South Africa

South Africa

#FeesMustFall: No end in sight

#FeesMustFall: No end in sight

Those who were hoping the #FeesMustFall protests would come to an end on Friday were to be disappointed. After an explosive beginning to the week, where Wits SRC leaders were branded sell-outs by angry protestors for striking a deal with university management, protests continued as the divisions among student leadership spread to other campuses across the country as well. By MARELISE VAN DER MERWE.

On Tuesday, differences between #FeesMustFall members across the country continued to deepen, as protestors demonstrated differing agendas on campuses nationally.

At UCT, students continued to protest against outsourcing, which the university had earlier committed to review. Protestors barricaded entrances at various points on the campus, burning garbage. Media were not welcomed.

A more moderate contingent of students told Daily Maverick they were concerned at radical demands being made in the short term, and that they believed the initial objectives of the #FeesMustFall movement had been achieved.

The academic, economic and social consequences of not writing exams would be severe, they said.

Cracks in the movement had already begun to show at a number of campuses last week, when protestors Daily Maverick spoke to expressed frustration at a lack of cohesive leadership. Ashleigh Lopez, a member of the movement studying at UCT, told Daily Maverick last week she believed #FeesMustFall could potentially disintegrate without decisive leadership. Mangaliso Nompula, a student leader at UWC, expressed a deep and ongoing distrust of the university’s SRC, which had already drawn some controversy earlier. A CPUT student who wished to remain anonymous said she was unsure the direction the movement was going to take next, although she intended to continue fighting for free tertiary education.

At Wits, chaos reigned as students debated allegations that SRC leaders had been bribed. On social media, some demanded evidence; others were clearly distressed that leaders had “sold out”.

It was former Wits SRC president Mcebo Dlamini, however, who really drew the wrath of members: one particular thread began with: “if you see mcebo please stab him for me” [sic] and was followed up with various users adding: “needs a knife in the heart” and “Um hunting that n****r down. He is safe nowhere” as well as several references to necklacing. “IT WILL TEACH WHO EVER THINKS OF BETRAYING DA MOVEMENT IN DA FUTURE!” wrote one user. “IMPIMPI MUST FACE DA NECKLACE!”

More radical voices called for the use of petrol bombs and more violent methods of protest.

Both online and offline, the differences between moderate and radical protestors were becoming clearer on Tuesday, no doubt catalysed by the split at Wits. Moderate members of the movement were urging protestors to accept the 0% fee increase promised by President Jacob Zuma and write their exams. Some added that the fight for free education could continue, but over a longer time frame. When Daily Maverick spoke to UCT management, they said they were just as unclear about the direction of future protests. The university, however, would definitely remain closed until at least Friday, 30 October.

During the protests on Tuesday, student activists met with university workers to discuss outsourcing on campus.

Despite calls to focus on negotiation from more moderate activists, the more radical contingent kept momentum going. At the centre of Cape Town, following promises to do so last week, students from the city’s other campuses continued to protest, following a day of chaos where vehicles were overturned and buildings were stoned at CPUT. Police were present, but the teargas and stun grenades of the last week were absent. (It was not, incidentally, only Cape Town’s university students who had their education disrupted this week – over 200 matriculants from Masiphumelele township wrote exams on Tuesday morning at an undisclosed safe location, after protestors dissatisfied with policing in the area had hurled petrol bombs and rocks during unrest that began on Friday night.) UWC remained closed until further notice, with Vice-Chancellor Tyrone Pretorius asking protestors to differentiate between internal university issues and national ones. Students had issued a detailed MOU outlining their areas of discontent, which ranged from tertiary education costs to the price of residence fees via KOVACS. At CPUT, the campus also remained closed on Wednesday and Thursday, with exams postponed until further notice.

CPUT Vice-Chancellor Prins Nevhutalu said there would be amnesty for students who were involved in “legitimate protests” and who “led the struggle”. All debt would be cancelled for students who legitimately expected funding but experienced a shortfall, he added.

In Bloemfontein, students marched to the campus’ main building to deliver a memorandum of demands to Vice-Chancellor Professor Jonathan Jansen. Among other things, protestors took issue with having to prove their financial need. They demanded financial support, the removal of apartheid-era CR Swart and MT Steyn statues, and an end to outsourcing. Jansen committed to responding by Wednesday at 13:00.

In KwaZulu-Natal, student leaders were gearing up to oppose a proposal by the University of KwaZulu-Natal to make laptops compulsory for first-year students. An internal email was leaked to News24 which laid out plans to phase in an online learning portal called Moodle, which would require all first and second year students to bring laptops from 2016. SRC president Nash Khumalo said the move was “highly impractical”.

“This is something that we will fight against,” he said.

Earlier, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande had claimed he was not disengaged during the countrywide protests last week. Speaking in Parliament during a debate on transformation, he said he had met with various university heads at critical times during the #FeesMustFall crisis.

“Contrary to what my detractors say…When it became apparent that students nationally were embarking on protests, I immediately called a meeting with vice chancellors and student leaders and have continued to engage with stakeholders until the president made his announcement on Friday,” he said.

But this has not been enough to satisfy his critics. Alongside the student movement, other independent voices have joined the cause for free education as well. Following reports last week that the Minister had been sitting on a viability report regarding no-fee tertiary education for three years, demands have been expressed by activists for the report to be released immediately.

Members of ACTIVATE!, a network of young leaders and academics across the country, told Daily Maverick they and associated organisation were urging student activists to direct their energies towards the release of the no-fee report. They had also set up a petition, they added.

Member Ndumiso Sokhela said, “Dr Nzimande received the ‘no-fees’ report in 2012, and yet he is continuously failing to release it. I’m disappointed, after such a long period in democracy. The corruption within the system, the level and relevance of this curriculum… Yes, I stand with young people in demanding that Dr Nzimande must #ReleaseTheReport.”

The #FeesMustFall protests do not appear to be going anywhere for now. But leadership divisions among the protestors could have serious consequences if a successful outcome to the struggles were not negotiated soon, a #FeesMustFall leader warned Daily Maverick. Expressing deep concern, the student said ongoing friction between factions could lead to a “national emergency”. DM

Photo: Some of the thousands of students from Wits University demonstrate outside the ANC head offices at Luthuli House during another day of demonstrations against fee increases at their university, Johannesburg, South Africa, 22 October 2015. EPA/KIM LUDBROOK.


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