Students march for free education at Stellenbosch

2016-09-24 07:45
Stellenbosch and UCT students at a solidarity march. (Jenni Evans, News24)

Stellenbosch and UCT students at a solidarity march. (Jenni Evans, News24)

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Cape Town - Over 1000 students marched around the University of Stellenbosch in good spirits on Friday to drum up support for a campaign to scrap university fees and decolonise education.

They were joined by University of Cape Town students who had travelled to the town in a show of solidarity for 30 protesters who were interdicted on Tuesday night.

They had been ordered to vacate the Wilcocks Building on the Stellenbosch campus, which some students had renamed the Lilian Ngoyi hall. Eleven of them were suspended. Eight were allowed back to their residences after they obtained a spoliation order against the university. Spoliation is wrongfully depriving someone of their right to property.

They wanted all students who had either been suspended or expelled countrywide to be allowed back on campuses.

This followed a week of nationwide protests by university students who rejected Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande's long-awaited fee structure for 2017.

He announced on Monday that poor students on the NSFAS funding programme and students from homes with an income of less than R600 000 a year, would not pay fee increases in 2017.

Students outside these categories had to wait for the universities to announce their own increases. These had to be capped at 8%.

Students said they would not allow education to become a commodity, and wanted it to be completely free, from Grade 0 to university.

They were unhappy that promises made to outsourced workers were apparently not being kept, and supported a call by university workers for a minimum monthly salary of R12 500.

Around 10 policemen walked in front of the students, many of whom wore bandannas concealing the lower part of their faces, in case they were photographed, or tear-gassed.

Students ran from their residence to join the march, and others waved from their windows. Workers at construction sites sang along with them as they passed. Some of the white students in the march watched and listened intently to learn the protest songs, studiously copying the accompanying movements.

The students walked around the enormous ungated campus for hours in the sun to fetch workers from their stations to join them. At each stop, they tried to negotiate with police or a residence representative that one protester be allowed into the building to fetch the workers.

They were turned down by residents standing at the gates, and moved on. Nervous Wilgenhof men's residence students peered out of hastily shut windows while the students gathered at the entrance to their building.

Police in hot pursuit

As the march continued, students starting making a break for faculty doors that were still open, with police in hot pursuit to overtake them and block the doorways. They started splitting into groups to confuse the small number of police officers wearing their usual uniforms, instead of the riot gear usually seen at student protests.

Some protesters managed to slip through the police's human barricades and small groups tried to push through the police. When they called over their shoulders for more to join them, most hung back. “It's not worth it,” one shouted.

A group of women twerked at the police. Young couples stuck together and took selfies at various points along the tree-lined route with its mixture of heritage and modern buildings.

Protesters demanded that those who managed to get inside buildings be allowed back out. They claimed police were kidnapping them.  After the doors were opened a crack to let them out, the students ran off to another building, with the police following up flights of stairs, only for everybody to come back down again a few minutes later.

A mixture of dismay and a mouthed ''what are we going to eat?'' marked the announcement by one of the leaders that food hall workers would not cook on Friday.

''We have successfully managed to shut most of Stellenbosch University today,'' a student leader announced through a loudspeaker as the march wound down.

“There will also be not tests written tonight as planned,” he said.

The only sign of tempers flaring during Friday’s protest was when two security officials dubbed ''the men in black'' began closing the doors to a faculty building as students approached. A tall, skinny guard wearing padded protective gear watched nervously as police held the door closed for the two guards.

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