“But we have the power to change that by working together,” Zuma said during a multistakeholder forum on universities convened by the higher education department.
The president hoped “a lasting solution” would be found at the forum to avoid situations that would be hard on the higher education system and the country. About the Fees Commission, set up to look into the feasibility of free education, Zuma said it had to be allowed time to conclude its work. He said doing so would help everyone involved find a lasting solution to the challenges faced by university students.
“We don’t agree with the shutting down of universities. We do not agree with people who say the future of our youth must be put on hold; and we also do not agree with those who say university infrastructure must be destroyed,” Zuma said.
“We have directed police to arrest those hijacking genuine students protests. “And as government, we are saying these horrendous destructions of property must stop now,” he added.
Zuma also took time to remind everyone “the call for free education for the poor is a vision of the ANC”. Responding to calls for free education, he said: “We have heard you loudly and clearly and have been hard at work trying to help the poor since 1994.
“But more still needs to be done and while we confront the challenges faced by students, let us also acknowledge the progress made so far.”
Zuma said government could not work alone in finding solutions.“This is not the time for grandstanding, where one sector will portray itself as being better than the other, because if we do that, we run the risk of a whole academic year being wasted.”
Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said the tertiary education sector needed transformation, “not to be destroyed”. “The immediate challenge our universities face is a minority of students who are determined to bring the education system to a halt,” Nzimande said.
Violent students protests erupted at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) about two weeks ago, following Nzimande’s announcement that it was up to universities to determine tuition fee increases.
Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib said students needed to stop romanticising violence, stressing that students needed to be involved in finding a solution.