Students plan shutdown of 26 universities to highlight issue of financial exclusion

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Students at Wits University protesting over registration related issues.
Students at Wits University protesting over registration related issues.
Photo: Fani Mahuntsi/Gallo Images
  • Nationwide protest action is expected after the SA Union of Students had a meeting with the higher education department to discuss its demands.
  • SRCs have raised concerns regarding financial exclusion.
  • Police spokesperson Vish Naidoo says police will be on high alert.

Mass protest action across the country is expected on Monday as students from 26 different universities plan on bringing all institutions to a standstill.

It comes after mounting concerns of financial exclusion raised by Student Representative Councils (SRC), who are calling for the immediate resignation of Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande.

The nationwide action comes after the South African Union of Students (SAUS) had a meeting with the higher education department to discuss its demands.

SAUS president  Sibusiso Thwala said: "We convened an urgent meeting with SRCs and the deputy minister. This meeting took place after we had submitted a list of demands. Following robust, extensive engagements, we reject the response by the minister and deputy minister, and the lack of urgency to resolve the urgency of these issues."

Thwala said it was clear Nzimande did not take the students seriously.

"We have decided to shut down all 26 universities from Monday. All university SRCs have supported this decision unanimously. This shut down will continue until our demands have been met," he said.

TIMELINE | What we know about the #WitsAsinamali protests and the death of a patient

SAUS had given an ultimatum to respond to its memorandum by deadline, which was at 17:00 last Friday. 

In the memorandum, they outlined a list of students' demands, including the clearing of historical debt for all students, that registration for all first-year students be allowed to proceed while the government is still sorting out the funding challenges. They also want a 0% increase for the 2021 academic year. 

The mass discourse across the country's universities comes after the Wits protest last week when students took to the streets to protest over financial struggles.

Last Wednesday, they blocked off Empire Road in Johannesburg, demanding they be allowed to register for the 2021 academic year, regardless of historical debt.

Cabinet last week announced it had approved additional NSFAS funding for students.

The SRCs at Wits University and the University of Cape Town have announced their intention to join the protest action. 

The co-chairperson of the UCT's residence council, Mila Zibi, said they plan on marching for free education.

"We will be going around to residences and engaging with the populace, particularly on our plans to take the struggle for free education. More needs to be done and we call on students to keep their tekkies on. We should remain intact and combat ready," he said.

READ | UCT classes set to resume on Monday - but students vow to continue protests

UCT students held demonstrations last week around various issues, including financial exclusion.

On Sunday, the university announced that the student registration fee block, in respect of 2020 debt, will be lifted for South African students and students from the rest of Africa. The decision was made during the UCT council meeting.

UCT council chairperson, Babalwa Ngonyama, said: "Council reaffirms the value of the right to protest – to do so lawfully and peacefully and without fear of reprisal. Council also calls on all those concerned, including the South African Police Service, to exercise the necessary restraint.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc, compounding the many challenges that governments and institutions have had to face. Universities are not exempt, and the impact on staff and students has been profound. This is a time that calls for sensitivity, care and a humane approach to the funding crisis.

"The funding crisis is a national crisis. No university can solve it on its own – the higher education sector urgently needs intervention from the South African government."

Wits SRC president, Mpendulo Mfeka, said: "Nothing has changed since Fees Must Fall, students still get excluded because of finances. Wits students have been brutalised by police while trying to remove financial barricades."

Wits University management said the academic programme will continue online on Monday.

"We encourage all parties to remain calm, to exercise maximum restraint, and to attempt to resolve issues through dialogue and engagement. We remain committed to engaging with student leaders to try to resolve these matters at the institutional, sectoral and national levels," it said in a statement.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo told News24: "In those areas that are going to be affected by protest action, we will have our joint operations activated."

Naidoo could not answer whether any further deployments will be made.


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