The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and individuals from Rustenburg’s platinum belt are using the Fees Must Fall student protests to push their own political agenda, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said on Thursday.
“There are those who have identified student protests as part of their agenda to disrupt government,” said Nzimande at a briefing on the department’s state of readiness for 2017.
Asked to elaborate, he said: “Some are political organisations like the EFF … Others are some ultra-left expatriate academics who seem to be experimenting.
“Some in Rustenburg’s platinum belt were identified as common denominators.”
Nzimande added: “Some political parties who may be dying may be seeing this as an opportunity to revive themselves. I don’t say more than this.”
He said the government was ready for a possible continuation of Fees Must Fall protests, and had briefed President Jacob Zuma on its state of readiness last year.
‘We need rich students’
But he believed that, even if the government made education completely free, there would still be those who were dissatisfied.
Nzimande said he was worried that some parents were sending their children to universities overseas, instead of local ones, to avoid cancelled classes and delayed exams owing to fees-related protests.
This included parents from other African countries who had traditionally sent their children to South Africa to study.
“We cannot afford to drive away rich students,” said Nzimande, “because we need their money in order to subsidise poor students for that matter.”
There had also been a sudden interest in starting private universities in South Africa, because a gap in the market had been created.
Nzimande estimated that the protests had cost around R1-billion in damage so far and said he hoped that a permanent solution would be found in 2017.
Gear to blame
He implored students not to be provoked into violence.
“If you are being provoked, why then burn a library and, in Mahikeng, destroy a state-of-the-art science laboratory?”
He said he understood what the students were going through and blamed the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) plan, a former government policy that was replaced in 2005 because it had not provided adequate funding for all aspects of education in the immediate years after apartheid.
“This is the year in which we hope this issue of fees will be addressed in one way or another,” Nzimande said. The Fees Must Fall protests appeared to take the government by surprise in October 2015 when thousands of students stormed Parliament during the medium-term budget speech of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene.
Weeks of clashes with police followed and Zuma announced that proposed fee increases would be frozen. For 2017, fee increases were capped at 8%, with another fee freeze for poor students and students from families with a joint income of less than R600 000. A fees commission was also established to examine controversial issues involving university fees and funding. – News24