/ 22 October 2015

‘Blame the universities, not the ANC’

Gwede Mantashe at the ANC's national general council.
Gwede Mantashe at the ANC's national general council.

Mantashe said blame shouldn’t be shifted from universities to the government and the ruling party, because universities take unilateral decisions when it comes to fee increments.

“University councils and vice-chancellors abuse this autonomy to commercialise education and exclude students on the basis of price and race,” he said.

He was addressing reporters at Luthuli House while students from the universities of the Witwatersrand and Johannesburg were planning to occupy the ANC’s headquarters. 

Mantashe said universities take unilateral decisions that are not dictated by the minister of higher education or the government. “If those decisions boomerang, they should not shift blame to anyone else. They should take responsibility,” he said.

Mantashe said the blame for the fees crisis has been misplaced. “University management must not be arrogant in dealing with the grievances of the students,” he said. 

He criticised the force used by police against students outside Parliament on Wednesday. 

“Where the police act with brute force against students, they must be condemned and those responsible must be held to account,” he said. 

Mantashe further warned students not to allow their legitimate struggles to be overtaken by anarchists. He said once there is violence, the students’ struggles would be dwarfed. 

The #FeesMustFall protests began almost a fortnight ago at Wits and have spread to almost all of South Africa’s university campuses. 

While protests have been mostly peaceful, police have been accused of being heavy-handed in dealing with students. 

On Thursday the University of Johannes-burg and Wits students marched from Braamfontein across the Nelson Mandela Bridge to the ANC’s offices, Luthuli House, to intensify their protest. They handed over a memorandum to the ANC, demanding that the party ensures universities do not increase fees next year, and that the government implement free university education.

Meanwhile, most of the country’s 26 universities were closed on Thursday. Many hope to re­open next week.

Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel announced the university management’s decision to close until Monday October 26. 

“In order to ensure the safety and security of our staff and students, the executive management has decided to suspend all university activities for the remainder of this week,” she said on Tuesday.

“This applies to all staff – academic, professional, support and administrative – and students.

“The university encourages students to use this time productively to prepare for their examinations.”

Wits has been closed since last Wednesday, when the protest broke out. Patel said management had been suspending university “activities on a day-by-day basis as developments unfolded around the ongoing student protest”.

Students are enraged by the decision of the council, the institution’s highest governing structure, to hike fees by 10.5% next year and to increase the upfront registration fee to just under R10 000.

The institution’s protesting students demand no fee increases for next year, saying they are already paying exorbitant fees. The increases will exclude many students next year, they argue.