#Fees2017: UKZN students demand free education

Durban - Students at UKZN's Howard College campus are willing to boycott classes and are calling for fee-free decolonised education. They have rejected this week’s fee increment announcement, terming it divisive and a debt trap.

Classes resumed without much disruption at the Durban campus on Wednesday, but there were disruptions at the Pietermaritzburg campus where a student assaulted a risk management services officer and a police officer.

Students gather at UKZN in Durban on Wednesday. Picture: Sihle Mlambo. Credit: Independent Media

UKZN spokesman, Lesiba Seshoka, said a case of assault and defeating the ends of justice had been opened against the student, who allegedly beat up the officer while students were being stopped from protesting.

Provincial police spokeswoman, Captain Nqobile Gwala, said a case of assault was opened and no arrest had been made.

At Wits and UCT, the academic programme has been suspended for the week. Students marched on the streets of Braamfontein, Johannesburg, leading to the arrests of several.

There were protests at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, in Port Elizabeth, which forced the closure of the academic programme.

At UKZN, reporting back to students for the first time since Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s fee increase freeze for the poor and "missing middle" students, Howard College SRC deputy president, Sunshine Myende, was only allowed 15 minutes by police to do so because the court interdict was still in place.

She sought a way forward from the students.

“The problem is that there is a certain portion of students that are going to be left behind, those that are perceived to be rich. What is the definition of a rich person? All these issues we are going to tabulate for the executive council in October,” she said.

Waris Asmal, president of the Howard College Debating Union, said: “It is very clear that students are not happy with the 0% fee increment. We are here for one cause, anything to appease students to keep them with large loans, and unpayable amounts of debt is not something we support as students of all races,” he said.

Asmal said South Africa could afford free higher education because it wasted billions of rands in corruption at all tiers of government and bailed out state-owned enterprises repeatedly.

“Students and people at the bottom of the pyramid have to deal with the consequences of wasteful expenditure, money being stolen and of state-owned enterprises being bailed out entirely and consistently, and we are sitting here with our problems and we keep being ignored. It is not truthful to say there is no money for fee-free education,” he said.

As other students watched from a distance, scared to join the group of about 300, one said students needed to be united in their fight for free education.

“The police are just doing their job by enforcing the court interdict. We need the SRC to get lawyers and fight this court interdict. We must fight Blade. We are no longer asking for free education, we are demanding it,” he said.

Myende distanced the SRC from a voice note that had been shared on WhatsApp purportedly by a student calling for intimidation of students and mass destruction of property.

Seshoka warned students against making inflammatory comments on social media and said they were investigating the recording with a view to taking action against the perpetrator.

“Management is looking into incidents where some rogue perpetrators are using social media platforms to threaten violent protest action.

"Some of the inflammatory remarks made include threats to 'shut down campus', 'cause mass destruction', and stop students from 'finishing their degrees',” he said.