South Africa: Student political affiliations vs free education - CNBC Africa

South Africa: Student political affiliations vs free education

Special Report

by Mandilakhe Kwababana 0

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

With South Africa's #feesmustfall reloaded slowly gaining momentum, it is yet to be seen whether students will be singing the same song in this year’s protests.

Some universities in KwaZula-Natal and Gauteng shut down campuses on Wednesday on rumours of a possible major fee hike after Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande postponed his media briefing on the issue. The Democratic Alliance’s (DA) student body for tertiary institutions, Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (DASO) recently condemned the shutdown of universities.

Last year in October, universities across South Africa went on a shut down after announcements that tuition fees for 2016 would get a 10.5 % inflation-linked increase. President Jacob Zuma then addressed students at the Union Buildings and announced a 0% “fee increase” for this year. This was greeted by scenes of student contentment.

Not long after, communication broke down between students and Student Representative Councils (SRCs) as some students from universities such as Wits, University of Cape Town, and Rhodes University wanted to continue with the strike for free education. Rumours surfaced of SRC leaders holding secret talks with government and accepting bribes, posing critical questions on the credibility of SRCs.

In this year’s looming protests, student leaders want students to be leaders. Consultations between South African Union of Students (SAUS) and student political organisations from universities are ongoing as part of accountability to scholars.

“We want students to lead the struggle with the guidance of the SRC. Last year students were led by just students so we want to remove that,” says Avela Mjajubana, president of SAUS.

Mjajubana says this time it has clarity and wants ‘free quality education’ for 2017. It has engaged with stakeholders and SRCs to address other issues faced by universities. EFFSC President Mpho Morelane said it was not interested in shutdown calls instructed by SAUS, describing them as ‘temporary strikes’. Nevertheless, according to Mjajubana, SAUS was going to have a meeting with EFFSC leadership on Wednesday afternoon.

“We will be meeting with them; we will get clarity to why they don’t want participation because the free education call is a genuine call. We will be meeting with them to hear what they are rejecting from the union,” says Mjajubana.

This followed after DASO opposed the shutdown saying the protests would not solve the problem and put the blame on SAUS.

“Such a move will only make the situation worse for all students, especially those from poor backgrounds, by disrupting valuable academic teaching and support,” reads a statement issued by DASO on the DA’s website. “The calls to disrupt teaching time by the poorly disguised ANC front organisation, SAUS, is nothing more than an attempt to distract attention away from the Luthuli House’s blame in this regard.”

DASO called on Universities and students to stand together to hold on to what it describes as ‘real culprits’ – the ANC government and Blade Nzimande. Mjajubana says SAUS is still waiting on its secretary general to see whether DASO is meeting with them or not.

South African Students Congress (SASCO) says it is taking part in consultations with stake holders and wants free education for the poor and that it is still working on funding models of their demands. It  criticised DASO and EFFSC for boycotting the shutdowns and questioned their intentions with last year’s protests and the protests in January.

“It shows that their intentions weren’t really student related concerns, they were targeting the government for whatever they were targeting in particular towards the local government elections,” says Tembani Makata, Sasco secretary general of SASCO.

Makata goes on to criticize both DASO and EFFSC’s refusal to participate in SAUS which is made up of all SRC members who represent all political organisations.

“To us it is a problem because they have a proper platform to engage with SRC deployees that are coming from different political organisations with different mandates, to at least reach particular concerns on how we are going forward,” says Makata. “It does now show that their leadership is concerned about students but it shows they are concerned more about their political mother bodies.”

Makata went on to say SASCO is not an ally of the ANC. “We are not a student wing of the African National Congress. The ANC has a youth structure which is the ANC youth league, we have an understanding with the ANC and we have relations which are based on our ability to compliment and criticize the ANC.”

Makata says DASO and EFFSC are ‘direct products’ of their organisational structures and are not able to differentiate between parent party political issues to institutional issues.   

SAUS’s Mjabjubana says the union has fears of political affiliations denting the student movement and dividing students. “If you have a fraction of a student political organisation saying they distance themselves, it means those who are following them will also have that mentality.” 

President Jacob Zuma appointed a commission of enquiry for feasibility of free education in the wake of fees must fall protest in January this year. The report which was tasked for eight months was extended until November. The SAUS rejects and opposes this move.

“We are disappointed with the pace of the established commission. It can’t be that a commission has only started to deal with logistics in the past six months,” says Mjajubana.

University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) campus in Pietermaritzburg and the Walter Sisilu University Umtata campus cancelled its lectures and University of Johannesburg have started with demonstrations. Divisions between students were visible when Congress of SA Students  (COSAS) labelled SASCO ‘Lazy’ after SASCO dragged high school children to join them in their fees must fall protest in University of Johannesburg Doornfontein campus.

 SAUS has called on universities to arrange mass meetings which will end on Saturday 20th of August when the last university, Walter Sisulu, will hold a mass meeting.                                      

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