South Africa


‘Struggle continues’ despite end to national shutdown, while further student protests erupt

Students protest for increased government funding for tertiary education at Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) on April 08, 2021 in Durban, South Africa. According to media reports, the students are demanding the scrapping historical debt and financial exclusion, as well as access to free registration, computers and data. (Photo by Gallo Images/Darren Stewart)

Just over a week ago, the national shutdown was called off by the South African Union of Students after several demands were met by the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation. But there are outstanding issues, says the union. At the same time, student protests were held at some campuses in KwaZulu-Natal this week.

The national shutdown led by the South African Union of Students (SAUS) might be over, but its president Misheck Mugabe said “the struggle continues through other means and lobbying”. 

Protests have flared up at some KwaZulu-Natal campuses this week.

Mugabe spoke to Daily Maverick one week after the shutdown was called off. 

On 12 March, the union — mandated by Student Representative Council (SRC) structures called for a nationwide shutdown of campuses across the country after talks with the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation led by Minister Blade Nzimande fell through. Some of the union’s demands at the time included clearance of historical debt for all students, an end to police brutality against protesting students, laptops for students, and the return to campus for students, as some have connectivity issues preventing them from online registration and attending online classes. 

Read in Daily Maverick: Nationwide university shutdown looms, more campuses join protests

But last week, the union called off the shutdown, stating some of its demands had been met. Demands met included: 

  • laptops would be given to students through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and would be distributed within the next few weeks;
  • student registration would be extended; and
  • 22 out of 26 universities agreed to suspend academic exclusion for 2020 students, meaning 643,000 students who were on the verge of financial exclusion were able to register.

When asked if SAUS thinks their demands are being met, Mugabe said: “most of our demands were met … R7-billion was retained to fund NSFAS new students, students with debts are registering in some universities, academic exclusion rule is suspended and laptops are confirmed coming next week”. 

But Mugabe said there were still outstanding issues such as the R13-billion worth of student debt, which the union is discussing with the government and the private sector on how it can be relieved. 

And some of the biggest victories for the union? 

“The biggest victory in access to Universities for our students, its provision of NSFAS allowances to students, and the fact that the question of student debt and free education is back on the national agenda is a step forward,” said Mugabe. 

But the struggle is not over yet, he said. Mugabe told Daily Maverick SAUS and SRCs would be focusing for the rest of the year on ensuring that a sustainable student funding model is implemented, ensuring the transformation of higher learning institutions, the establishment of a student-centred accommodation model and the building of caring universities. 

On Friday 9 April, SAUS and Nzimande were meeting to discuss further “outstanding matters such as Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) funding, accreditation of student accommodation and provision for the registration of unregistered students,” according to Mugabe.

Since the shutdown was called off, protests have erupted at the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) in KwaZulu-Natal. 

According to EWN, the protests by students are about clearance for students before registration. This coincides with protests by university staff who are protesting for an 8% salary increase. During a live broadcast, students threw stones at broadcaster eNCA’s reporters and the police. 

Daily Maverick has attempted to reach MUT’s Publications and Media Relations officer: Marketing and Communication Bheki Hlope, but he did not respond to calls and an SMS on Friday. In a statement, the university said lectures would start on Monday, 12 April. DM



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  • Gimme hope Joanna. These people view themselves as future leaders, but has no sense of reality. Most, if not all varsities have been on the transformation bandwagon since 1994. When will they arrive. From what to what must they change? And what must they care for? This is so thick.

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