Cosatu can't sit on fence over free education – students

2016-09-23 11:35
Wits SRC president Nompendulo Mkatshwa addresses protesters at the university. (Lizeka Tandwa, News24)

Wits SRC president Nompendulo Mkatshwa addresses protesters at the university. (Lizeka Tandwa, News24)

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WATCH: Bullets, stun grenade fired at Wits students

2016-09-21 15:34

Police clashed with Wits students in Braamfontein, Joburg during fees must fall protest.WATCH

Johannesburg – Students at the University of the Witwatersrand are determined to march to Cosatu House on Friday afternoon to demand support from the labour federation for their calls for free quality education.

"We want Cosatu to take a decision. We are refusing for it [to] continue sitting on the line and are asking if it's with us," said former student representative council (SRC) president Mcebo Dlamini.

Though Dlamini has been barely visible throughout the week of protests for free education, he has been part of several mass meetings and told News24 that he has been offering support to the current crop of leaders and students in their demands.

This wave of study fee protests was triggered when Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande announced his proposal on adjustments to tuition ahead of the 2017 academic year.

The minister said university councils could increase fees, but by no more than 8%.

He also said students from poor backgrounds would not face fee increments, but students have rejected this, angry that the government has thrown back the decision over fees to universities and demanding the immediate implementation of free quality education.

"We want to go to Sdumo Dlamini, because he represents workers; we are the children of cleaners who want to know if he is with us," said Dlamini.

Violent clashes

Students spent most of Thursday in closed meetings discussing a national strategy for their cause. They formed task teams to address various issues and institutions they want to target. Secretary-General Fasiha Hassan said they were looking at both state and private institutions.

This follows two days of violent clashes between students and both police and private security.

On Tuesday, students and private security guards threw rocks at each other outside the university's Great Hall while on Thursday police used stun grenades on students who were gathered at the theatre entrance on Jorrison Street. Students threw rocks at police officers in retaliation.

A number of students and an officer were injured in the confrontation.

Student leaders have also been reluctant to share their plans with the media as some believe police and university management use the information to pre-empt and block their demonstrations.

One member of the SRC who refused to be named said the march to Cosatu House was still under discussion but that many seemed in favour of approaching the union federation.

Cosatu on the other hand said it was not aware of a planned march to its headquarters but that even though it had an open door policy, it didn't understand why Wits students would want to march to its offices when they had never attempted to communicate with the organisation.

Workers also facing challenges

Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said the federation had already met with leaders from the South African Union of Students (SAUS) to discuss the issue of university fees.

"We met with SAUS and they reacted to the proposition announced on Monday. We have always said this issue will be resolved through discussions," he told News24.

"They have to argue their case because you can't just come and make demands. If you make demands you will hit a brick wall, no organisation will be dictated to," said Pamla.

He said workers were also facing challenges in the country's tough socio-economic climate, explaining that although the federation understands the students' call for free education, millions were stuck at home looking for jobs while others were desperate to see an increase in investments so they can keep their jobs.

"They can't have a winner takes all mentality. If they want to talk that's another story, but to march, that is something else."

Though the Wits SRC page has not indicated plans of such a march it has asked students to meet at 12:30, to wear comfortable shoes and bring bottled water for hydration.

Read more on:    cosatu  |  wits  |  johannesburg  |  university fees  |  protests

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