Marches under way in Cape Town as students, academics brace for Gordhan budget speech

Scenes from fees protests outside Parliament last year. (Roger Bosch, AFP)

Scenes from fees protests outside Parliament last year. (Roger Bosch, AFP)

Students from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) are outside the gates of Parliament in Cape Town amid heavy police presence. The CPUT students aren’t the first group of protesters to head to Parliament – pickets have already been under way in a day where finance minister Pravin Gordhan’s medium-term budget announcement might face strong reaction.

Earlier in the morning, close to 100, people, including academics, stood outside the gates of Parliament bearing placards which read “Save our students”, “Save our univesities” and “Increase funding”. In front of the crowd, a large banner made reference to the ANC’s Freedom Charter, saying: “Keep the doors of learning open”.

The group was in favour of universities to remain open so that academic programmes continue without disruption.
University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Max Price stood among the picketers, who dispersed later in the morning. Some academics remained behind, however, to wait for students who had promised that they would march en masse to the gates of Parliament.

“We call upon all citizens of this country to descend to parliament and other strategic institutions on #26October 2016 which has been declared as the national day of action,” a statement by Fees Must Fall Western Cape said.

Student began streaming into CPUT’s grounds throughout the morning until a large group of more than 1 000 students and workers assembled to march to Parliament. The CPUT campus in District Six is the closest higher education institution to Parliament.

In the beginning, protesters had to negotiate with police before they were allowed to leave the university with safe passage to Parliament. Police vans and riot police are currently posted outside the Parliament gates. The heavy police presence comes after student protesters managed to breached the gates of Parliament last year, to peacefully march inside the courtyard of Parliament and outside the doors to the National Assembly when last year’s medium-term budget was announced.

This year, police have brought barbed wire outside the gates to Parliament. Students protesters are demanding that free decolonised quality education be implemented across South African campuses for everyone in the country wishing to study.

Student organisations from various universities in the Cape have joined together under the banner of Fees Must Fall Western Cape to address specific demands to higher education minister Blade Nzimande. The demands include resources be made available so that students can be funded for an Afrocentric curriculum for undergraduate degrees, the adoption of insourcing and historical debt from 1992 onwards must be scrapped. The students have also called on rape and patriarchy to be addressed in universities.

“The struggle for free decolonised Afrocentric education cannot be divorced from the struggle against patriachy and rape culture at institutions,” The Fees Must Fall Western Cape campaign said.

“University management has made it clear as with all forms of oppression within the white-supremacist anti-black order, patriarchy, classism, sexism, homophobia, ableism will not be responded to and so the onus rests with us who envisage a new society.”

Students from the University of Cape Town (UCT) will be at Parliament, alongside students from Stellenbosch University and the University of the Western Cape (UWC). In an email, the UWC Fees Will Fall movement invited the university management to join the protest to Parliament, but UWC’s executive management responded that they would not attend.

The university said that its reason for not joining students was that it had articulated its support for free education for the poor and the so-called “missing middle” at the Fees Commission, and it believes that multi-stakeholder engagement will help in addressing fees concerns.

Students are currently protesting peacefully outside Parliament, where Gordhan’s speech is scheduled to take place at 2pm.

Ra'eesa Pather

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