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Blade’s fee ‘fix’: More questions than answers

Thabo Shingange is 3rd year Political Science and Philosophy student at University of Pretoria. He is acting University of Pretoria SRC President, one of the leaders of #FeesMustFall (University of Pretoria) and one of the leaders of #AfrikaansMustFall (University of Pretoria)

After engaging with higher education minister Blade Nzimande’s report on fees, as a student I have the following to articulate. There remains an unambiguous demand on the part of students for free quality and decolonised education – that is clear. What is unclear is the “how”, “from where” and “for who”.

Let us start by separating the question of fee increments and that of free quality decolonised Education.

A council of any university has the legal jurisdiction to determine its own particular tuition fees as afforded by the higher education act under the problematic concept of “institutional autonomy”.

With reference to Minister Blade Nzimande’s announcement, this particular legal obligation has been observed; in fact, the government erred in the 2015 #FeesMustFall protest by announcing zero increase on behalf of councils – this is not to say that, as students, we are against that decision regardless of its legal standing.

Where it is problematic, today, is on the question of consistency, that is. It is  problematic that the state took the matter into their own hands in 2015 only to give it back to councils this year.

Notwithstanding the above, there are various challenges that I have picked up from the minister’s report:

  • What happens to the historical debt of the missing middle student (which is now capped at R600,000) which has been accumulated prior to the announcement?
  • What has informed the amount of R600,000 to be a sufficient cap, taking into consideration that R600,000 of a black family and that of a white family carry different expenditure roles in the form of different dependents of that particular income (i.e. black tax)?
  • Who is responsible for the means test of this particular categorisation?
  • How is this solution taking us to the realisation of the primary demand, free quality decolonised education?

As a result of the inconsistency and ambiguity of the minister’s statement, there is a notion that councils of universities can succumb to the demand of “fee” free quality higher education and training; I use “fee” to not vindicate any university for its obligation to both transform and decolonise its curriculum. However, I differ on the former for the following reasons:

  • Fee Free education, or the reality of the concept to be exact, is that it is not free; the money comes from somewhere. What we argue as students is that the source should not be the students themselves.
  • Universities, with the above in mind, cannot operate effectively and produce the quality equally demanded if the means for which the fees are to be paid have no clear source.
  • As a result, university councils are not capacitated to deal with this particular demand insofar as government remains silent on addressing this pertinent issue.

From the above, I deduce that it is the role of the state to deliver “fee” free quality education and not that of councils. Where councils have an unambiguous obligation is to deliver free quality decolonised education. The two should not be confused.

Back to the state: the further question then becomes fee free quality education for whom? I submit that this should be for the poor, working and middle class. Of course, such a proposal has been met with opposition from those who argue that students should not be divided along class lines.

I beg to differ.

I differ because such opposition rises from an erroneous utopia that students have always been united – the reality is that students have never been united on class lines. It’s always the poor fighting the system, the poor have always been at the disadvantage of a system which they do not benefit from generally. Every shutdown I have experienced has never had the bourgeois at the forefront; in consequence, we cannot now be said to be protesting for the rich. Personally, I refuse.

The reasons our campuses are burning, are in complete chaos, is not because students are united under a common principle, it is because the poor seek refuge. The rich are at the comfort of driving back to their homes to complain about how their day has been compromised.

With that being made clear, how do we reach a point where fee free quality education is delivered to us as students? Such cannot be achieved with division in the poor constituencies. This is something party politics in our campus spaces have failed to realise – the need to unite all poor constituencies along a common cause.

For far too long, capital has ruled over us through ‘divide and conquer’. Such a strategy can only be effective insofar as we allow it to manifest. Now is not a time to point fingers but rather a time to unite behind a shared objective.

In closing, the state should not be vindicated for the current mess institutions of higher learning find themselves in. This is a pure result of the failure of the state to deliver on its promises. A disingenuous effort to misguide the demands into the wrong battlefields and a mischievous attempt at avoiding responsibility

We have a duty to defend the future of this country, both from populist opportunism as well as to ensure the revolution is not misguided, and the start of this realisation is to hold the right people accountable for the right demands. DM


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