POLICE fired stun grenades and tear gas to disperse protesting students at Wits on Wednesday.
As campuses throughout SA were closed due to the fee protests on Wednesday, Unisa’s SRC said it was not calling for a shutdown of the university but was encouraging students to “down tools” during the day and continue studying in the evening.
Rhodes University vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela suspended lectures for the day on Wednesday after students moved through the campus disrupting lectures and barricading buildings.
Stellenbosch University vice-chancellor Prof Wim de Villiers said students had reneged on their “undertaking … to not disrupt academic activities any further this week” when they “resorted to extensive disruption‚ damage to property and assault on fellow students and members of staff” on Tuesday.
The university on Tuesday obtained a court order against 30 students occupying a building on campus, ordering them to vacate the building and interdicting them from occupying any buildings or disrupting university activities.
Nompendulo Mkatshwa, outgoing president of the student representative council at Wits, said some students had dispersed after the police action. “Others want to fight back because they don’t understand why they have been attacked in the first place,” she said.
Police could not immediately comment on the clashes. Traffic in parts of the city centre was disrupted as students fled from the police, with some running back into the campus.
Earlier, police spokesman Lungelo Dlamini had said 31 students arrested on Tuesday had been released, but gave no further details.
Late on Tuesday, Wits suspended all activity for the rest of the week, and said it was “identifying” those “who perpetrated acts of violence on our campus today” and vowed to “take action in line with the university’s rules and the law”.
Students on Wednesday afternoon were locked in a mass meeting with the SRC that began in the morning. Their leaders were due to meet with the university’s management in the afternoon.
SRC deputy president Busisiwe Mashiqisaid they would then inform students of the institution’s response, and decide whether to go on strike or not.
“The mass meeting is for us to interpret what the minister’s announcement means for the university’s student body‚” she said.
Fort Hare spokesman Lizo Phiti was not immediately available for comment.
The student representative council at the University of SA joined other student bodies across SA in rejecting Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande’s fee increase announcement but said it would wait for the university’s decision on an increase before protesting.
On Wednesday the SRC held a briefing in Pretoria following Nzimande’s announcement on Monday that universities should determine their own fee increases for 2017 but that they need to be capped at 8%.
“We did not request free education, we demanded and still demand free education in our lifetime. This proposition of an 8% increase in fact confirms … that there is in our country a serious absence of national political foresight and present political indecisiveness,” SRC secretary-general Buyisile Njokweni said.
He said the Unisa SRC disagreed with the plan to subsidise certain students, saying: “This thing of one must pay and this one must not pay serves to divide and conquer students.”
Nzimande said the National Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) beneficiaries and missing middle students would have their increases funded by the government.
Aside from those who qualify for NSFAS funding, the government will assist students with a household income of R600,000 a year.
But Unisa would not be joining their peers in shutting down the university just yet, Njokweni said.
“We’re not calling for a shutdown of Unisa as we stand here before you because there’s no agreement by Unisa to say fees are increasing or not. We will make that call when that time has come,” he said.
He encouraged students not to attend classes during the day but to continue studying in the evening.
Njokweni said they were calling for free education because they believed the government could afford it, but lacked the political will to make the funds available because the were no big tenders in education.
Mabizela has called students and staff for a meeting at 1.30pm on the Drostdy Lawns to publicly communicate the university’s position regarding funding of higher education.
About 500 protesting students had insisted that no photos or videos be taken of their actions as they fear repercussions from management for defying a court interdict preventing them from protesting.
They have released a list of demands that include a 10% tax on corporates to help fund free higher education and that big businesses employ graduates. They also demanded that Rhodes staff and management who own property rented to students immediately slash the “exorbitant” rentals.
About 100 students had earlier invaded the foyer of the main administration building. Staff locked themselves into their offices.
De Villiers said he had met at the weekend with a group of protesters who had staged a sit-in at the library‚ and given them a “commitment to provide feedback on their issues by Friday‚ September 23”.
But, after protests began on Monday and escalated on Tuesday, that feedback was e-mailed on Tuesday afternoon, he said. It covered fees, the use of private security and the issue of outsourcing and the reinstatement of 150 workers.
• On fees: “It would be ideal to have fee-free education for all students. However‚ this would require substantial additional investment from government and other potential sources. In the absence of such investment‚ universities will still require cost-sharing from government grants and tuition fees from those that can afford to pay.”
• On private security: “Within the national legal framework‚ crowd control is only to be conducted by specially trained and insured security staff. The university’s internal security may not be deployed for this purpose since they do not meet this requirement. We are obliged to bring in external security staff that are specially trained in this area.”
• On outsourcing: “SU has opted for viable sourcing‚ foregrounding the principle of human dignity. The university cannot reinstate the 150 workers who were dismissed last year by their employers‚ since they are not employees of SU. We cannot intervene in the internal processes of any external service provider of SU. On a month to month basis the payroll of the external service providers are checked to ensure that the employees are receiving no less than the agreed upon minimum of R5,000 cost to company.”
The University of Cape Town remained on lockdown on Wednesday, and tension among academics mounted. Some accused vice-chancellor Max Price of being too soft on protesters‚ while others said there hadn’t been enough transparency.
TMG Digital and Reuters