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​Sasco to ANC: Test free education

A fresh set of demands to resolve the #FeesMustFall crisis was presented to Cabinet this week after a confidential meeting between the ANC’s deputy secretary general, Jessie Duarte, and the national leaders of the South African Students Congress (Sasco) on Tuesday. Sasco’s demands include:

  • A pilot project for free education at one of the institutions next year;
  • A moratorium on fee increases;
  • An increase of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) annual household income cap to R900 000;
  • A review of institutional autonomy; and
  • An increase in government funding to universities to more than 50%.

Sasco national organiser Lwando Majiza said: “We’ve now given Cabinet an opportunity to meet our demands. We’ve asked for the immediate declaration of a commitment to free education with specific timeframes.”

He said one of the most important demands related to the R600 000 household salary cap for government financial aid applicants.

“We realised the R600 000 cap was not scientific. So we said we should use the living standard measurement (LSM) to classify the poor close to R900 000.”

In his post-Cabinet briefing yesterday, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said the Cabinet committed to fund students not covered by NSFAS and called for the resumption of academic activity at all institutions.

No mention was made of the ANC and Sasco meeting or their new demands. The student organisation has also raised serious concerns about the arrest of students and intimidation by police, repeating a call for students to be granted amnesty.

“The laws of SA allow for the president or [justice minister] to grant amnesty.

Those who were arrested for public violence and illegal gathering should be granted that,” Majiza said. “But those who were arrested for torching buildings, possession of dangerous weapons — unfortunately we can’t protect them.”

Police efforts to clamp down on #FeesMustFall protests intensified this week, as curfews came into effect at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and Rhodes University in Grahamstown. Residences were raided at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) in Soshanguve and Vaal University of Technology (VUT) in Vanderbijlpark.

Hundreds of students marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Thursday to call for the immediate release of all 567 students who have been arrested during the protests, as well as the withdrawal of all police and their nyala armoured personnel carriers from campuses.

A march to the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters in Johannesburg by Wits students was called off after student leader Shaeera Kalla was shot by police firing rubber bullets.

The #OccupyUnionBuildings group said in a statement: “President Zuma, while in Kenya, deployed police and military ministers to end the protests without explaining how and where money will come from.

“It was clear from that moment that President Zuma is committed to avoiding dialogue, but showers students with bullets and teargas.”

Sasco warned against focusing protest action on the detention of leaders at the expense of students’ demands.

Said Majiza: “We have refused the temptation to centralise the struggle around individuals and we’ve said the SRCs and students must continue leading the struggle, despite the detention of others.”

Despite denials by the police and university management at TUT, Wits and VUT, students told the M&G police continued raiding their residences to look for protest leaders, firing teargas and rubber bullets in the process.

VUT student Lwazi Jongilile described the raids: “They came into Academia Residence [at VUT] firing tear gas and knocking down our doors. I wasn’t even protesting, just sitting in my friends’ room.”

One Wits student spoke out, to cheers and applause, at a packed mass meeting at Wits’s Senate House: “I am a physically disabled student and I can tell you the police did in fact come into our residence. I have been discriminated against even though I’m not violent.” 

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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