Cape Town – Fire alarms were set off, lectures interrupted and a library evacuated, as an estimated 1 000 University of Cape Town (UCT) students marched on campus on Tuesday afternoon to demand free higher education.
Students promised to "shut down" the university until a list of six demands were met, and promised to escalate mass action in the weeks ahead.
Speaking at a packed student gathering at the university's Jameson Hall, student activist Masixole Mlandu said students should not lose focus of the goal of free higher education.
"We should not become disillusioned by notions of 'free education for the poor'. We must be consistent, comrades. We want free education [for all], period," Mlandu said to roaring applause from the crowd.
"If the university wants to increase fees - it must fall."
SRC member Sihle Lonzi told the crowd that the university is allegedly proposing a fee increase of between 8% and 10%.
The university has, however, said that it has made no decision regarding tuition and residence fees for 2018.
SRC president Seipati Tshabalala said the question of fee increases should not burden students.
"We are here to study. The university should come up with solutions, but we cannot allow any student to be excluded."
List of demands
In a list of demands distributed at the meeting, the SRC called for:
- A 0% fee increase, which should be announced at an emergency council meeting as soon as possible;
- The immediate release of President Jacob Zuma's Fees Commission report;
- An emergency committee to be set up to investigate all the suicide-related deaths over the past year;
- A financial report must be released on the expenditure on private security at the university;
- Historical debt for the 2017 academic year must be cleared and there should be no financial barriers to registration in 2018;
- The university should draft a framework to help students who were not placed in residences.
Protest action on the university campus remained largely peaceful, while police maintained a strong presence.
News24 understand that students are contemplating marching to the National Assembly on Wednesday afternoon, where Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba will release his medium-term budget statement.
March on Parliament
Student leaders believe that the government should ultimately be held accountable for higher education fees.
"We all know the university can't do much. The national government should act," a student leader, who wished to remain nameless, said.
A final decision on marching on Parliament would be taken at a SRC-organised student leader meeting on Tuesday evening.
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In reply to questions from News24, UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said the university would like to "unequivocally [state] that there has been no decision taken on the 2018 tuition and residence fees".
He said the university has had many discussions with various stakeholders, including student representatives and staff, about possible fee increases.
"However, any figures mentioned during such discussions should not be seen as UCT’s proposed fee increase for 2018."
Moholola said the university joined students in calling for Zuma to release the Fees Commission report.
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