/ 9 November 2015

#FeesMustFall protesters march to Parliament

UCT students protest against higher education fees.
Spyware used to monitor students’ social media ballooned from R7.7-million to R54.2-million as dodgy deals surfaced following the arrest of senior police officers.

Parliament support staff and workers protested throughout Monday, demanding Parliament management provide better service conditions, improve pensions and deliver bonuses based on annual salaries instead of monthly salaries. 

Under Parliament’s current pension scheme, Sithembiso Tembe, chairperson of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) branch at Parliament, says workers receive a small amount of money after years of employment. 

“They work for 20 years or 40 years, but when they retire, [Parliament] is only giving R100 000 or R200 000,” Tembe said. 

Staff and workers met with management on Monday morning, but no solution was reached. Tembe says that protesting workers and staff will down tools indefinitely until management responds to their demands. 

“Parliament should lead by example so that other government departments and the private sector can follow suit to treat workers better,” Tembe said, as workers sang behind him. 

On the same day that workers downed tools inside Parliament, students in the #FeesMustFall campaign prepared to lead a march to Parliament gates to meet with Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande and President Jacob Zuma. Although the Parliament worker strike is separate from the #FeesMustFall campaign, Tembe noted some relation between the protests. 

“The students are fighting for their own cause, we are fighting for our own cause,” Tembe said. “Maybe we will join them, because we are parents, we are their brothers and sisters, we pay for fees.”

#FeesMustFall marches on
While the courtyard inside the Parliament gates was covered in a sea of red Nehawu t-shirts, a group of student protesters from the University of Cape Town, the University of the Western Cape and Stellenbosch University marched past the gates on their way towards the Parliament’s entrance at the Louis Botha statue. They cheered and waved at workers behind the gates, before continuing on, expecting Nzimande or Zuma to come outside. 

About two weeks ago, students handed a memorandum to deputy minister of higher education, Mduduzi Manana, demanding nationwide insourcing at all universities, an explanation for police brutality against protesters, outstanding charges to be withdrawn, and a timeline for free education. Last week Monday, they demanded that Nzimande and Zuma address them today after Manana failed to meet with them to respond to their demands. 

When they reached Parliament, protesters also stood in solidarity with the 141 UJ students who were arrested during protests in Johannesburg.

“What happened at UJ, the police brutality at UJ, it’s an apartheid image,” said UCT protester, Athabile Nonxube. “We are expecting the heads of the state to come out and account to the people and tell the people why we are having the situation in the country.” 

President Zuma and Nzimande were not present to address students, but Thula Nxesi, in his capacity as acting minister of higher education, attempted to read a response to the protesters’ demands. However, students disrupted his address, irritated that Nzimande and Zuma were not there. 

“The government has no relationship with the people of South Africa at large. Zuma said it himself: the ANC comes before anyone else,” Nonxuba said. 

In their memorandum to #FeesMustFall, the department of higher education and training states that the department does not have the authority to withdraw charges and the prosecuting authority can deal with the matter. The statement also said that the government is working on a financial model to provide free education to the poor, and the issue of outsourcing must be “resolved between workers; recognised trade unions and the institution [university] management”. 

After lingering around Parliament for another hour, students made their way to the train station to regroup at UCT. Exams began at UCT on Monday, but the university management has offered students the option to defer exams until January 2016. For some students, an end to outsourcing and fees has taken precedence over exams.  

“I’m not writing today, I’m supposed to write on Friday,” Nonxuba said. “I’m only going to write if UCT answers our mothers and father, but if they don’t answer our fathers and mothers we will close down UCT, and we’re prepared to do so.”