‘A lack of political will’ – student leader
#FeesMustFall rocked our nation and proved the power of SA’s youth. interviewed outgoing Wits SRC president, Shaeera Kalla, to find out how the movement continues to march forward.
shaeeraKalla, outgoing Wits SRC president, quotes Oliver Tambo when asked if she has advice for SA’s leaders: “The children of any nation are its future. A country, a movement, a person that does not value its youth and children does not deserve its future.” The nationwide protests certainly arrested SA’s attention. But what is the way forward?
Government has now committed to addressing the long-term issues and demands. Do you think they will or do you feel that the 2016 feefreeze is a band aid?
This addresses the symptom and not the problem. Until government adequately funds higher education, you will see that these protests become perpetual in nature; they already are at some campuses. TUT [Tshwane University of Technology], for example, protests annually, but because it is a historically black university and Wits is a historically white university, they are not taken seriously, which shows how university managements and government prioritise issues in a classist and racist way.
With the 0% for 2016, how do you think the shortfall is going to be funded?
There are two ways: Firstly, government can use its R1.3tr budget more efficiently to free up the relatively small amount that this would require. Secondly, universities need to be more efficient and transparent with financial statements. Expenditure needs to be itemised and the auditorgeneral should perhaps audit state universities.
Do you think that those calling for free education understand that it won’t happen overnight, or has patience been exhausted and do people want answers immediately?
In 1994 a commitment was made towards free and quality education. The problem is not financial resources, but rather a lack of political will. We want it now.
Do you believe that the long-term commitments made by government and universities will be honoured? What is the level of trust at this point?
If the commitments are not made, we will go back and shut down the university. We have shown the power of active students and this should not be treated lightly or with disdain.
Some think the goal of a 0% increase was reached and the matter is over. But it has been indicated that there are more issues that will be addressed. How would you encourage students to achieve both their academic goals and still ensure the movement stays strong?
all blame to the government, forgetting that universities run with almost complete autonomy and have failed dismally at ensuring [they] are accessible and empowering for the most marginalised in our society […] As an SRC we encourage students to ‘Protest and Pass’ […] At this point we must change tactics and restrategise after exams; we have managed to get the university to be lenient towards students who were a part of the protest and they have agreed to an extended exam period as well as no testing of
“Until government adequately funds higher education, you will see that these protests become
perpetual in nature.”
UCT has committed to insourcing, with six outsourced services now becoming insourced. How is Wits measuring up?
The Wits management has been dragging its feet. They have committed in principle to insourcing – after 15 years of Workers Solidarity Protests by workers and students. Earlier this year, the vice-chancellor [Adam Habib] refused to acknowledge the existence of the Wits Workers Solidarity Committee (WWSC), which I have been a part of since my early years at Wits. Only now is he negotiating with the WWSC, because of public pressure […] on October 6 a protest to specifically end outsourcing took place at Wits. We want – amongst a list of other demands that we have handed over to the university – the university to adopt the Workers Charter handed over at the 6 October protest; this still hasn’t been adopted and a task team has been set up to study how the university will insource.
Wits was admired for the unity of its students. Has that changed as some reports would have the public believe? If so, how has this impacted the movement?
Shaeera Kalla (far right), former Wits SRC president, and other university leaders lead a protest over the increase of tuition fees on 19 October in Johannesburg.