Cosatu, SACP pledge support to #FeesMustFall

Protesting students. (News24)
Protesting students. (News24)

Students want free and decolonised education now - not in their lifetime. This is according to the memorandum that students from Wits University presented at Cosatu House this afternoon.

After two days of protest that erupted in violent clashes with private security and then with police, students marched to Cosatu House in Braamfontein peacefully after spending the morning studying.

Led by student leaders Mcebo Dlamini, Fasiha Hassan, Koketso Poho and Kefentse Mkhari, students said their parents needed to take to the streets with them as theirs was a collective working class fight. 

"We came here because we are children of the working class. Our parents are poor. Cosatu represents the working class. Unless they tell us otherwise today,” Dlamini said.

Dlamini said it was time for Cosatu to take action and “walk the talk”.

“They can’t just say 'we support you'. We want them to act. We want Cosatu to say when they are calling workers to the street so that the government can implement free education. This is not our issue alone,” he said. 

Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali said he welcomed the students’ call.

“The students and us are the same family; we are the parents; we are the working people,” Ntshalintshali said.

He said a full strategy for a way forward would be discussed on Monday when the full executive was set to meet.

South African Communist Party (SACP) second deputy general secretary, Solly Mapaila, said they were ready to march alongside students on October 14.

Mapaila said they would march to private institutions because these institutions had more money than the government.

Response to Gwede Mantashe

Earlier in the day Dlamini said formerly black universities were still playing catch-up with the formerly white institutions because their income from research could not be compared with that of universities like Wits.

He denounced comments that the organisation's secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, made earlier this week.

Mantashe said if he were the minister of higher education he would close down universities until students felt the pinch.

“My first reaction would be to close them. For 16 months. And open them after six months, and close the residences for six months. After a year, people will know higher education will be important for their future. You are not doing anyone a favour by studying,” Mantashe said.

Dlamini said Mantashe’s comment was irresponsible.

“When he opens his mouth he spews bile. I mean that was irresponsible from a secretary-general, from a communist, from a father,” he said.

Dlamini said Mantashe and other leaders in government did not care because their children studied abroad.

“I mean Gwede Mantashe’s children are in China where education is free. But us ... when those children come back here they are going to rule us because they have education that we don’t have. Our children are going to be maids of the Blade Nzimandes and the Gwede Matashes. That’s what they are doing. That’s what we are fighting for,” Dlamini said.

Last year City Press spoke to Mantashe’s son Buyambo, who said he was passionate about farming and was preparing to study at China Agricultural University in Beijing.

Not all universities in China offer free education even though many are publicly funded for the country’s citizens. International students at the China Agricultural University can apply for scholarships but they would not attend for free without that.

Fees are 20 000 RMB (about R40 700) for undergraduate students and 26 000 RMB (about R52 900) for postgraduates.

After the memorandum was handed over, students went back to Solomon House, which has been their gathering place since the Fees Must Fall Protests in 2015.

Cosatu's former general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, joined the students in his capacity as a parent. He said he did not buy that free university education was not possible and said there just wasn’t enough political will.

“We reject this notion that South Africa cannot afford free education for its children. It’s a fallacy that we are such a poor country that we cannot even afford free education for our children,” Vavi said.

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