Police detain a man during student protests in Johannesburg on Wednesday.  Picture: ALON SKUY/THE TIMES
Police detain a man during student protests in Johannesburg on Wednesday. Picture: ALON SKUY/THE TIMES

THE chairman of the fees commission has called for patience from students and urged them to accept fee hikes.

Universities across the country have suspended academic activity and students have taken to the streets in the aftermath of Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande leaving a fees decision to institutions.

Universities can increase fees by up to 8%.

Jonathan Heher, chairman of the fees commission set up by President Jacob Zuma to look into the feasibility of free higher education, on Wednesday urged students to trust the work of the commission as it tries to find a solution to the problem.

The commission, which began public hearings in May that will conclude in 2017, is expected to submit its final report to the president at the end of June 2017.

"We would welcome the participation of students in a constructive manner. Thus far we have found constructive assistance lacking because of the obvious desire to obtain an immediate fix for the problem. I hope the students will come to realise that, for a long-term answer, they will have to put some trust in us and we are attempting in their best interests to achieve a solution," Heher said.

South African Union of Students (SAUS) general secretary Sthembiso Ndlovu said that it had been the first student union to participate in the commission when it started, but accused the union of laziness on the fee issue.

The growing unrest has seen ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe call for the worst-affected institutions to be closed for six-months.

Nzimande said the government would subsidise any fee increase for the missing middle and National Student Financial Aid Scheme students. However, students who fall in these categories are still required to foot the rest of their bill, which runs into the thousands, because the government subsidy applies to whatever increment universities effect, not the entire cost of study.

As the commission continues its work, the fees status quo remains.

A first-year commerce student at the University of Cape Town has to fork out R28,000-R62,620 for a commerce course. Engineering and built environment students pay R43,040-R53,330 and humanities students R45,500-R56,000. Health sciences fees are in the R48,620-R64,370 range. However, this excludes accommodation and living expenses, and other costs.

Union federation Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP) are expected to join forces with SAUS later in October to march on "centres of private capital", this is despite Nzimande being the communist party boss.

Ndlovu said students would lead the march, but welcomed the participation of Cosatu.

The SACP and Cosatu announced on Wednesday that they would push for higher taxes on the rich and wealthy, while calling on companies to make a "meaningful contribution" to the fees debate.

The tripartite alliance partners — along with the ANC — have all called for tuition costs to be frozen pending the outcome of the Heher commission of inquiry but have endorsed Nzimande’s policy decision on fees.

However, students have vowed to intensify their protest action.