JOHANNESBURG: "The ongoing protests over fee increases that have shut down several universities are a gross injustice. And the mutiny, which could be infiltrated by forces without the interests of the poor at heart, has to stop before universities are destroyed."
This was stated by Department of Higher Education and Training director-general Gwebinkundla Qonde yesterday as more students threatened to shut down their respective institutions.
“If this is not arrested, it has a potential to destroy the system. Universities will take a serious knock,” Qonde warned.
He also reminded South Africans local universities have taken a knock in the recently released QS World University Rankings survey.
“If the rankings continue to go down, the rich will remove their children from the universities and the working class will be trapped in a system that doesn’t work.”
His statements came as pandemonium reigned at Wits University yesterday as rocks and rubber bullets were exchanged between students and the police.
Pretoria University shut down its Hatfield campus indefinitely, a decision made in the interests of staff, students and property, according to university spokesperson Anna- Retha Bowa.
However, there were mixed reactions from student leaders at the institution, with some calling for a shutdown, while others wanted to continue with academic activities.
Minor protests were also reported yesterday at the Tshwane University of Technology’s academic campus.
The universities of Cape Town, Stellenbosch, North West’s Mafikeng campus, Unisa and KwaZulu-Natal haven’t been left unscathed by the protests, which were triggered by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s announcement on Monday that universities could be increased, but capped at 8 percent.
Wits University seemed to have been the epicentre of the wave of protests, with students clashing with police and private security personnel since Monday.
This was as the students marched from several private colleges in Braamfontein to join the protests. Wild screams, green smoke and loud bangs filled the air as stun grenades were set off to disperse a large crowd singing and chanting outside the Jorissen Street entrance of the university.
The police managed to push them back and tried to escort them back to campus. But the students remained defiant and stood outside the entrance, prompting the police to form a line. The students, who had formed a human chain of their own, crossed the police line.
At that point, the police hurled stun grenades. Three people, including a police officer, were injured.
Two students, believed to be bystanders, were held after failing to heed the police’s call to get down on the ground.
The situation remained calm as night began to fall, but a large police presence remained on the campus.
Qonde said the department would not be changing their decision that students with a household income of up to R60 000 a year would not pay university fees next year.
“Is it fair that taxpayers' money paid into the fiscus should now be given to the rich to pay for their education?”
Fees Commission chairperson Judge Jonathan Heher said free education was never free and countries that offered it always had repayment plans.
He said the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training had examined case studies and studied documents on the provision of free education from across the world. “Very few have totally free education,” he said.
In the South African context, he said, such as system would have to take into account a feasible system to get loans repaid, either based on the salary obtained when a beneficiary started work, or in an escalating system based on increased work.
An ideal system would be one where a loan system relived the state of the burden of higher education fees, he said. – Additional reporting by Ntando Makhubu