/ 15 August 2016

#FeesMustFallReloaded: Mass meetings, a possible shutdown and a lot of debate

Students from different universities gathered at Church Square in Pretoria this morning as part of the Fees must fall march to the Union Buildings.
Bulawayo’s economic slump has resulted in live music no longer being played at venues such as a municipality beer garden in Matshobana township, Bulawayo. Photo: Zinyange Auntony

On Monday, universities and students braced themselves for renewed university shutdowns. But by the afternoon, the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) campus in Pietermaritzburg had been the only university to cancel lectures. The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and the University of Pretoria (UP) are embarking on consultations, while all is quiet in Cape Town.

Mass meetings were set to begin on Monday, but so far few universities have had their debates. The South African Union of Students (SAUS) has threatened to shut down universities, following its disappointment with the Fees Commission enquiry into whether free education is feasible and delays from Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande on what lies in store for fees in 2017.

SAUS has said the Fees Commission should consider ways to implement free education, rather than debate on the feasibility of free education. SAUS has so far planned mass meetings with the help of student representative councils (SRCs) that are represented by the union.

“A mandate must be given from our student constituencies. Each institution has its own dynamic and situation on the ground. As such, our SRCs will be calling mass meetings and various stakeholder meetings over the next few days. It is important that we consolidate a national list of demands that come directly from our students,” said SAUS president Avela Mjajubana.

But students at UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus have already begun initiating protests. Lectures at the university have been cancelled for today and tomorrow, students say.

But so far, reports indicate that UKZN Pietermaritzburg is on its own, with more universities in the country opting for discussions over shutdowns. The SRC at UP held a meeting earlier this morning to clarify what the aims are for the mass meetings. They also said student input was necessary in order for students to make a plan of action and pressure universities and the government into making free education a reality.

“The SRC has not called this meeting to initiate a strike. In fact, our call is not a strike to begin with. It’s for students to engage robustly on the way forward in terms of fees,” an SRC representative at UP said earlier this morning.

UP’s SRC echoed Mjajubana’s call that the priority is on receiving a mandate from students on how to move forward.

A town planning student said students can’t survive on a 0% increment because even though there would be no fee increase, there would still be fees to pay. Another student said the 0% fee increment should remain until a plan to implement free education has been put on the table. No plans materialised for a shut down.

Meanwhile, it was also an ordinary day at Wits, with the exception of a high police presence. The SRC released a statement late today that the next few days of the week would be dedicated to discussion. A mass meeting would take place on August 17, the statement said.

“Over the next few days we will be consulting with a number of stakeholders including residences, school councils and others,” the Wits SRC said in a statement.

The Wits SRC has promised to “deliver free, decolonised and quality education”, but so far the response from the Fees Must Fall movement at Wits has been silence. The Wits SRC is led by the Wits Progressive Youth Alliance, an umbrella body that incorporates students from the South African Students’ Congress (Sasco), Muslim Students’ Association, Young Communist League and the ANC Youth League.

But tensions erupted last year between Wits Fees Must Fall and the Wits SRC last year when rumours surfaced that PYA had taken a R40 000 bribe from the ANC, the PYA had been having secret meetings prioritising an ANC agenda and that the PYA had allowed the ANC to interfere in protests.

As yet, these rumours have not been proven, but SRCs (many in the country are led by ANC student organisations) have since been removed from the Fees Must Fall movements across the country.

At the University of Cape Town (UCT), similar incidents have followed. Rhodes Must Fall (RMF), the student movement which led Fees Must Fall protests at UCT, has distanced itself from the SRC because it says the SRC functions as part of the university system as it communicates regularly with UCT management and is therefore not independent in its interests. RMF also heavily criticised the SRC after many SASCO-led SRCs took a decision to halt protests when President Zuma announced the 0% fee increase.

Like most universities around the country, the UCT SRC said it will have discussions, but plans for a shutdown have not yet been implemented.

“The UCT SRC will not be implementing a shutdown tomorrow. As our statutory function requires of us, we will consult with all relevant stakeholders regarding the ideals for free education,” the UCT SRC said in a statement.

RMF remained mum on the issue throughout Monday, choosing instead to focus on commemorating the Marikana massacre.

Meanwhile, protests have erupted at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), but not by university students. High school and primary school students from the Congress of South African Students marched in solidarity with the movements for free education. Police dispersed students, who were at the UJ campus in Doornfontein, with rubber bullets.

Nzimande was expected to make an announcement on fees on Friday but the minister has said that this has been delayed and the ministry will engage with SRCs and relevant stakeholders.