University of KwaZulu-Natal burn 'imphepho' outside the legislature during the #FeesMustFall protest on September 20. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/JACKIE CLAUSEN
University of KwaZulu-Natal burn 'imphepho' outside the legislature during the #FeesMustFall protest on Tuesday. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/JACKIE CLAUSEN

IN LINE with lessening public sympathy with students damaging university property during protests‚ President Jacob Zuma on Friday warned violent offenders that they would have to account for their actions in court.

"The destruction of property is a criminal offence and will be treated as such by the law enforcement authorities‚" he said bluntly. "We have directed the police to ensure that all such cases reach the courts and that those responsible answer for their actions.

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Zuma added: "This infrastructure must be available for use by generations to come‚ and students should respect university property as leaders of the future."

Despite the warning‚ Zuma emphasised again the seriousness with which the government took the issue of higher education funding.

"The funding base for higher education students has been expanding considerably over the years‚ although it has not yet entirely offset the financial challenges for many students. Government cares and will continue to search for ways of making access to higher education easier for students‚" he pledged.

He asked the university administrations and students to co-operate and work with Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande and his department to find solutions to the challenge of student funding and access.

"…Education is a societal matter. We must all work together to find solutions to the higher education access challenge. From parents‚ the business community‚ labour‚ religious leaders‚ traditional leaders‚ political parties and communities in general‚ let us find solutions together. It is not a matter that must be resolved by government alone‚ or by the Department of Higher Education and Training alone‚" Zuma said.

The presidential commission of inquiry into higher education and training funding is currently considering the issues of higher education funding in their entirety.

"We urge the students to explore peaceful avenues to engage on this issue constructively."

Academics‚ parents and concerned students are planning a crisis talks meeting at the University of Johannesburg on Saturday after nearly a week of Fees Must Fall protests.

There was more property damage on Thursday‚ with a building torched at Fort Hare in Alice in the Eastern Cape. Earlier in September, the law library at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Howard College was set alight.

In April‚ the department estimated the 2015 Fees Must Fall protests cost universities R300m in damage. In May‚ a R100m state-of-the-art university auditorium was set alight.

TMG Digital