UNIVERSITY of the Witwatersrand (Wits) students decided on Sunday that they will demand that their exams be postponed indefinitely while they continue protesting for free education.
The students’ battle had been won — President Jacob Zuma agreed there would be no fee increases next year — but the war was far from over, students around the country said on Sunday as they deliberated on the next step in their protest.
National Shutdown Coalition leader Anele Nzimande said that a meeting on Sunday at Wits university’s Senate House, renamed Solomon Mahlangu House by students, had agreed that the protests should continue.
She said in order to do that, exams would have to be postponed so that students could work on getting a speedy response to their demands. But students recognised exams would have to be written at some time in the future, and Gauteng students were liaising with other universities to find a schedule that suited all students.
In depth: Fees must fall
Ms Nzimande said there was no point in giving up on the protests now because all that had been won so far was a 0% fee increase for next year.
She lambasted the government for not properly thinking through the terms of their offer to students, and said one year’s relief was an “insult”. Ms Nzimande said political parties had flocked to the university protests as they had realised how huge the movement was, how much momentum it was gathering and some were interested in growing their “political careers”.
“There is no sense of urgency (from the government) and that’s why we need to put on the pressure,” she said. “The people’s power shall govern now … we are not going to surrender, we are not going to retreat.” The coalition and leaders of student organisations and protesting students who attended Sunday’s meeting called for the phasing out of all fees. Children of unemployed and low-income parents should benefit first before all students received free education.
The meeting resolved to continue their fight for outsourced staff at universities to be brought back onto payrolls.
Ms Nzimande said it would be “morally repugnant” for students to give up their protests and write their exams when the people who supported them continued to suffer. “People listen when students speak,” she said.
Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said it was not clear at this stage what effect the protests would have on next year’s local government elections.
He said they could rather Continued on page 2Special: page 3Mark Barnes: page 8Violence of poverty: page 9Songezo Zibi: page 10Focus: page 11 have a “radicalising effect” within the African National Congress (ANC), as many of the protesters were ANC members. Mr Fikeni said there was no indication of a political party preferred by students, and service delivery protests and issues such as corruption were likely to have more of effect on next year’s poll than the student protests.
“Within political parties and at universities, we might see a higher level of activism,” said Mr Fikeni.
Political analyst Daniel Silke said although it was hard to determine the students’ political leanings, they were definitely a group to watch.
“I think the more established political parties like the African National Congress and, to some degree, the Democratic Alliance (DA), are the ones likely to be affected the most,” he said.
Mr Silke said young South Africans felt alienated from politics, which “takes them away from practicing democracy at the ballot box”.
“Younger people who have stayed away from the polls might continue to do so, or they might look for alternative political parties.” He said it would be very important for political parties to turn the protests around in their favour.
Speaking at a church service in Nelson Mandela Bay on Sunday, Mr Zuma called on religious leaders to pray for South Africans to stop using violence when protesting.
“When we pray let us say ‘God change our hearts and minds’ so that when there is an issue let us sit down and talk instead of fighting.
“We are pleading with you,” Mr Zuma said.
“We corrected many things but we failed to cure the culture of violence.
“Because apartheid was violent to us, we had to be violent as well when we fought it. When people, young or old protest, they end up destroying things and even destroying the same thing that they say they want. Even children at school do that.” DA spokesman on higher education and training Yusuf Cassim said the nationwide consensus at universities was that education needed to be free.
But he said it was hard for students to speak with one voice because they had different grievances at different universities.
Ms Nzimande said that the universities of Venda, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal and the Tshwane University of Technology would participate in the ongoing protests.
Classes at the University of Pretoria would resume on Monday and exams would resume on Wednesday, the university’s vice-chancellor and principal Cheryl de la Rey said in a statement on Saturday.
Ms De la Rey said administrators would continue to engage with students on their other grievances, which included institutional autonomy and “black debt”.
The University of Cape Town (UCT) and Stellenbosch University have postponed examinations for a week.
UCT was closed on Sunday and is expected to remain closed on Monday.
Students at both campuses said they were committed to participating in demonstrations at the University of the Western Cape and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
UCT executive director for communication and marketing Gerda Kruger said the robust protests were “historic and unprecedented”.
“We are conscious of this context and are reading the situation through that lens and from moment to moment,” she said.
Stellenbosch University spokesman Martin Viljoen said faculties would begin informing students about changes to the academic schedule on Monday.
“We had the protest actions on Friday. There were demands which we responded to during the protest.
“The campuses are calm at the moment and it is now a question of sorting out details for exams,” he said.
With Mkhululi Ndamase, Hendrick Mphande and Devon Koen