South Africa Students
South Africa Students

These fee hikes were scheduled to go into effect for 2016 as Africa’s most
industrialized state faces a burgeoning economic crisis of sluggish growth
and increasing uncertainty in the labor market.

South Africa Students
South Africa Students

The President’s proclamation came amid the closing of universities
across the country after two weeks of protests on campuses in
Pretoria, Fort Hare, Johannesburg, Cape Town and other cities and
towns across the country. A twitter message #feesmustfall became a
rallying cry for students throughout South Africa as they walked off
campuses to demonstrate in the streets, at the parliament building in
Cape Town, the Union Building in Pretoria and even outside the ruling
African National Congress (ANC) party headquarters at Luthuli House.

At the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, one of premier
higher educational institutions in South Africa, administrators shut
down the campus after protests on October 14. These demonstrations
rapidly spread to other campuses leading to the closure of many other
universities and colleges during the week of October 19.

The Witwatersrand Acting Student Representative Council President,
Shaeera Kalla, placed the unrest within a broader context saying,
“There is a majority of black students every year who are academically
excluded from this university, and financially excluded from this
university. That, that is the reality and we are tired of that
reality.”

Due to the demonstrations, government officials and vice chancellors,
who had been meeting in Durban during the National Education Summit to
discuss the state of higher education, were taken off guard by the
protests. Witwatersrand University’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Adam
Habib, was compelled to leave the conference and immediately return to
Johannesburg and meet with disgruntled students.

At Witwatersrand which in the center of the nationwide dispute had
proposed increases in registration, tuition and accommodation fees by
an average of 10-percent for the following year.

Despite the announcement of a moratorium on fee increases, the student
protests continued on October 26. At Witwatersrand, a university
senate meeting designed to discuss the resumption of the academic
program where lectures and examinations are pending, was disrupted by
student activists demanding that the issue of free university
education and other demands be addressed.

An article published by the South African Mail & Guardian said “Most
university campuses around the country had decided to continue with
protests, despite an announcement by President Jacob Zuma on Friday to
put a moratorium on 2016 fee hikes. The students argued that only one
of their several demands had been agreed to (fees not rising)
following a march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Friday. They
are demanding free education for all and that universities stop the
outsourcing of staff and services.” (Oct. 26)

Education Reflects Broader Societal Challenges

The problems in higher education affordability is a manifestation of
the increasing economic crisis in South Africa where the government,
due to its adoption of neo-liberal policies, has been unable to
implement free education, a mandate of the Freedom Charter from six
decades ago.

Since the ANC took power in 1994 the amount of assistance to students
pursuing post-secondary education has increased substantially.
Nevertheless, these measures have not been adequate to meet the
demands of the working class and poor communities.

In addition, the university system in South Africa allows individual
schools to determine internal governance issues such as fee increases,
student and labor affairs. Many aspects of the former apartheid system
of institutional racism and class bias remain within the functional
framework of education.

On October 21, when the Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene was
delivering the midterm budget before parliament in Cape Town,
thousands of students were demonstrating outside the building
insisting that their concerns be addressed. Police used riot control
techniques involving teargas to disperse the crowds where some had
begun to storm the security fences and stone security personnel.

Nene’s report indicated that the national debt has grown from 26
percent to 47 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) since the
2008-9 global economic crises when South Africa instituted
countercyclical measures to combat the downturn. The growth of
debt-service is a major concern for bond ratings agencies which can
determine the cost of borrowing and the interests of foreign capital
in investing in the national economy.

These developments are aggravated by the decline in the value of the
national currency (rand) which has slipped to the level of 13-1
against the United States dollar. Nene emphasized during his speech
that “Our projection is that debt will rise by a further R600-billion
(approximately $US50 billion) over the next three years, while
stabilizing as a percentage of GDP.”

Increasing at an average annual rate of 10.9 percent, debt-service is
the South African government’s fastest growing expense. Many of these
difficulties stem directly from the declining prices for commodity
exports and the ongoing capitalist relations of production where
private business interests are seeking to cut labor costs amid the
decline in the currency values.

Debate Intensifies Inside the Tripartite Alliance

The Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr. Blade Nzimande, who
is also the Secretary General of the South African Communist Party
(SACP), has been criticized for not taking decisive action in solving
the problems of increasing fees. It was reported in the South African
press that some of the youth leaders, including the newly-elected ANC
Youth League President Collen Maine, has called for Nzimande’s
resignation.

Others within the ANC-SACP and Congress of South African Trade Union
(COSATU) alliance have rejected what they describe as the
“scapegoating” of Nzimande, saying that the problems of higher
education cannot be assessed independent of the overall crisis in the
capitalist system. Nzimande in an interview said that even though the
higher education sector is largely funded through state revenues, the
private sector must increase support for universities.

“There is enough money in this country. The problem is that a lot of
it is in the private sector,” Nzimande told the South African press
agency eNCA. “Your richer universities had committed that they are
going to dip into some of their reserves to support this. And then the
rest were saying it will have to come from government, but we’ve got
to look at all sources that are possible both inside and outside
government, as well as your rich universities, because not all
universities can afford to pay even a cent towards this.” (Oct. 26)

A wide ranging debate has been initiated on the character of the
situation where the SACP, ANC, along with the Economic Freedom
Fighters (EFF), the Democratic Alliance (DA) and other opposition
parties have taken varying positions. Accusations from elements within
the ANC and the SACP say that they support the demand for free
education. However, there could very well be other political aspects
to the unrest and views surrounding the demonstrations.

A polemic between the SACP and the ANC has come to the surface
surrounding the National General Council of the ruling party held
during October 8-11. The African Communist, one of the theoretical
journals of the SACP, has openly criticized the program of the General
Council in its third quarter issue saying that there needs to be a
move away from neo-liberal economic policy through larger state
spending geared toward re-correcting the legacy of apartheid and
colonialism.

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

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