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Student leaders reject Zuma’s task team

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The ministerial task team President Jacob Zuma set up to look into the crisis in higher education was an attempt to avoid dealing with the real crisis, some student leaders said on Wednesday.

“He can’t go around establishing task teams and commissions, when all we want is free education. At this rate he will set up a commission for a mere pothole,” University of Limpopo student leader Isaac Hlungwana said.

Zuma was avoiding dealing with the real issues and honestly engaging students’ demands, he said.

Former University of the Witwatersrand SRC president Mcebo Dlamini said he could not take the task team seriously.

“It’s just another joke, another comedy by the government. You still have the fees commission, now he sets up a fees task team,” Dlamini told News24.

Zuma announced on Tuesday that a ministerial task team, comprising home affairs, state security, police, defence, planning and monitoring, and justice had been set up to help Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande resolve the impasse at universities.

Dlamini said universities were on fire and Zuma wanted to conduct investigations and establish commissions.

“Here you need an executive decision, someone needs to lead.”

Students on campuses around the country began protesting on September 19, after Nzimande announced universities could decide their own fee increases for 2017. They had to be capped at 8% and poor students and those on government loans would not have to pay the increases.

Protesters, however, wanted the immediate implementation of free tertiary education.

Pravin Gordhan’s absence ‘worrying’

Student leaders said Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s absence from the task team was worrying.

University of KwaZulu-Natal deputy SRC president Sunshine Nyende said it made no sense for the security cluster to be part of the task team.

Dlamini rejected Nzimande’s claims, in an interview with eNCA, that students were not demanding free education, but calling for Zuma and his Cabinet to step down, because the EFF was involved in the demonstrations.

He said students had never made such calls.

“His statements are dangerous, a man running away from reality. He just wants to divert attention from the real issues to discuss irrelevant things. It is just sad,” Dlamini said.

Meanwhile, suspended Vaal University of Technology SRC president Troy Mathebula said he was stunned to hear about the task team through the media. It was an indication that the team would resolve nothing.

“We have to be constantly consulted on ways forward,” he said.

‘It shows their failure to listen’

Mathebula also questioned why Gordhan was left out of the task team. He said Nzimande told student leaders in January that Gordhan needed to resolve issues.

University of Pretoria’s former SRC president Rassie Rasethaba said Zuma’s announcement was disingenuous and surprising.

“It shows their failure to listen. They seem to have an attitude that students are irrational, non-thinkers and therefore we must exclude them. This is very problematic.”

Wits anthropology lecturer Kelly Gillespie said it was clear from the task team’s composition that government was choosing militarisation over the provision of free education.

She felt government was failing to see how students responded to increased security at higher learning institutions. The only way to resolve the current crisis was by addressing structural causes and government’s underfunding of higher education.

“We have had to cut down on tutorial programmes. We don’t even drink tea at meetings, yet students still have to cover for the shortfall through increased tuition.”

[Source: News24]
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