Students take fees fight to 'centre of power'

2016-09-25 13:43

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Johannesburg - Students will continue their mass protests and will this week take their protest to “a centre of power”, most likely the Union Buildings in Pretoria or Luthuli House in Johannesburg.

Students will on Sunday be locked in mass meetings around the country, mapping a way forward following protest action after Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s announcement on fees at universities for next year.

Nzimande told City Press that he did the best he possibly could in making provision for the poor and the “missing middle” – categorised this week as those who have a household income of less than R600 000 per year – by way of a 0% increase.

Those who can afford university fees must pay an increase, which will be capped at 8%. The 0% will apply to at least 70% of all undergraduates across the country, a shortfall that government has planned for and that will come in at about R2 billion.

“I would not have made the announcement without having spoken to the finance minister. He is the one that will give the details as to where the money will come from and how. I must say he has been understanding and supportive, which has made my work much easier,” Nzimande said.

Students who took to the streets this week are calling for free education, but some say they will settle for the scrapping of historic debt and registration fees. The demands outside of free education differ from institution to institution.

At this stage, national co-ordination is not as organised as it was last year. However, student leaders told City Press the way forward was to take their protest to a centre of power. Initially, the JSE head office was considered, but a mass meeting at the University of the Witwatersrand rejected this, saying it was not a centre of power. The power is said to be at the Union Buildings, Parliament and the headquarters of the governing party, Luthuli House.

In the meantime, detractors of Nzimande’s concession are coming from within the tripartite alliance itself. The ANC Youth League has come out strongly in opposition to Nzimande’s announcement. Relations between the league and the minister – who is the secretary-general of the SA Communist Party – have been tumultuous since the election of the league’s leaders last year.

The league’s secretary-general, Njabulo Nzuza, told City Press that they had made their demands very clear during their engagements with Nzimande.

“We told him, if you have any intention of any fee increase, you must show steps towards the realisation of free education. The first thing would be to scrap registration fees. The government subsidies must be made available to the universities earlier, so they do not require registration fees. That indicates you are willing to find a way to implement free education,” Nzuza said.

Nzuza said they would mandate their structures on campuses this week to remain in peaceful protest until Nzimande announces a 0% increase across the board and the scrapping of registration fees.

Nzimande downplayed suspicions that the youth league’s onslaught had to do with factional battles in the ANC, and said he did not want to engage the league in the media.

“There is unanimous support for the decision we have taken by the Progressive Youth Alliance, which the youth league is part of. I don’t want to talk about the youth league, they have full access to me. They sit in all the structures that I report to. I don’t want to debate them in public.”

The embattled Nzimande emphasised that blame for the fees crisis could not be placed on his shoulders alone.

“The issue of funding is a collective government and ANC alliance responsibility. It mustn’t be reduced to an individual.

“Where I have been given money, I have done my job.

“Don’t gamble with the future of our young people just because you are pursuing a narrow, factionalist position. All of us in the alliance have to learn that factionalism does not help and it is worse if you gamble with [the lives of] young people.”

Engagement with the department of higher education is set to continue for the rest of the year around the facilitation of the 0% increase for those who qualify, as well as registration fees being paid in instalments for those who cannot afford them.

A pilot project looking to deal with funding for the missing middle is set to get under way next year. However, Nzimande said it was still a work in progress and details would be announced later this year.

In the meantime, he calls for students to go back to class and for police to go back to their ordinary work.

“Law enforcement must do their jobs. It is not nice to see police on campus, but if there is a threat to life and property, they have a duty they must carry out.

“Students must desist from destruction. Students can’t say they don’t know who is doing this and not condemn it, and also not work with law enforcement agencies to find the culprits.”

Read more on:    blade nzimande  |  university protests  |  education  |  university fees

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