For those who experienced the decades of students in the vanguard of the anti apartheid struggle there is a growing sense of déjà vu. Police on campus, court action, teargass and arrests. Nationwide there is opposition to the proposed tuition fee increases for 2016. But behind the headlines, the issues and the drama there are young people with real problems.
The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall be Opened!
The government shall discover, develop and encourage national talent
for the enhancement of our cultural life;
All the cultural treasures of mankind shall be open to all, by free exchange of books,
ideas and contact with other lands;
The aim of education shall be to teach the youth to love their people
and their culture, to honour human brotherhood, liberty and peace;
Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children;
Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means
of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit;
Adult illiteracy shall be ended by a mass state education plan;
Teachers shall have all the rights of other citizens;
The colour bar in cultural life, in sport and in education shall be abolished.
The Freedom Charter
While some fellow students don’t agree with the protest action, arguing for other mechanisms such as petitions and “imbizo’s”, I honestly feel that the diplomatic approach is surely not the way to go as this is a matter of great urgency.
I have witnessed and continue to feel the impact of the high fees at this university, (Residential fee- R55 000, tuition fees R50 500 (psg LLB), upfront fee R9 340= R114 840), this could possibly cover three years of my undergrad at the UFS.
Day by day we increase in numbers as students become aware of the core motive of the protest, the university entrances have become assembly points where we united against what could possibly lead to the exclusion of many of us.
As we gather every day, faces become more familiar, dismissing any feelings of loneliness or the need to look for a classmate that I know, Sifiso Mthunzi, a 3rd year B.A. general student, who works as a waiter and tutors primary school learners on weekends, in order assist her single mother who is a domestic worker pay for her fees (R38 000 excluding the upfront fee).
“I hardly have time to study effectively; the only way I get to cover most of the study content is via study groups. I am here because we need to be heard, the increase would be an even greater burden on us, it is already so hard for us to cover our fees,” he says.
Mbali Mazibuko a final year B.A. students says that “the fee increase will making it hard for us to apply for post graduate studies”.
The university bus drivers, campus control, cleaning staff and various other staff members abandoned their duties to support us in our quest to guard against the fee increase. The support of the bus drivers has played a huge role in paralysing the university’s operations, for a large number of students are unable to make it to and from the various campuses and those off campus cannot make their way to campus. And the campus control made it easier to prevent access to the university. The atmosphere is calm, singing and dancing continues to be the core symbol of the academic struggle against high fees, led by our two female SRC presidents, Shaeer Kalla 2014/2015 and Nompendulo Mkatshwa 2015/2016, we march from the Empire road entrance to Enoch Sontonga entrance singing ‘Senzenina’. This song immediately creates a sombre mood making it clear that this is indeed another moment in South African history that will not go documented. #WitsShutDown #FeesMustFall.
The student leadership has made it very clear that this is a peaceful protest and does not encourage any form of violence, constantly calling for students to remain calm. However, when police vans start to show up on campus most of the students are outraged as mere singing and dancing seems to be criminalised by those who only want to see the wrong in what is a movement against an essential tool for the survival of any society…education.
Outgoing SRC President Shaeera Kalla mentioned that “the argument of the right to education viz that of access to education is one of ideological difference. She says education should be accessible to all. The increase would mean that education would be a privilege as a many students are excluded not because they don’t qualify academically but because they simply cannot afford the fees.”
Vice-Chancellor prof. Adam Habib only made his first appearance on Friday accompanied by private security personnel. However, students were not interested in what he had to say. Mkatshwa read out the memorandum and told us that the mandate is clear, “we are not confused we know what we want and that is a 0% increase, Amandla!”
Moving from Empire road entrance to the Senate House some students stayed behind to pick up the papers, as the SRC leaders refused to allow prof. Habib to address us or the media until he convened a meeting with the university council. I have to commend the SRC for its persistence, unshaken and unimpressed by the outcomes of the weekend’s meetings they called for us gathering on Monday morning at the Empire road entrance.
When the council failed to show up outside of the Great hall to present their report, the SRC decided that it is time our cry to the streets of Braamfontein as “the failure to appear before the students shows that the university does not take us seriously” said former president Mcebo Dlamini.
We sang our way to the streets of Braamfontein… “Senzeni”… Reminding the spectators in the city that the youth of South Africa will always stand against those who seek marginalise us from the education system. With less than 10 days to go (On Wednesday) before the exams we are unshaken as we focus on the bigger picture. #WitsFeesMustFall #NationalFeesMustFall.