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Warning that student protests could pick up again in 2016

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Students representatives from several universities said they could not guarantee that students would not return to the streets in protest when academic activities resumed in 2016.

The group met with Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Higher Education in Johannesburg on Thursday, where they advised that it was best that resolutions be made before the new year.

“We need something concrete to tell the students, a model with a timeline,” said Fasiha Hassan.

Students who took to the streets several weeks ago all over the country firstly demanded a zero percent fee hike next year.

Akona Landu of the University of the Western Cape said: “A zero percent hike is a step in the right direction,” adding that accepting anything less in years to come would be a non-progressive move.

The protests, however, escalated into violence with massive disruptions of academic activities and the discontinuation of exams in some universities as students demanded free education, clearance of existing debt and an end to outsourcing.

Third party forces

Hassan said the situation could become a “volcanic eruption”.

She warned that the students would be rejuvenated after the holidays and would be ready to take to the streets in protests in 2016.

Other student representatives added that they took their directions from the students and could not prevent them from demonstrating against their dissatisfaction.

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande attended the first few hours of the students’ round table discussions, where he warned the representatives to be careful of third party forces.

“During the course of the protest… there were also currents that were seeking to de-legitimise elected student structures…. As student leadership, that is something you need to work on. We cannot de-legitimise the SRC,” he said.

Nzimande said in some instances, those who tried to take control away from the SRC were students who had lost the SRC election but were now “ruling from the grave”.

“That is a formula for anarchy,” Nzimande said.

No finalisation of recommendations

Hassan added that at Wits, students outside the SRC were granted control when Vice Chancellor Adam Habib addressed them without consulting with the SRC. She agreed with Nzimande that the SRC could not be set aside.

Thursday’s discussions concluded without the finalisation of a report of recommendations by the students which would be handed back to Parliament.

It was agreed that the document would be drafted and sent to the students for input before its finalisation.

The meeting however, showed signs of progression with the leadership of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) giving a presentation on their plan of action for next year.

NSFAS CEO Msulwa Daca said that more money would be given to universities in 2016.

In 2015, the fund assisted each student with a maximum of R67 000. The amount would be hiked to R72 000 in 2016.

Nzimande apologises

An SRC representative from the University of KwaZulu-Natal however, said he was shocked to learn this, as at his university students received a maximum of around R15 000 from NSFAS.

It was established that the funds were usually cut down to fund other students when the universities accepted more students than what it had expected, many of whom then applied for NSFAS.

Nzimande also informed the students that there was no such thing as free education as someone was always footing the bill.

He added that it was impossible to give free education to all in a capitalist society. Those who could afford it, should pay for it, Nzimande said.

He received a round of applause when he heeded the call of SRC president of Fort Hare, Busisiwe Mashiqa, and apologised to the students for a joke he made, stating that they should accept a proposed pay hike or they “should fall”.

“I cannot be minster of higher education and ask for the students to fall. If anybody was offended, I apologise unconditionally,” Nzimande said. NEWS24

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