Turning Point for “#FeesMustFall” Student Protests?

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“#FeesMustFall” – The Protest of the Century?

Most universities in South Africa are still plagued by what is called the protest of the century, since the anti-apartheid demonstration in 1976 in Soweto. The #FeesMustFall student protest had it’s onset at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) in Johannesburg on 14 October and quickly accelerated towards the rest of the country. Social media hash tags such as #NationalShutdown and #FeesMustFall fueled the protests. It all started as a rally against the steep increase of 10.5% tuition fees for 2016 and 6% in upfront registration fees. Each university has it’s own list of student demands, of which high tuition fees and outsourcing of cleaning services by universities are of the biggest concern.

Angry Students Turning Violent

Sadly, what started as a peaceful protest soon turned violent and vandalistic. The law states that anyone violently entering a gathering of government would be seen as major security risk to the country and be shot on sight. Police handled the crowd with rubber bullets, teargas and stun grenades at first, but according to an eyewitness, they started loading guns with sharp point ammunition as soon as confrontation heated up dangerously. Had the student protest in the Cape succeeded to entering Parliament, it would have caused a massacre and immense damage to our country. While the #FeesMustFall student protest made history in many ways, it could have marked one of the worst incidents of our country as well.

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

President Zuma caved in to the pressure last Friday by committing to a 0% increase for next year. While it is unclear where the R 2.2 Bn shortage would come from, students feel that it still isn’t enough and would rather opt for free tertiary schooling. What will happen if final year students, not able to afford an extra year’s studies, are prevented to write? Then again, there will be even less graduates entering the country’s economy as well, which just widens the gap between less privileged students and the others. This was part of the initial reasons for the protests. The already weak and fragile Rand commodity also took a nose dive due to the protests, putting even more strain on the economy, which is now developing in a vicious circle.

“#FeesMustFall” – Turning Point for Universities

While some universities committed to resuming classes on Monday, some still stay closed for the time being. Apart from what the president promised, universities are busy seeking and working towards solutions and financial relief to students. The TUKS (university of Pretoria) vice counselor agreed to meet student’s initial demands, amongst others.

Exam Jitters?

October is synonymous with the Jacaranda trees in full bloom, painting the cities of Pretoria and Johannesburg in the most glorious purple. It is also synonymous with exam time on university campuses. There is an old novel belief amongst students that you will pass the exams if a jacaranda blossom lands on your head. Well, this year is different with student protests brutally disrupting exams. Some even speculate that it might be those students who were bound to fail anyway, leading the protests by trying to sidestep the exams.

In most scenarios in life, timing is everything. In retrospect, was this the best time for announcing fee increases? How about those wishing to finish exams in time? By worrying about next year’s higher fees, also has a negative impact on an already exam-stressed student’s moral.

Now What?

Now would be the time for our government to step up by allocating hard-earned taxpayers’ money correctly, honestly, intelligently and justly! Instead of spending enormous amounts of money on changing the names of streets and towns, rather allocate that money for university subsidies and government bursaries for disadvantaged students. After all, isn’t educating our youth what really matters? They are the future leaders of this country.

So at this point the unhappiness over Nkandla surfaces once again in articles. One news headline in The Gardian read: “Dear Jacob Zuma, this time white people haven’t made us angry. You did”. Students feel that the government failed them and that very little of the promises made by the ANC during the 1994 and every other election thereafter, were kept. Of course this would also be the time for students to take responsibility and act like the adults they are supposed to be. It would be of no use to have more affordable (or even free) tuition if they wouldn’t academically do their part to succeed.