Students demand Jacob Zuma's commitment

Students from the University of the Witwatersrand give a hero’s welcome to one of the protesters released from the Hillbrow police station. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Students from the University of the Witwatersrand give a hero’s welcome to one of the protesters released from the Hillbrow police station. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The South African Students’ Congress (Sasco) has threatened to prevent members of the newly-formed ministerial task team from entering any of the country’s 26 campuses.

Sasco, the South African Union of Students (Saus), which comprises members of student representative councils from the 26 universities, and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) student command have rejected the task team appointed by President Jacob Zuma to normalise the situation at the embattled universities.

Sasco has called for a countrywide shutdown of all universities on Thursday and Friday so that students can march in demand of free education.

The Saus is threatening “further chaos” at higher education institutions if Zuma turns down their request to meet him.

After weeks of protracted battles with police on campus, on Monday the protest by Wits students moved into Braamfontein, Johannesburg, where a bus was torched and shops looted.

The Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) opened a case of attempted murder on Wednesday after three guards were allegedly locked inside a burning building on Tuesday night. An entry gate, a security booth and a security control room at CPUT’s Bellville campus were gutted during the incident.

The president of the Saus, Avela Mjajubana, said the task team was made up of members mainly from the security cluster: “We don’t know whether we are at war with government.”

Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Jeff Radebe heads the task team. The other members are: Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor, Justice and Correctional Services Minister advocate Michael Masutha, Minister of Police Nathi Nhleko, Minister of State Security David Mahlobo, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, and Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba.

“If they call us, we are going to tell them we want the president to meet student leaders. They can be part of the meeting because they are colleagues of the president but the president must be present. We want to have a once-off meeting to deal with this situation,” Mjajubana said.

He insisted that the Saus did not “need government to implement free education tomorrow”.

“We want government to say that the presidential fees commission must report now and give us practical steps towards the implementation of free higher education.”

The Saus wrote to the presidency last Thursday requesting a meeting.

“If this request is not met by the end of the week and there’s no clear response then there will be chaos. We don’t want chaos; we want to go back to class and study. We don’t want to lose this year. It is very disturbing and we are disappointed as a union that we haven’t got a response as yet from the president.”

He denied that this week’s looting of shops in Braamfontein could have been the work of students.

He confirmed that students would be marching to the Chamber of Mines on Friday to demand that the private sector provide a policy framework outlining how they were going to assist the government to fund higher education.

Mpho Morolane, the national president of the EFF’s student command, said the ministerial task team would not yield positive results: “They don’t believe in the immediate implementation of free quality education, therefore we are not going to take guidance from them or co-operate with them.”

He said that no student “in his right mind” would not want to write the exams. “But we are sitting here with an exceptional situation whereby students are uniting and saying that they want free, quality education.

“Therefore we can’t look at the struggle in silos and speak about individuals who will be writing exams right now.

Sasco’s deputy president Tsakani Shiviti said the organisation rejected the task team. “Instead of having something to do with funding, we have another commission given to us by the president about security. What we want is for them to at least come with an intervention for funding and not to waste state resources by having a commission that is not going to assist us.

“We call upon all branches, regions and provinces to rise up and render higher education ungovernable until such a time the plight of the working class student is seen as exigent.”

Later in the week an uneasy calm settled on Wits as classes resumed.

Vice-chancellor Professor Adam Habib said there was a heavy presence of police and private security on campus.

“But this is not sustainable in the long term. We need a pragmatism among students and leaders if we have to get a sustainable outcome.”

Commenting on the task team, he said: “I think we do need a new intervention to stabilise the situation.”

Wits’s academic calendar has been extended by two weeks and exams are scheduled to start on November 3 and end on November 30.

Classes resumed at the University of Limpopo on Wednesday and the management of Sol Plaatje University in the Northern Cape successfully brokered an agreement with students to return to lectures on Monday. The vice-chancellor, Professor Yunus Ballim, said 15 days were lost and that the academic year could possibly be extended until the third week of December.

“The agreement reached was that none of our students would face a fee increase next year. There was also a commitment to complete the academic year.”

Roy Marcus, chairman of the council at the University of Johannesburg, said they were desperately trying to protect the academic programme. “We have sporadic incidents every day but we are absolutely steadfast in our commitment that the university will remain open and finish its academic timetable.”

He said universities were concerned about their academic integrity, adding that one of the things that made a university renowned was its ability to attract visiting professors and doctoral fellows.

“Because of the turmoil, academics are scared to come to South Africa. I have heard that some universities have been notified that invitations for visiting professors [to South Africa] are not being accepted now.”

Unisa’s vice-chancellor, Professor Mandla Makhanya, confirmed that exams were running smoothly.

But classes at the University of Cape Town remain suspended until Friday.

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