The pandemonium at campuses around the country could have been avoided if university councils had been decisive about the minister’s decision to increase fees by up to 8% in 2017.
It is hard to fathom that a black government could throw a bomb at universities by expecting them to deal with the vexing issue of fee increments when the ruling party came to power with loud promises of free education. The violence that has been witnessed is the result of notably poorly trained police who seem to be trigger happy, just like in the Marikana massacre where 34 striking miners were mercilessly mowed down by the state organ meant to enforce peace and justice.
It is my humble prayer that the SA Police Service is not being used as a political pawn. Students, as we observe in various clashes on campuses, by and large have not initiated the violence that started at Wits and now at Rhodes. Live television pictures do not lie. On the day it all started, Wits students gathered at about 5.30pm to seek counsel from each other about the minister’s pronouncement and the police accompanied by university security personnel charged at them.
Female students were assaulted and dragged along the ground by campus guards eager to please their employers. What we have seen is not policing, but attacks on largely peaceful student protests, which is a right enshrined in our constitution.
The chaotic protests that are spreading to almost all universities could have been avoided if the ruling party had the guts to frankly engage with the student leaders and explain that whatever impediments there are in the implementation of a party resolution adopted at the Polokwane conference in 2007 will be dealt with. It is my humble call to university vice-chancellors and their councillors to remove police from campuses.
Then to call for an all-inclusive national dialogue that will hopefully result in consensus on the way forward so students and those who support their legitimate call for free higher education in the land of plenty see that despite the challenges they are nonetheless taken seriously.
Parents and big business must be invited to play a leading role in this conversation and elect credible citizens to research how no fee higher education can be attained. I also urge that campus security personnel should protect university assets and students, instead of being provocative and hostile as has been the case thus far.
How quickly we forget? We achieved our democracy because we were prepared to talk to each other across the racial divide and political differences. The president must provide leadership and address the nation on the shambolic state of our nation and for once – just for once – inspire the much-needed confidence in our socio-political life. Mr President the ball is in your court.
The fate of our students’ desire for the promises of the Freedom Charter to be realised is in the palm of your hand. The choice is yours. We await with the world to see how you play it.