Universities 'a microcosm of the country's problems'

2015-09-03 09:52
TUT Sacso members defiantly singing umshin'wam on campus as Malema addresses EFF members ahead of the SRC elections. (Mpho Raborife, News24)

TUT Sacso members defiantly singing umshin'wam on campus as Malema addresses EFF members ahead of the SRC elections. (Mpho Raborife, News24)

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Johannesburg - The increasing violence at universities, particularly around Student Representative Council elections, is a sign of the increasing violence on the country's streets, according to Student Village.

"The importance of SRC elections has the same weighting as having general elections. The universities are a microcosm for the rest of the country," the youth marketing company's CEO Ronen Aires told News24.

"Just as we would vote for political leaders to run the country - so too would you elect student leaders to represent your interests as students. However, what actually happens can be very different.

"Student organisations are the youth wings of main political parties and they model their behaviour around what they see their parent bodies doing.

"What is going on in the country is reflected in what is going on in our campuses. So, we see with service delivery protests that can be very violent... those same tactics have come to our campuses."

Springboard for political career

There have been several recent incidents of violence at tertiary institutions, particularly involving the EFF and other parties at the University of Witwatersrand, the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and the Elsenburg Agricultural Institute in Stellenbosch.

Historically, there had been tension around student fees and debt at universities and every year there were more strikes and protests in the country, Aires said.

"It has just got more violent and more intense and there seems to be a lot more underlying frustration and anger."

He said that a significant amount of students who run for SRCs want to enter the world of politics.

"It [universities] has become an important battle ground to win," Aires said.

"It is important for them to get into power as a springboard to launch their political careers.

"There wasn't much competition around elections before, it was just Sasco affiliates. But now there is a lot more competition, and since there is more competition, they are a lot more aggressive in the way they do the politicking."

He said students, who were the future leaders of the country, had to show the country how "it should be done".

"Wouldn't it be great if they [students] chose a non-violent way to conduct elections. Instead they choose to use intimidation or violence. That is not leading by example, it is just following a bad example."

Protest at TUT (Mpho Raborife, News24)


At the University of Witwatersrand seven students were suspended following a scuffle at a SRC election debate two weeks ago. 

The High Court in Johannesburg later set aside the decision.

The university had also revoked the recognition of the EFF Student Command on campus, before later reinstating it.

This however meant that EFF affiliated students were not allowed to take part in those elections.

Last week EFF members clashed with rival associations at the TUT's Pretoria West campus ahead of the SRC elections.

Party members were there to hear EFF leader Julius Malema speak.

On Saturday, two EFF members were hospitalised after being stabbed at TUT residences.

The party's TUT Pretoria West branch secretary, Thuto Nthulenyane, told News24 at the time that members of the SA Students Congress (Sasco) were allegedly responsible for the attacks on the two.

Sasco members admitted to slapping and punching the two, but blamed the EFF for prompting the incident by targeting one of its members.

SRC elections

TUT said on Wednesday that Sasco won the elections with three seats on the central SRC, while the EFF had two. The Students Christian Organisation and the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania had one seat each.

The EFF however won the SRC elections in the North West University's Mafikeng campus.

The DA claimed on Wednesday that its student organisation had won the SRC elections at the University of Pretoria. Sasco however claimed that there was vote-rigging.

The university said on Wednesday evening that Sasco had 24 hours to lodge their objections with the preliminary results.

The DA had also won the SRC elections at the University of Fort Hare earlier this year.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe expressed concern after the party's national executive committee meeting in June, at Sasco's "poor" performance during SRC elections at universities around the country.

TUT protest (Mpho Raborife, News24)

Race, transformation, language issues

While there were disruptions around the elections, other tertiary institutions faced protests and violence over issues of race, transformation and language.

At least one student was injured in a protest that turned violent at the Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute on Tuesday, as people who tried to enter lecture halls were sjambokked.

The protest concerned the college's language policy.

Third-year student and EFF member Liphelo Mpumlwana said one of the lecturers at the college slapped her on Tuesday morning while she protested with a group of black students and some Economic Freedom Fighters members outside an exam hall where some students had been waiting to enter.

"There were two lecturers who were there. The person who instigated the fight was a lecturer," she claimed.

"I got slapped by that lecturer. I wasn't even communicating with him. I was singing with my comrades [then] people started fighting. It was a fight between black students and white students."

On Wednesday the Western Cape Department of Agriculture secured an interdict to ensure that classes at the college could continue as normal.

The college falls under the department, with its degree courses underwritten by the University of Stellenbosch.

Its spokesperson Petro van Rhyn said a "small number of students" were not committed to finding solutions.


On Tuesday Stellenbosch University's management briefed Parliament's portfolio committee on higher education on its progress in implementing its transformation plan and language policy for the institution.

The move was prompted by the widely-circulated documentary, Luister (Listen), in which students and lecturers tell of discrimination on and off campus.

Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande demanded answers from the university council after seeing the documentary.

The issue was not only about Afrikaans as a language of instruction, which some students said excluded them from some subjects, but also about racist attitudes among some white students and academics, he said at the weekend.

He however acknowledged efforts by vice chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers to remove discrimination, which included the Open Stellenbosch transformation initiative, and a transformation office and committee.

Last week the Black Student Movement staged a sit-in at Rhodes University's council chambers in Grahamstown, reportedly over the failure of transformation at the university.

Earlier this year a statue of colonialist Cecil John Rhodes was removed from the University of Cape Town following protests.

Students protesting as part of the Open Stellenbosch campaign. (Netwerk24)

'All students want a safe, vibrant student life'

Last week the North West University student newspaper was forced to remove a story from its Facebook page after comments bordered on "hate speech".

The student newspaper, Wapad, had posted a story on an ANC Youth League march at one of its campuses.

"Wapad has removed the report that was posted on Facebook... Many of the readers' comments bordered on hate speech," it said in a Facebook post on Friday.

The comments on the ANCYL story were riddled with harsh racial terms.

The African National Congress Youth League's march at the Potchefstroom campus was about transformation at the institution.

NWU vice chancellor Professor Dan Kgwadi said in a statement on Monday that a series of discussions would be held with students on the future of the institution.

The topics included issues of race, language, sport, student life and social cohesion.

“All issues that divide or bind us need to be discussed openly and honestly. No points of view should be excluded. All our students, from whatever background, political persuasion or language, are important and must feel welcome on our campuses,” Kgwadi said.

“While student life may vary to some extent on the three campuses, all students want a safe, vibrant student life where human dignity and the observance of their rights and obligations are part and parcel of everyday experience.

“Let us talk about our fears and experiences. Let us get to know each other better. And let us find a way to make this university a beacon of hope. We can and must do it."

Read more on:    sasco  |  eff  |  education  |  politics  |  racism

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