#FeesMustFall: Primed for ex­plo­sion

A res­o­lu­tion to the #FeesMustFall cri­sis will only be re­alised once the un­re­solved lega­cies of the past are at­tended to and long-term trust in gov­ern­ment is re­stored, say re­search and pol­icy or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Finweek English Edition - - THE PESSIMIST’S GUIDE: UNIVERSITY FEES - By Natalie Greve

much like their con­tem­po­raries in the 1960s, South Africa’s modern youth have recog­nised the ex­tent to which the stu­dent protest move­ment presents per­haps the most ef­fec­tive mech­a­nism through which to com­mu­ni­cate their of­ten-over­looked griev­ances.

Fol­low­ing an an­nounce­ment by higher ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter Blade Nz­i­mande in Septem­ber that univer­sity fees for 2017 would be capped at 8%, stu­dents took their dis­con­tent to cam­puses un­der the #FeesMustFall (FMF) ban­ner, de­mand­ing the scrap­ping of univer­sity fees and the in­tro­duc­tion of a free ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

News im­ages of im­pas­sioned stu­dents hold­ing tight­ened fists aloft as they made their way across univer­sity cam­puses were, as protest ac­tions in­ten­si­fied, soon re­placed with the men­ac­ing bulk of riot ve­hi­cles, the haze of ex­pelled tear­gas can­is­ters and crouched riot po­lice fir­ing rub­ber bul­lets into swiftly scat­ter­ing crowds.

The cost of dam­ages to uni­ver­si­ties over this pe­riod is es­ti­mated to be in the re­gion of R1bn.

While some think tanks have pro­duced re­search point­ing to the pos­si­bil­ity of free ac­cess to ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion – most com­monly through mod­els that ad­vo­cate for fees to be re­paid to the state once the stu­dent en­ters the work­ing world – other or­gan­i­sa­tions have cau­tioned that even this is un­likely to re­solve the un­der­ly­ing driv­ers of the some­times-vi­o­lent stu­dent up­ris­ings.

Ac­cord­ing to the South African In­sti­tute of Race Re­la­tions’ (IRR’s) Sara Gon, the man­ner in which the protests have evolved “sug­gests strongly” that they are not driven purely by fees or ac­cess to higher ed­u­ca­tion.

“The protests started with com­plaints about [mining mag­nate] Ce­cil John Rhodes and went on to ac­cu­mu­late com­plaints A Wits Univer­sity stu­dent jumps up and down in front of a burn­ing bus dur­ing the #FeesMustFall protests in October. about is­sues rang­ing from art­works, the cur­ricu­lum and out­sourc­ing of staff to stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion and a dearth of black aca­demic staff,” she as­serts.

“Each time uni­ver­si­ties looked set to ac­cede to stu­dents’ de­mands, new de­mands were added. Each time a con­ces­sion has been made, a new de­mand has taken its place and new ex­cuses are found to de­stroy prop­erty and shut down cam­puses.”

The Cen­tre for the Study of Vi­o­lence and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion (CSVR) adds that cam­pus protests can­not be re­solved by deal­ing only with is­sues of free higher ed­u­ca­tion, but that the un­re­solved lega­cies of the past must also be at­tended to.

“Feed­back from stu­dents shows that the FMF move­ment is part of a longert­erm so­cial protest that is be­ing recog­nised in the me­dia and other fo­rums. This also speaks to the fact that, as is in­di­cated in our re­search, there is of­ten a long pe­riod of non-vi­o­lent protest, dis­cus­sion and ne­go­ti­a­tion lead­ing up to in­creased feel­ings of frus­tra­tion and in­vis­i­bil­ity. This, along with the ag­gres­sive use of po­lice and pri­vate se­cu­rity in the protests, in­creases the chance of vi­o­lence,” it cau­tions.

More­over, con­cerns ex­pressed by stu­dents are not con­fined to par­tic­u­lar in­sti­tu­tional poli­cies, but speak to a broader cri­sis in higher ed­u­ca­tion.

Crit­i­cally, the FMF de­bate must also be viewed in the broader con­text of cor­rup­tion and the cur­rent low level of trust in gov­ern­ment.

“Against a back­drop of the squan­der­ing of pub­lic funds on Nkandla, SAA, the SABC, claims of lack of funds for stu­dents are un­der­stand­ably treated with scorn.

“If South Africa wants to deal with the vi­o­lence on cam­pus then it needs to do more than sim­ply deal with is­sues of univer­sity fees. It must also deal with the still-un­re­solved lega­cies of the past through ad­dress­ing sym­bolic and struc­tural op­pres­sion on cam­puses,” the CSVR as­serts.

As such, any ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion trans­for­ma­tion ap­proaches need to en­sure that stu­dents feel that they are

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