Students Threaten School Shutdowns Over Rising School Fees

protesting students at Witswatersrand
protesting students at Witswatersrand
Sep. 19, 2016 (GIN) –South African students at the University of the Witwatersrand are all fired up and can’t take no more!

After news that the Education Minister will be pushing through “fee adjustments” for 2017 – up to 8% – student president Kefentse Mkhari declared: “Comrades, we aren’t going to entertain that 8%. What we want is simple. We want free education now. Not then. We are shutting down.”

Students have begun marching through the university’s Johannesburg campus to “conscientize students” who are still in class‚ one student leader said.

The crowd chanted “on your marks‚ get set‚ we are ready for free education” as they marched.

So far, there have been protests at Wits, the University of Pretoria and University of Cape Town.
In an effort to balance the competing demands of students and school administrators, Minister Nzimande has proposed a middle ground on the fee issue. Nzimande now says the state will pay for poor and middle class students’ fee hikes while letting the wealthy pay for theirs.

Nzimande said the plan will mean 70% to 80% of undergraduate students across the country will either be covered by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme or face no fee increases next year. Those who protest for zero-percent fee increases for all students are protecting the rich, he said.

“We can’t destroy our universities in the name of defending no-fee increases for the rich,” said Nzimande, while acknowledging students’ right to demonstrate.

“Government is alive to the legitimate cries of students regarding fees and to those of the universities who must continue to pay for specialist books and equipment in foreign currency and ensure that academic, support and service staff are adequately paid for their work,” he told media at a conference in Pretoria.

It’s still unclear how government will pay for its gap-funding grant. “As to where and how the money will come from, unfortunately I’m not the minister of finance,” said Nzimande, inviting uncertainty over how government will fund the program.

“We are tired of talk shops and task teams without implementation,” complained a student leader. ”We cannot every year protest for a moratorium, there needs to be a greater structural solution to the crisis that is higher education… We could not afford the fees in 2015, and we still can’t afford them today, thus the call for free, quality and equal education.”

Nzimande’s school fee offer is also unpopular with some school administrators. “Another zero-percent fee increase will destroy our universities,” said Jonathan Jansen, former Free State University rector. “You can build up a good university over 100 years, but you can destroy one in three months.

Protesting students are also demanding a change in the current curriculum, adding more about the experiences of black people. Up to the minute reports on the school strikes can be found on Twitter at #Feesmustfall

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