DA interim leader John Steenhuisen has called for President Cyril Ramaphosa to make urgent interventions to curb recent student protests on campuses across the country.
As the academic year got under way, student protests erupted for various reasons and the common thread was the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) funding.
Steenhuisen said he would be writing to Ramaphosa to urge him to instruct the Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande to actively address problems currently occurring in institutions.
“Students are continuing to hold other students to ransom at these institutions through protests. Those who have registered and want to learn are being inconvenienced by the disruption of lectures. While students may have legitimate cries, the damage to property, assaults and disruptions are unacceptable and have frankly been allowed to continue for too long,” he said.
University of Fort Hare (UFH) vice-chancellor Professor Sakhela Buhlungu on Thursday said the institution had been experiencing “ongoing intimidation and violence against staff, students and members of the public” as well as “looting and damage to property” since 24 February. This led to UFH evacuating its campuses.
Violence have also been reported at KwaZulu-Natal universities.
“The protesting students are taking their anger and frustration out at the institutions and not at Nsfas’s doorstep, where the genesis of the problem exists. It is not enough that the minister condemns the protest action, but rather serious action steps ought to be taken if the department wants education to continue uninterrupted,” Steenhuisen said.
On Wednesday, while speaking at a South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) event, Ramaphosa said government needed to focus on the so-called missing middle – those students whose parents earn more than the threshold for free higher education but not enough to pay tertiary fees – because that was where the problem was.
Steenhuisen suggested that Nzimande focus on:
- Announcing a comprehensive plan with specific timelines for when Nsfas students with historic debt will be paid and cleared;
- expedite disbursement of funds to students – students need to get their funds paid directly into their student accounts;
- Nsfas allowances for colleges and university students need to be standardised – all students have the same expenses for food and accommodation;
- Urgently engage the department of Public Works and Human Settlements to allocate unused buildings for student accommodation to address the immediate shortages;
- Engage Fort Hare university management to prevent the eviction of students and find a way to allow the academic programme to continue.