Early indications suggest the ongoing student protests at several universities are politically motivated, according to Johan Burger, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).
Burger said the violence that had marred the protests, especially at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), strengthened the belief there were hidden forces driving a certain agenda.
“Rumours suggest some people are instigating the violence, and there may be some truth in that,” Burger said.
According to Burger, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande’s announcement this week that universities were to determine tuition fee increases was tantamount to passing the buck.
The researcher said it did not make sense because universities depended largely on government subsidies and student fees to keep them running.
“It is unacceptable for government to sit back and leave universities to deal with angry students on their own,” he said.
“Deploying police will also not help in terms of addressing the issues of fees because more force from them will just escalate the violence.”
He warned that another Marikana or worse was on the horizon if the situation was not handled properly.
“Government has a big role to play in this. Deploying police to deal with the issue is wrong because they don’t know anything about fees.”
In his Monday announcement, Nzimande said poor students and those falling in the missing-middle category would benefit from a zero tuition fee increase, stressing that hikes by universities were not to exceed 8%.
Moments after Nzimande’s announcement, students at Wits University embarked on protest action, demanding free education for all.
Political analyst Andre Duvenhage told The Citizen the student protests were a manifestation of what was happening in society.
“We have an unstable society, where there is a lot of anger and frustration,” Duvenhage said.
“The minister’s announcement is similar to the state throwing the universities to the wolves, and I don’t see the student protests dying out anytime soon because there is also a strong political momentum behind them, which will be difficult to stop.”
Asked what would be needed to avoid violent student protests, Duvenhage said the political environment would have to be stabilised first.
“Universities have also become praetorian, in the sense that they are now protecting and safeguarding themselves against society,” he said.
“We have also witnessed strict access control to some of these institutions, which are also under heavy guard.”
When contacted for comment, the department promised to respond to The Citizen’s queries.