Zuma blamed for varsity protests

2017-10-29 05:49
President Jacob Zuma

President Jacob Zuma

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Chaos erupted when students rejected proposed fee increases of 8% next year and demanded that President Jacob Zuma make public a report on the feasibility of no-fee higher education.

Lectures were disrupted at the University of Cape Town (UCT) this week, following on from last week’s protests at the University of the Free State (UFS).

Two students were shot with live ammunition, allegedly by a private security company at UFS.

Other students – some of them from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) – were arrested at UCT and during protests outside Parliament.

UCT students said this week that they were “trying to coordinate a national student effort” across the country.

Last Saturday, students at the University of the Witwatersrand held a secret meeting about fee increases. A senior member of the Economic Freedom Fighters’ Student Command said they wanted to organise a protest at Wits without involving the ANC-aligned SA Students’ Congress.

Students and vice-chancellors blamed Zuma for the resurgence of protests after he failed to release the fees commission report, which he had received in August. Presidency spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga did not respond to questions sent on Thursday.

On Friday, Universities SA (Usaf) met new Higher Education Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize, who replaced Blade Nzimande after he was axed on October 17.

Mkhize, who was deputy higher education minister between 2010 and 2012, said she met with Usaf to discuss the release of the report’s outcomes as a matter of “urgency” and to discuss “support in managing communication post the release of the report”.

She said there would be regular meetings with university principals, student leaders and university council chairs in the next few weeks.

Mkhize said on Thursday that Usaf representatives had voiced concern about the effects of Zuma’s delay.

“They are relieved that they are not alone. I think they are overwhelmed by the student pressure. We have made a commitment to follow this up. This can no longer be delayed. I think the main thing is that people want to get the report. We talked about it. They want it out, and that is the first step. It is needed by the universities,” she said.

Mkhize said she would continue talking to Zuma’s office, adding that she had not received a copy of the report from Zuma, and had also not seen it.

She said she met Zuma after her appointment but was not briefed on the report.

“I had a broad discussion with the president and I indicated that we should discuss the report in our next meeting. I made a plea to him to engage the public about the report. His office is fully aware. I have a duty to make sure that happens. It is important for university communities,” she said.

Mkhize said she expected the meeting “soon”.

PLEADING FOR CALM

“I plead with students to first think about exams. They are at the doorstep of success. Let’s hang in there. Exams must be written,” said Mkhize.

The ANC national executive committee lekgotla, which took place in July, made a proposal that free education must be phased in, she said.

“I want to assure you that it is not a small matter for us. It’s been a question of how to phase it in. No one is turning a blind eye ... Losing a year has long-term consequences for students. Parents are having sleepless nights.”

Mkhize cautioned universities not to discuss fee hikes with students before Zuma and her department made a pronouncement.

Usaf chief executive Ahmed Bawa said the meeting with Mkhize was “helpful”.

“We discussed the issue of the report and agreed that she will take up the matter with the president’s office,” he said. Bawa said Usaf was concerned “that there is absolutely no news about the contents of the report or of the process that is to be followed”.

“The commission was created as a result of a meeting that the president called between the universities, student leaders and various members of the Cabinet,” he said.

“One may assume, therefore, that when the report was released to the president, he would have communicated with these constituencies.

“There is now deep concern that the delay in announcing on the process may undermine the commission’s findings.

“The implications are serious. On the one hand, student action at universities centre mostly on this silence. On the other, universities are facing serious budgeting crises since they have been unable to finalise their budgets for 2018.”

According to Bawa, all universities have proposed budgets because they cannot enter 2018 without a clear indication of what can be afforded and what cannot.

“As far as I am aware, universities have adopted models – and I emphasise that these are models – in which they project an 8% increase in income. There is, as yet, no formal indication where this 8% will come from – whether it will be a subsidy from the state, as it was in 2016; or a subsidy for the poor and missing middle as in 2017; or whether it will be in terms of a new dispensation that flows from the commission’s report. What the universities are saying is that to balance their budgets for 2018, at the very least they require an 8% increase,” he said.

UCT Students’ Representative Council (SRC) president Seipati Tshabalala said students shut down campus on Thursday and Friday. “We are still trying to coordinate a national student effort and hope to do it by next week,” she said.

UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said lectures were suspended on Thursday and Friday, and that the university applied for a court interdict against protesting students, but the case was postponed to tomorrow in the high court in Cape Town.

Masopha Hlalele, SRC president at UFS’ Qwaqwa campus, said students were shot by guards with live ammunition and women were sexually abused and harassed by guards. Pictures sent to City Press showed the extent of students’ injuries. Hlalele said one, Kgosi Radebe, was shot in the chest and was fighting for his life at Mofumahadi Manapo Mopeli hospital.

UFS spokesperson Lacea Loader said the security company had been suspended. She said one injured student was discharged, while the other was “still in hospital and recovering well”.

“No cases of sexual harassment or assault have been reported to campus management since the start of the protests on the campus,” she said.

CPUT SRC student services officer Siyanda Mngqibisa said they looked forward to working with other universities. Mngqibisa said there were no protests at CPUT but their campuses were “militarised”, with the Cape Town campus surrounded by barbed wire.


Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  education  |  fees must fall  |  protests

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