‘Stand down, stop protests’
While #FeesMustFall protests are set to continue this week, the real battle for many student leaders is taking place behind closed doors, where instructions from their political masters are clear: stand down and stop the protests.
The national #FeesMustFall movements have been in talks over the weekend to discuss the way forward for this week, when more students return to campuses and join the protest.
City Press has learnt that a number of student leaders privately met senior Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) leaders, who ordered them to shut down any protests. The PYA consists of the SA Students Congress (Sasco), the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) and the Young Communists League.
ANCYL president Collen Maine – who on Thursday announced that fees had fallen and students should get back to class – told City Press that there was no need for students to continue protesting and that those calling themselves #FeesMustFall were “counterrevolutionary”.
“My child won’t qualify for Nsfas (National Student Financial Aid Scheme). If you don’t qualify, it means you can afford. Free is for the poor. It is like social grants. Not everyone qualifies,” he said.
Newly elected Sasco president Thabo Moloja said they were planning a “back-toschool” campaign following the government’s R6.9 billion commitment to increase funding and debt clearance loans to Nsfas students.
But SRC leaders have remained defiant and were refusing to stop the protests, as their political masters have ordered.
Lwazi Pakade, SRC leader at Stellenbosch University, said: “The leadership of the PYA should be very embarrassed by what they said, especially with regards to fees having fallen. Many students, especially those who are part of the so-called missing middle, will still not be able to register due to the expected upfront fees from different universities.
“We will not take directives from nonconsulting dictators in the PYA. We will follow the mandate of the students that we’re serving in our respective universities.”
University of Johannesburg SRC leader Mangaliso Mkonta said: “I think it’s an illinformed position of the PYA to call for an end to the #FeesMustFall protests. The PYA is expected to be at all times in a position
to represent the youth of this country and not government.” Pakade was one of the student leaders who walked out of a meeting with Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande on Thursday. The meeting with Nzimande and SRC leaders from 26 universities was supposed to find amicable solutions to issues on campuses nationwide, but deteriorated when half the group staged a walkout.
The meeting took place during the PYA press conference at which Maine and others called for the protests to end. Six SRC leaders, from the universities of Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch, Pretoria, Western Cape, Johannesburg and Fort Hare, told City Press they were not aware the press conference was taking place.
But the woes for student leaders do not end with pressure from the ANC to bow out. Tensions flared this week between students who are part of the #FeesMustFall movements and their elected SRCs. The former group said SRCs were not mandated to speak on their behalf because they did not represent their views.
In the Western Cape, #RhodesMustFall and University of Western Cape #FeesMustFall groups said they had not mandated their SRCs to meet Nzimande.
On Monday, students from Wits #FeesMustFall and the SRC brought registration to a standstill with calls for free registration, the clearance of historical debt and free education, among other demands.
SRC president Nompendulo Mkatshwa highlighted the plight of students from the “missing middle” – working class students “too rich” to qualify for Nsfas, but who cannot afford to pay fees – one of their largest worries.
Sasco’s Moloja was not sympathetic to these concerns, saying the so-called missing middle students were the problem of universities, whose vice-chancellors had committed to free registration for students who could not afford it.
On Friday, Wits University obtained an interim order from the South Gauteng High Court and beefed up security after “serious threats made to the university and some staff”, it said in a statement.
The order prevents protesters from “unlawfully occupying” university buildings, disrupting registration and lectures, preventing anyone from entering the institution, damaging property, harassment or carrying weapons.
In the statement, the university said they could bring police on to campus if they needed to, which was something the university has resisted until now.
Earlier this week, Wits University asked that students who could not afford to register, work out a payment plan with the university and pay the fee of up to R9 500 by March. But students have said they still would not be able to afford that.
STILL FIGHTING Students of the #FeesMustFall movement at the University of Johannesburg