Academics in solidarity with students

Cape Town - Academics wore their official robes outside Parliament on Thursday to demonstrate their support for students in the #FeesMustFall movement.

“It is time the public recognises that the real problem is not protesting students, but the government being too stingy with its budget,” said Professor Bongani Mayosi, Dean of UCT’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

Members of UCT's Faculty of Health Sciences protested outside the gates of Parliament on Thursday in solidarity with the #FeesMustFall movement. Picture: David Ritchie. Credit: Independent Media

“We’re coming out to say that the cause of the problem is not the students. What we’re seeing are symptoms of a disease. There’s an underlying disease called under-investment in higher education by South Africans. We’ve let our government spend on higher education half of what it can afford.”

He gave examples of comparable countries which spend a far higher percentage of their GDP on higher education than South Africa does.

But far from welcoming the support, many students felt the academics were trying to hijack their cause, and had been too slow to stand beside them on the #FeesMustFall picket lines.

“We’ve been silent, and that’s why the students are attacking us and questioning our motives, and they are right,” Mayosi said. “It is going to be by working with them on this issue that we are going to develop trust that we are in fact on the side of the students.”

Mayosi, who stepped in the position of Dean less than a month ago, felt the academics’ demonstration had been a success.

“It’s a first step in a long journey,” he said. “I think this will be impactful, and make members of society really think, and not see the students as a problem.” At Stellenbosch University, rector and vice chancellor Wim de Villiers said 11 students have been suspended pending the outcome of a disciplinary process. They are not permitted to enter university premises while suspended.

Meanwhile, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said there is no chance that next year’s fee increase will be scrapped, and blamed a “third force” for the violence, disruptions and destruction of university property.