution in KwaZulu-Natal.
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Higher education continues to be a point of contestation, where student leaders are seen as political activists. Today, as we embrace democracy, the roles and functions of student leaders are changing. The primary task of student leaders, is to engage with university management to try and champion the educational needs of students. In the current era, there are debates about the roles and functions of student leaders. The problem begins, when political agendas get in the way of student leadership. For example, in some higher education institutions, student leaders take their mandate and style of leadership from their respective political organisations. Should this drive the roles and functions of student leaders? There are views that student leaders learn leadership from different stakeholders like the church, community, family, culture, high school and politics. How qualified are these stakeholders to teach leadership to student leaders? And, is the leadership that is being taught the right style of leadership to lead and practice leadership at a higher education institution? There are also a few debates about the way in which student leaders enact leadership. This study uses narrative inquiry as the research methodology and generates data using collage, artefact and photovoice inquiry. Three student leaders (two presidents and one secretary) were selected as participants, in a Higher Education institution in KwaZulu-Natal. Data was analysed using Polkinghorne. What this study revealed in terms of who student leaders are, is that student leaders have personal and organizational identities. When it came to the learning of leadership, this study found that the church, the school, the university, families and learning through observing role models are some of the spaces and places that student leaders learnt leadership. It was found that from a young age, organizations helped shape the student leader‟s leadership identity that built up to who they have become today. In terms of enacting leadership on a day-to-day basis, this study found that student leaders engage in motivating, planning, delegating tasks, communication and negotiation. Further, it was found that, student leaders prioritize political mandates of their respective political parties in their leadership practice.