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2015-10-22 17:06

Today all eyes will be in Pretoria as the South African Students Alliance with its supporters march to the Union Buildings to demand free and equal access to higher education for students from poor households. At the same time, President Zuma will be holding an urgent meeting he has called over the current impasse between students and their school principals throughout the country.

The Zuma administration is at the apex of reconciliation fatigue that started engulfing the country since 2007 and seemingly has reached its crescendo with the students demands for equal higher education access. This apex comes as the world economics are wanting with South Africa at the epicenter of the emerging market storms. There have been over 20 000 riot like protests since 2007 across South Africa.

What has seen bizarre and overzealous litigation by universities in Cape Town suing twitter hashtags in apartheid style Rule Nisi applications. Liberal universities like the University of Cape Town went to court to make it illegal for students to tweet popular hashtags related to their reasonable demands. What followed is the systematic action where police had to act on court orders that made students law breakers with huge chaos ensuing including the very son of the University of Cape Town vice chancellor arrested amongst the students who entered parliament grounds unlawfully; compounded by his father's own court action which made his son's actions unlawful in the first place. Today, Dr Max Price released a grandstanding message almost forgetting he caused it all, from his refusal to listen to the students and litigating them.

As much as the issues are about equal education, in Cape Town, white students volunteered to form a protective ring around black students so that Western Cape SAPS doesn't use brute force especially seen there. From #FeesMustFall to #BlackLivesMatter in our own backyard.

To begin with president Zuma will have to get the school principals to rescind their court actions which blatantly infringe upon basic rights of every South African. With these court orders, students can't associate, can't communicate, can't assembly, have had their freedoms of speech curtailed by the courts. The Western Cape High Court making activities of student political organizations, NGOs and their leaders illegal must be immediately set aside with unawares students who followed crowds in storming parliament charges dropped. The Speaker of Parliament should make sure this happen where charges relate to storming parliament illegally.

President Zuma should also realize the political capital granted to him by South African students protests that the time for the current law that makes universities countries within a country is over, the so called 'institutional autonomy' where public money is spent by a group of elite man in each university without much supervision from the state must end.

Universities, must henceforth be seen as Eskom or SAA etc is seen, they are in a crisis and the people who run to TV screens to opine on bad management in these SOEs like SAA, SABC etc are themselves bad managers and they ought to manage better.

The fact that universities are not subject to the PFMA (financial management law) is an anomaly that must henceforth end. Universities manage public money and public lives. They hold the future of the country at their hands yet they have a veil that makes them unaccountable to a greater degree.

Universities invest on the JSE, they invest the money they generate from operations and the money the state grants to them. Many of these investments have not yielded good returns and no one really knows where these billions of rands end up. Some principals lose these funds and still earn performance bonuses. Many of the universities have almost naught income from internal knowledge. This means they aren't in a position to teach if they do not generate tradeable research for income.

Principals earn packages each where their single person salary packages could pay for both the state president and his deputy. They also keep palatial homes and ignore the poor students who generally live under shameful conditions.

Universities must not block the Internet. The president must demand this on behalf of the students.

Today president Zuma must take back control of the country and its universities from the elite, urgent law must be tabled that regulate various aspects of universities including how fees are set, how their EE policy on academic staff is implemented, the serious issue of classist behavior where non academic services have been outsourced and benefits cut amongst others. It is about the the lack of transformation that has gotten us here and we must praise and not attack the students.

Universities are not what the Holy See (Vatican) is to Rome and Italy.

In short, the ANC must govern and stop negotiating to govern.

Bongani Mbindwane @mbindwane on twitter

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