Zuma must intervene - Vice Chancellors

2016-09-30 16:02
Prof Ihron Rensburg, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of Johannesburg (Supplied by UJ)

Prof Ihron Rensburg, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of Johannesburg (Supplied by UJ)

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Johannesburg - Johannesburg University's Vice Chancellor Ihron Rensburg has called on President Jacob Zuma to intervene on the raging Fees Must Fall campaign, adding his voice to his Wits counterpart.

One vice chancellor has told News24 that Zuma has been missing in action, as some universities are forced to shut down and others increase private security to prevent protesting students from interrupting lectures. 

Vice chancellors are feeling helpless as the Fees Must Fall campaign rages, threatening to “catastrophically” interrupt the academic year. 

Rensburg said the ongoing crisis needed "national leadership".

"All I can say is universities can't solve these problems by themselves, but neither will shutting down universities. We are faced with a situation where we need national leadership.

"We need the president to lead; we need to see a unified leadership in Cabinet, in the president to provide innovative solutions to the situation. I don’t think we have answers at all, except to talk and engage.”

'Nothing is going to appease them'

Appeasing the students looked impossible at this stage, Rensburg said, although 75% of the student population at the university would not face an increase. But they were yet to meet with student leaders, who seemed reluctant for now. 

"My reading, regrettably, is that our student organisation, nothing is going to appease them and it's almost impossible for us to appease them because their demands sit outside any single university. No single university can assist with those demands of free education tomorrow - not tomorrow."

Tensions have heightened at institutions of higher learning since Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande announced a 0% increase for poor students and the so-called "missing middle". He recommended that fees for students whose parents earned over R600 000 per year go up by not more than 8%. 

It is understood that Zuma met with security cluster ministers to find ways to end the violence at universities that has seen buildings torched. They were expected to make public their plans to quell the violence today.

Cabinet announced that Zuma had instructed the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster (JCPS) to deal with the "mayhem that is destroying our institutions of higher learning".

'It’s a systematic issue'

On Thursday, Cabinet appealed to students to raise their concerns within the confines of the constitution.

University of Witwatersrand Vice Chancellor Adam Habib during the week said that a decision to give into students’ demands for free higher education could not come from institutions of higher learning.

"I think that free education can never be delivered by universities. It is always a governmental decision, it’s a systematic issue," Habib told News24.

He said, although he supported the students' cause, he didn’t believe it could be delivered overnight.

"It has to happen over a period of time. Nowhere in the world can something be done overnight and achieve it."

Habib said calculations showed that free quality higher education would require around R50bn per annum, which meant that there should be more conversations around where the money would come from.

"The money could come from a variety of sources, but we need to think through how that happens. If we are putting it in higher education, then you need to think why not free health care or even early childhood development?" he asked.

Read more on:    uj  |  wits  |  jacob zuma  |  university protests  |  university fees

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