The quest for a free and quality education has had more support in the past few weeks following the #FeesMustFall movement that gripped the country’s universities. As to whether the gains made from this movement are implemented remains to be seen.
The release of the “no-fee varsity” report by the Department of Higher Education and Training is a step in the right direction. To be honest, I’m still pinching myself. Did this really happen? Back in March when we began the campaign to have the report released, it seemed like a very long shot. But then the wind changed.
I took the campaign to a community advocacy organisation, amandla.mobi where its members along with students, academics, workers and parents, came together and petitioned that the report be released. But the release of the report is not the end. What is needed now is to shift the public debate towards calls for Minister Nzimande to progressively implement the recommendations of the report to demolish fees which exclude countless young people. The release of the report is proof that the demands of students were recognised by the Department of Higher Education, including funding for ‘middle gap’ households, which generally earn too much to be considered poor, but too little to access loans. This group includes a variety of civil servants, police, nurses and teachers.
This report speaks to the bigger issues brought to light by the students and organisations such as amandla.mobi. The announcement by President Jacob Zuma that there will be no fee increment in university fees for 2016 was met with excitement and led to the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and University of Pretoria Vice-chancellors agreeing to scrap registration fees. Institutions such as the University of Cape Town have also agreed to end outsourcing.
“The current student protests that have erupted across the country are historic. They demonstrate a younger generation willing to take up the struggle against inequality, and to insist on the principle of education for all. Our students are leading the national debate on education, they deserve our respect and attention,” says amandla.mobi campaigner Koketso Moeti.
“The demands of students are not only about the current generation of students, but our children and theirs.”
Moeti adds that the question of access to education is not an isolated issue but is part and parcel of the socio-economic condition in the country.
“It is our parents who are being paid poverty wages due to higher education institutions outsourcing policy.”
She reiterated the views of students: “Education is not, and should never be a commodity. Education is a right, and not a privilege. The commodification of education further perpetuates poverty by excluding the poor black child. Twenty-one years into our democracy, education still remains accessible to the rich who, in South Africa, remain the white rich population. When we call for decolonisation, we call also for the decolonisation of the western capitalist system that commodifies education. If the greatest weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed, how then do we expect the oppressed to free themselves when education still remains an entity that they cannot access? Higher education in South Africa is still accessible only to the elite. Statistics show that most people who are excluded for financial reasons are Black.”
At the University of Johannesburg the protests have been sustained. Last week, the university’s Vice Chancellor, Ihron Rensburg, said he has done everything in his power to break the peaceful protest by workers and students. He went on to say that the University of Johannesburg was the first to end outsourcing, but to date there is no signed agreement and workers have been treated like animals to be sold from one company to the next. Furthermore, the UJ Fees Must fall movement was assaulted by private security and police and subsequently arrested. The university also locked students in a library, and locked out workers from entering the campus. Despite an all-night vigil last week the Vice-Chancellor refuses to meet with students and workers.
In similar situations we have seen that people power triumphs. Despite the many attempts to divide students, workers and parents the victory in ending outsourcing is imminent. The University of Cape Town has shown us that victory is nigh if society stands in solidarity. The struggle to end outsourcing and for fees to fall is ongoing.
Nqaba Mpofu is part of the ACTIVATE! Change Drivers’ Network of over 1600 young leaders who are driving change for the Public Good of South Africa. Nqaba is passionate about social justice, focusing mainly on literacy development on a national scale.