Fees CAN fall
in a year of domestic news events that seized local audiences, the flurry of #FeesMustFall (FMF) protests that found traction across the country’s provinces proved among the most arresting. Despite higher education minister Blade Nzimande in September capping university fee increases at 8% and assuring that government would assist households with an income of up to R600 000 a year with any fee increases, students maintained the call first made in 2015 for free higher education, embarking on forceful campus-wide protests in response.
The sometimes anarchic scenes of student demonstrations were, however, by the end of October largely pacified by the installation of South African Police Service (Saps) members and private security on campuses and the arrest of several student leaders.
At the University of the Witwatersrand’s Braamfontein campus, the decision to retain police members on campus was made following an online poll through which 21 000 of the 30 000 students polled – or 77% – supported the resumption of lectures and enhanced campus security.
While some, including FMF student leaders, have viewed the alleged “militarisation” of campuses as a violation to institutions of learning, South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR) fellow Sara Gon argues the move has set the country up for a possible recovery from the seeming perpetuity of feesrelated protests.
“Calm needs to be restored on campuses, even if the campuses need to be militarised. University management structures must bring appropriate numbers of police and security officers onto campuses and keep them there even in the face of public criticism,” she states.
The restoration of order
In a position paper titled Fees can fall, but first, published by the IRR in early University of Pretoria (UP) students gather during a candle lighting ceremony for the arrested fellow students held in October in Pretoria. The ceremony was organised by UP #FeesMustFall movement. November, Gon holds that it is possible to address the question of access to higher education for poor students, but only once campus law and order has been re-established and universities are functioning in a stable manner.
This will, however, require the adoption of a hardline approach by universities, as the demands of the protestors cannot be met by universities and have been pursued “in an illegal manner”.
“Universities have allowed a patronising appeasement to take place – a political correctness, because a lot of the altercations between the universities and students have not been held in good faith. Agreements have been breached, meetings have been cancelled and the people that have been negotiating these meetings don’t necessarily have a mandate to do so,” she states.
The institute further suggests that the long-term standing of SA’s institutions of higher learning can be secured if they cease negotiations with unrepresentative groups and those without clear mandates.
“Certainly do not accede to demands made by such groups and do not indulge them with offers of amnesty and the like,” says Gon.
She adds that Saps members should be retained on campus for a period of six months, with securitisation ceasing only when law and order returns.
“If these points are strictly adhered to it should be possible to complete the 2016 academic year and start the 2017 year on time and therefore put the higher education system back on a stable course.”
The cessation of all subsidies to parastatals and other entities could deliver an estimated R45bn a year, while a 5% snip to the state’s wage bill would deliver another R22bn.