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Students vow to continue protests until demands to scrap debt, varsity fees are met

Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 15, 2021


Johannesburg - South African university students have vowed to not retreat or surrender, as ongoing protests over tertiary funding continues across the country, threatening a national shutdown.

There appears to be no end for student protests, as students vowed to continue the fight for free higher education, as a national shutdown at institutions of higher learning looms today.

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The students are calling for historic debts to be scrapped and free registration for all students in 2021, among other demands.

Last week, a 35-year-old government employee Mthokozisi Ntumba, an innocent bystander, was killed when police fired rubber bullets during a student protest in Braamfontein.

The universities of Limpopo, Cape Town and the Central University of Technology also experienced protests after Ntumba’s slaying.

The SA Students Congress (Sasco) president Bamanye Matiwane told The Star yesterday that Sasco will be meeting with government officials, to discuss the student funding crisis.

“While we are meeting with the ANC, our forces will be on the ground fighting,” he said.

Matiwane said that there students who were at risk of financial exclusion, as a result of historical debt. He added that these students include those who fall under “the missing middle”, a cohort not qualifying for NSFAS because they are from households earning above the threshold.

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“We are all in a pandemic, there are no jobs and people are losing employment left, right and centre. Why are students being treated as if they are immune from the whole pandemic? We are in a crisis, all of us,” he said.

Matiwane said that all students must be allowed to register for the 2021 academic year, whether they had historical debt or not.

The SA Union of Students (SAUS) on Friday gave Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande until 5pm to respond to their demands, failing which SAUS vowed to shut down tertiary institutions from today.

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Among about 15 demands, SAUS said that students are demanding free quality education for the poor and the missing middle, and the suspension of academic exclusion for the 2021 academic year because of the impact of Covid-19.

SAUS deputy secretary general Sibusiso Twala announced during a media briefing yesterday that, following meetings with student representative councils (SRCs), the SAUS has called for a national shutdown of all 26 public universities from Monday

“All 26 university SRCs have supported this decision unanimously. The shutdown will continue until our demands are met,” Twala said.

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The Department of Higher Education spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi said on Saturday that students who participate in any form of violence will face the full might of the law.

“Protesting students must refrain from intimidating the general student populace and university staff, by making inflammatory comments that incite violence,” Mnisi said.

Mnisi added that Nzimande further reiterated to student leaders that his door was always open for further engagement and discussions.

“However, engagements cannot take place in an environment of violence and destruction,” the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, the University of Cape Town (UCT) joined the University of Western Cape and Cape Peninsula University of Technology, in a decision for all students with historic debt to be allowed to register in 2021.

The UCT council announced on Sunday that, with immediate effect, the student registration fee block, in respect of 2020 debt will be lifted for South African students and students from the rest of Africa.


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The Star

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