Call for revolt against the govenment

2016-09-18 09:19
Hundreds of students marched from UKZN Pietermaritzburg campus to legislature to protest the fee increment yesterday.

Hundreds of students marched from UKZN Pietermaritzburg campus to legislature to protest the fee increment yesterday. (Ian Carbutt )

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“We are appealing to every citizen to join in as we start a revolution for free education in South Africa.”

These are the words of university student leader Chuma Wakeni — who is one of KwaZulu-Natal’s many activists in the Fees Must Fall movement.

In an exclusive interview with Weekend Witness, Wakeni described the movement’s plans to take protests out of university property and into the streets in the very near future.

Wakeni, a University of Kwa­Zulu-Natal (UKZN) student in Pietermaritzburg, said Fees Must Fall leaders plan to “start a nationwide revolt against government” — a process which is set to begin in Pietermaritzburg as early as next week.

Speaking on behalf of student leaders in the province, and with links to others across the country, Wakeni said the next phase of their demonstration aims to rally ordinary community members to join students in “occupying” public spaces in major cities.

However, experts believe the call for nationwide solidarity is farfetched, especially as the “destruction and violence” associated with the Fees Must Fall movement has “undermined its credibility” in the larger public space.

Speaking to Weekend Witness at a quaint coffee shop in Pietermaritzburg earlier this week, Wakeni said there will be a march next Tuesday from UKZN to the KZN legislature offices in the Pietermaritzburg­ CBD.

“We are urging everyone on the grounds of humanity to be a member of the community before being a doctor, lawyer, cleaner or police officer.

“The struggle for free education should not only be the struggle of students, but the struggle of every citizen in this country,” Wakeni said.

“We are campaigning for our parents and siblings, friends and colleagues to join us on the picket line. The revolution will start here [in Pietermaritzburg] and spread throughout the country. This is our new way of protesting.”

Wakeni threatened that the movement will give government “a form of violence they have not seen before” by congregating in “strategic places” in various cities with the aim of rendering towns “ungovernable”.

He believes this will be done with the help of the community.

Asked how they plan to unite the community, Wakeni said Tuesday’s march will serve as an awareness campaign and thereafter, student leadership will approach unions, civil servants and “interested parties” to join in.

Speaking about the organisational aspect of Fees Must Fall demonstrations, Wakeni said the movement has a “flat leadership structure” and students are “leading themselves”.

“There is no hierarchy. We are stripping ourselves of social positions, tribal and political affiliations for one common goal. The entire country should do the same.”

Asked about the recent violence at UKZN campuses in the province, Wakeni said the movement distances itself from acts of arson and malicious damage to property.

“There is a third party at play who is trying to sabotage our call for free education. No student was involved and the arrests were false. There was no real evidence and that is why the students were released,” Wakeni said.

“Damaging campus property is defeating our cause. If we are given free education, will we then study under the trees?”

Experts are not convinced. Speaking to Weekend Witness yesterday, Institute for Security Studies researcher in African future, scenarios and conflict trends Jakkie Cilliers said the country is not in a financial position to provide free tertiary education.

“The government would have to forego other priorities to make financial space for free education,” Cilliers said.

Asked about his views on the latest Fees Must Fall strategy, Cilliers said the movement had significant support at the beginning, but it seems the economic realities of free education have now set in.

“There is a concern that the movement has overstepped its mandate and has been captured by political forces. Also, the violence and destruction associated with the movement has undermined its credibility in the public domain,” Cilliers said.

“I am not sure they will get the support from the public that they are hoping for.”

Cilliers believes that if the threats of occupying public places is carried through next week, the students may be disappointed. “There is a feeling that the movement is driven by young students who have been impressed by attention from the media, and have thus gotten carried away with what the possibilities of their demands are.

“What is quite likely to happen is that the students will try to mobilise, but will not get the turnout from the public they expect, and in order to get more attention, will resort to burning and damaging property. One must not confuse media attention with public affection,” Cilliers said.

Cilliers believes the country has a long way to go before free education is viable.

“Demands are nice to make, but meeting these demands is another issue. In South Africa, violence has become a form of communication which is accentuated by corruption, poor service delivery and wastage of funds … but tertiary education is not a right, it is something that must be earned.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  fees must fall protests

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