AFTER a second day of protests at universities around the country turned violent, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said an agreement had been reached between university and stakeholders to cap fee increases for 2016 at six percent.
Students across the country, however, immediately rejected this and insisted that they would not accept any increase for the coming year.
“We are rejecting it. I don’t know if people don’t understand mathematics but a six does not look like a zero,” said University of Witwatersrand (Wits) student Mcebo Dlamini.
Another, Wits incoming Student Representative Council (SRC) chairperson, Nompendulo Mkatswa, added: “We are not entertaining it, we are rejecting it.”
Echoing Mkatswa and Dlamini from over 1 000 km away and speaking on behalf of student protestors at the University of Cape Town (UCT) was student activist Pam Dhlamini, who stated the group – led by organisations such as the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania (PASMA), the ANC-aligned South African Students Congress (SASCO), and the Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) movement – outright rejected the six percent cap proposal.
The six percent was what stakeholders had agreed to as a short-term solution for 2016 during an urgent meeting in Cape Town on Tuesday afternoon.
Following the meeting, during a media briefing, Nzimande urged students to accept the offer.
“I urge them to seriously take this offer in the interests of the system.”
After two days in which Wits, Rhodes and UCT suspended all classes, Nzimande said it was vital that they re-open and said President Jacob Zuma had welcomed the proposal that came out of the meeting.
“The president expressed relief that it seems possible at least some light at the end of the tunnel,” Nzimande said.
“We cannot really as a country afford not to have examinations written on time. We are already concerned about the impact of the loss of days on academic work. That is our appeal, that the parties find each other in a compromise.”
Wits University on Tuesday afternoon announced that classes would remain suspended until next week, with a national day of solidarity planned across the country on Wednesday.
Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib told the same media briefing, negotiations should open with students if they were not happy with the proposed limit on fee hikes.
He added that it would be “horrendous” if lectures were further interrupted and students were not able to sit exams.
Asked about the impact on universities’ finances of placing a ceiling on fee increases, Nzimande added: “Of course this is just for 2016, just to deal with the immediate problem.”
He, however, added that a task team would be set up to propose a sustainable solution for 2017 and beyond. The team was to deliver their plan of action within the next six months.
As Nzimande briefed media, UCT protestors welcomed back 23 of their fellow students who had been arrested on Tuesday morning after ignoring a court interdict that they vacate the university’s administration building, Bremner. They were held at the Rondebosch police station until about 3pm for processing. All were expected to appear in the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court later in October.
“We have had a lot of trouble with police,” said Dhlamini. “The students who were just released were arrested violently by the police dogs.”
Dhlamini commented on the afternoon’s protest outside of the police station where white student sympathisers were asked to form a human shield between black student protesters and the police. However, police took no action against the protesting students despite one throwing a two litre bottle at one of the senior officers.
Meanwhile, at Stellensbosch University, riot police were called to campus to suppress student protests there. It was reported that the protesters broke a glass door at the entrance to the university’s Admin B Building.
On police presence and alleged action, spokesperson for student organisation Open Stellenbosch, Ijeoma Opara, wrote on Facebook: “Today my fellow students were assaulted by police, almost arrested, all fighting for an inclusive education. I cannot believe the apathy that exists on this campus. Other students were filming on their phones, laughing at the efforts, and shaking their heads as they made their way to class. I am disgusted.”
Students elsewhere across the country also came out in protest against fee increases and, at some institutions like UCT, the outsourcing of labour. Police were also called to intervene at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and Rhodes University.
One of the placards seen at the Rhodes protest carried the statement: “Our parents were SOLD dreams in 1994… We are just here for the REFUND!!!”.
Protest action was expected to continue and escalate on Wednesday with a nationwide strike planned by students and supporting organisations. – ANA