South Africa

South Africa

Student protests: Another day of uncertainty and simmering tensions

Student protests: Another day of uncertainty and simmering tensions
Photo: Police forces stand guard after running battles with students on the Wits University campus as ongoing protests continue against the cost of higher education in Johannesburg. 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

Over a month after the protests began, demonstrations continue at a number of universities around the country. After weeks of protesting, the students are tired but say they are committed to their demands. Violence, in more ways than protest, continue to rock SA campuses. By GREG NICOLSON.

God knows,” said University of Johannesburg student Anele Madonsela between coughs on Monday night, unsure of what would happen with the protests she’s been part of. “Hopefully the vice chancellor gives in. Basically we’re just doing this for the workers now; they’re strong.”

It’s been over a month since the #FeesMustFall movement started to demonstrate for more equal access to tertiary education and the transformation of higher education. The protests continue to simmer at campuses across the country while some students and staff hold out for their demands.

We are slowly but surely burning out but the workers inspire us,” continued Madonsela, tired from weeks of protests. “We are not just fighting for ourselves. We are fighting for our mothers and fathers. We are fighting for young people to get what we have.”

Late on Friday evening during a night vigil against brutality from police and security, which was earlier attended by students, staff, outsourced workers, students from other universities and others like Zwelinzima Vavi and Paul Verryn, police pepper-sprayed and shot rubber bullets at students when they demonstrated by the university gate. Videos show police shooting dozens of rubber bullets at students, threatening and appearing to harass them. News24 and IOL reported that multiple petrol bombs were thrown at UJ property but did not cause significant damage.

Madonsela said many of the students who have continued the protest at UJ are traumatised from the continued crackdowns by security and police. The UJ Fees Must Fall group has called for a mass day of action on Wednesday. While a group of students and staff continue to demonstrate, soon the university will close the academic programme for the year.

In a statement on Monday UJ Vice Chancellor Ihron Rensburg spoke of “experiencing the birth pains of an entire new epoch for universities in South Africa”. Announcing new proposals, he said the university will insource all workers by June 2017 and until then pay an additional monthly R1,000 to each outsourced worker while a task team on outsourcing works on the issue. Rensburg said 15,000 needy students would be assisted with paying registration fees and allowed full access to their academic records. The increased security will however stay and the suspension of six students over the demonstrations will be temporarily lifted “subject to them agreeing to a statement of intent”.

At University of Western Cape (UWC), students allegedly set fire to two buildings on Monday, according to reports. According to Vice Chancellor Tyrone Pretorius students blocked buses out of the campus and were armed with bricks and stones.

The sit-down examinations for final year students started this morning as planned. For today’s session more than 400 students elected to write the examination at an off-campus venue. We presume that the remainder of those that were supposed to write today elected to write either the second opportunity exams in December or the exams scheduled for January. However, there are also many students who were prevented from leaving residences this morning as well as scores of students who reported being so traumatised that they are unable to write this week,” Pretorius said.

The Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) on Monday remained closed after protests and CPUT Vice Chancellor Prins Nevhutalu announced that all students would have to leave campus by Wednesday afternoon while all non-exit level courses will be suspended until January. Those in exit-level courses will be notified later in the week about exams. Staff have been asked to stay away, with the hope of returning to work on Thursday. “For the past few weeks CPUT has been held hostage by a group of students who are determined to make the university ungovernable. The academic activities have been disrupted and the destruction of university property has continued unabated,” said Nevhutalu.

A group called Fees Must Fall Parents Solidarity Committee, made up of CPUT and UWC parents, on Sunday said,As parents we do not condone violence. We do not believe, however, that there is a symmetry between the violence of armed police and private security forces that indiscriminately shoot at students and their resistance.” The group claimed the universities’ failures to engage workers and students and the security and police on campus is a key cause of the resulting violence.

The University of Cape Town (UCT) on Monday said a small group of protesters tried to disrupt an exam on Monday night. “The group broke windows and gained access to the lobby of the exam venue. It seemed that they wanted to throw a badly smelling substance into the venue, seemingly excrement. The UCT Campus Protection Services were able to stop the protesters from actioning their plan,” said Gerda Kruger, executive director for communication and marketing. The Rhodes Must Fall movement on Monday said a joint shop stewards council meeting had agreed to hold a mass worker meeting on Wednesday to help decide the way forward on ending outsourcing.

On social media, however, news from UCT was dominated on Monday by reports that a woman was raped at Azania House, the administrative building which protesting students have occupied. Posts calling for the alleged perpetrator to be found included his name and a photo. While discussions throughout the day on social media centred around patriarchy and sexual violence, there were reports the alleged rapist had been spotted and was being pursued by students in the early hours of Tuesday morning. 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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