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, has to stop before universities are destroyed.
Department of Higher Education and Training director-general Gwebinkundla Qonde made this assertion on Wednesday as more university 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, also reminding South Africans that local universities have taken a drop 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,” he said.
His statements came as pandemonium reigned at Wits University on Wednesday afternoon as rocks and rubber bullets were exchanged between students and the police, who used stun grenades and teargas in a bid to quell the protests. This was as the students tried to march to several colleges in Braamfontein in a bid to encourage more students to take part in the #fees2017 protest.
The University of Pretoria shut down its Hatfield campus indefinitely, a decision made in the interests and safety of staff, students and property, according to university spokesperson Anna-Retha Bouwer.
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 at the Tshwane University of Technology’s Arcadia campus. The universities of Cape Town, Stellenbosch, North West’s Mahikeng campus, Unisa and KwaZulu-Natal haven’t been left unscathed by the protests, triggered by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s announcement on Monday that universities’ student fees could be increased, but capped at 8 percent.
He emphasised that students on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and the “missing middle” would not be affected by the increase, but would be subsidised.
Wits University seems to be the epicentre of the wave of protests, with students clashing with police and private security personnel since Monday.
This was as the students marched to 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 to Wits.
The standoff and back and forth skirmishes continued for most of the day. Three people, including a police officer, were injured. Two students believed to be bystanders were arrested.
Qonde said the department would not be changing their decision that students with a household income of R600 000 a year would not pay university fees next year.
“Is it fair that taxpayer’s money paid into the fiscus should now be given to the rich to pay for their education?” Qonde asked.