National 10.8.2016 03:29 pm

Burning varsities doesn’t make sense – Wits Vice Chancellor Habib

FILE PICTURE: Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor at the University of the Witwatersrand. Picture: Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Waldo Swiegers

FILE PICTURE: Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor at the University of the Witwatersrand. Picture: Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Waldo Swiegers

Wits University Vice Chancellor Adam Habib has said that students are the worst affected when violent protests erupt, leaving a trail of destruction.

“You do know that there has been acts of violence and arson at our institutions. I think it doesn’t make sense to burn our universities,” Habib told African News Agency (ANA) after making submissions to the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training chaired by Justice Jonathan Arthur Heher in Pretoria.

“When institutions are burnt, the real people who suffer are the students and future generations of students. I think we need to recognise protest, and we will recognise protests, but we need to be measured in how we engage in that. We cannot have a situation where people are threatened and arson happens in the universities’ environment.”

Habib said he was happy because the commission had kicked off it public hearings on Wednesday, allowing stakeholders to give input on the burning issues of escalating tertiary fees in South African universities.

“I’m hopeful that there is going to be a deep set of deliberations and they are going to make a set of recommendations that are required in this regard. I’m happy that this process has started, I would want this process to be concluded, because frankly, we cannot continue with the instability in the system,” said Habib.

On behalf of Wits, Habib, accompanied by colleagues including associate associate professor Dr Hlonipha Mokoena, Professor David Hornsby and Professor Cathi Albertyn, said fees have been going up because the government subsidy has been shrinking.

“What we are saying to the commission very clearly is that… the subsidy has been declining over the last 16 years. Precisely because the subsidy has been declining, fees have gone up. You can’t fix the problem if you don’t start at the subsidy, by fixing the subsidy,” said Habib.

Earlier on Wednesday, the SA Union of Students (SAUS) hinted at another series of crippling mass protests after making its presentation to the Heher-led commission of inquiry.

“We are very disappointed by the slow pace of the commission and the arrogance portrayed by Judge Heher. We are very disappointed and we are putting it on record that we have the masses of our people behind us and we are going to meet in the streets,” Saus secretary-general Sthembiso Ndlovu told reporters.

“They have told us that for the past six months they have been dealing with logistics. As a union, we are now going to travel the length and breadth of this country, interacting with our students in mass meetings at institutions of higher learning. We will be reporting on what happened here today.”

Ndlovu said a way forward regarding the students’ reaction to the high fees paid at universities would be discussed and found at those mass meetings.

“If students say let us go and study at the Union Buildings, or let us go and study at Parliament — who are we to defy the mandate given to us by the students? We are very disappointed,” said Ndlovu.

The Saus was first to make submissions to the Heher-led commission of inquiry into the burning issue of higher education funding.

Four Saus leaders — president Avela Mjajubana, deputy secretary-general Fasiha Hassan, treasurer-general Misheck Mugabe and Ndlovu — took turns making submissions to the commission. At the end of their submissions, the student leaders were upset because the inquiry had no questions for them.

“We were listening when the spokesperson of this commission this morning (on TV), when he told the nation that Saus would be presenting and there would be a panel of experts to probe our presentation. It seems as if we are finishing but there is no probing to our presentation and I do not know whether our presentation was that satisfactory and that much (to the extent) that there isn’t even one single question,” said Mugabe.

“I want that question answered, judge, because so that we can have comfort. It seems like now we’re in church where the pastor preaches and we say amen and go home. What is the panel of experts saying about our presentation? We want to know what is your thinking, as a panel of experts appointed by the president.”

In July, President Jacob Zuma extended the deadline by which a commission of inquiry should complete its work.

The commission, announced by Zuma in January following last year’s countrywide protests over the escalating costs of higher education, was meant to complete its work in eight months.

Last year a number of university campuses were shut down after the #FeesMustFall campaign gained momentum and even saw students storm Parliament. This led Zuma to announce a zero percent fee hike for the 2016 academic year.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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