Hundreds of academics who are in solidarity with protesting students across South African institutions have called the situation that has gripped the nation a crisis that government and vice chancellors need to urgently resolve. This is in stark contrast with Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s statement that the national protests were not a national crisis.
Over 490 local academics have written to Nzimande, Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene and vice chancellors, urging them to make education more accessible to students. In the letter, appearing on a community advocacy website amandla.mobi, academics are standing in opposition to their employers, saying that the inaccessibility of education for poor students was an injustice that needed to be rectified immediately.
The academics strongly condemned the use of violence against students by police and said they had witnessed students acting with “extraordinary discipline, tactical skill and moral purpose”. “This commitment and self-control has gone unseen by many university managers, government leaders and the media who have misrepresented students as uninformed, irresponsible or irrational.
“Protesting students have faced and overcome potentially divisive tensions within their ranks and have shown maturity in their intellectual arguments and political interventions. Above all, they have required us to confront a grievous national problem.
“This in the face of persistent exclusion of those who are black and poor from higher education and from the opportunities that higher education makes possible”, the statement read. Academics said they saluted students in their principled call for fully-funded transformative education.
“Students are insisting that a frank national debate be opened on both the funding and orientation of higher education.
“We reiterate the urgency of this debate, and call on our vice chancellors, the Department of Higher Education and Training and National Treasury to understand that creative alternatives are now both urgent and essential.
We cannot continue as usual. We are no longer in a moment in which we can quibble over percentages.
“We watch, year on year, as public funding of higher education is diminished, effectively turning our universities into semi-private institutions . . . We call for a radical reinvestment in public universities by all who manage, work and study in them and we commit ourselves and our work to the creation of a society in which all can thrive,” the academics wrote.
Meanwhile, the EFF said it is committed to fighting with students for a zero increase in university fees, according to the party’s Chief Whip Floyd Shivambu.
Shivambu was among a group of EFF members who were forcibly removed from the National Assembly as they attempted to disrupt Finance Minister Nhanhla Nene from delivering his mini budget, by chanting #FeesMustFall.
“We do not agree with the six percent cap. We do not want any fees to be paid by students because there is enough money to give to students to study for free,” he told News24.
“This is what we are trying to explain in Parliament, but they did not allow us to.”
Commenting on the countrywide student protest, Shivambu said: “We are going to fight on the streets with students until there is victory.”
After spending several hours chanting at Parliament’s entrance in Plein Street, a crowd of students gathered at the gates in Parliament Street. These gates of parliament, which is supposedly one of the most secure premises in the country, were not locked. In an unprecedented move, students overpowered about seven security guards and forced their way into the parliamentary precinct demanding that Nzimande address them.
Shivambu deplored the ANC for allowing the police to fire stun grenades on the students in a bid to get them to leave parliament.
“We have always known that the ANC sends police to deal with political questions. This is how they react and how we see dictatorship emerging in South Africa.
“They are intimidating students who want to make their point that politicians must consider the issue of cutting fees – but they are sending the police.”
Shivambu pointed out that the ANC should have addressed students.