Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s announcement on Monday that universities will shoulder the responsibility for fee increments for 2017 has agitated the #FeesMustFall movement. VOC News journalist Rafieka Williams, a Wits ulumna, decodes Nzimande’s speech.
In what many thought would be a decisive moment, Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande on Monday announced that universities will have to bear the brunt of the demands made by students calling for free education. Students from around the country waited with baited breath to hear whether or not university fees for next year would increase or not, a policy that was set for universities to function in accordance to inflation rates.
And then it dropped – universities will have to determine their own fee increases for 2017, but any increase must not exceed 8%.
As soon as Minister Nzimande had made the announcement, student councils across the country called for universities to shut down. Wits University reacted almost immediately as different factions of the university gathered students in protest. UKZN which has been the scene of on-going protests for most of the year and has been shut down since last week also stepped into the fray. Students from the Universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch, who had been protesting since last week, also joined the call.
But for most of these students, it was expected that Nzimande would disappoint them. What many media houses have reported as a reaction of anger to the Minister’s speech is much more than just anger but disappointment. The youth feel like government is failing them. So whilst Minister Nzimande tried to explain a governmental position, this is what young poor black students at universities heard.
“Our universities face serious challenges in terms of funding, at the same time large numbers of South Africans are finding it difficult to access post school education because of the financial challenges they as individuals or as families face, government is aware of these challenges and takes them very seriously,” said Nzimande.
As the government we will continue to address systematic inequality by using unsustainable solutions to age old problems. We will not try to change the root cause of problems of inequality or exclusion in our country, but rather allow families and individuals from working class backgrounds to get the crumbs of capitalism. It is not our fault but we will try to sugar coat everything.
“The task of the Presidential commission is to advise on systemic and long term measures to achieve a far reaching reconstitution of the entire post-school education and training funding system with a particular focus of course on student funding, thereby enabling South Africans to access Higher education even if they come from poor and working class families,” Nzimande continued.
We will uphold the system which excludes you, we can’t help that you are poor, it’s not our problem. We are not poor…we made it out of the poverty trap by fighting for this country’s freedom. Now you have the freedom to be poor.
Nzimande explained further: “Our immediate and pressing task is to ensure that, as we continue to improve access to post school education and strengthen the quality of learning and teaching, we do not erode the financial stability of the sector. Our economy has currently weakened our fiscal position, the tax has been rising in recent years and we must preserve the fiscal space to fund government’s policy agenda in future years.”
Financially we cannot support you as our neo-liberal policy is geared towards saving ourselves first. The taxpayer’s money is already being used to fund President Jacob Zuma, state capture and other mechanisms of corruption. You are not important.
“This means that any funding government hires to support the pressing challenges in higher education, it would need to re-prioritizes from other government programs. We understand the legitimate student concerns of affordable university education, at the same time, we need to ensure that those who can afford to pay must pay,” Nzimande stated.
We understand that you are spoilt, that you like to protest. You are lazy children and you think nothing of our sacrifices for this country’s freedom. We don’t want to lose other money that we’re using for things to keep this country going in the meanwhile.
This is what students heard government saying – government doesn’t care about student concerns but rather managing the country and continuing on the aimless path that we’re heading towards as a country. Some of the reactions from students at UCT was “we knew this would happen” and “it is not new to be ignored by government”.
By passing on the responsibility to universities on deciding whether university fees would increase next year, government has effectively diverted responsibilities to universities to continue to exercise their autonomy over the lives of students, without understanding the position of students. Government does not stand with students. The ANC does not understand, realize or recognize the struggle of students.
After the local government elections, academic Barney Pityana pointed out the fact that youth voices are underestimated. The government is intimidated by young educated people who lead movements such as Fees Must Fall because there is a disconnect in ideology.
Last year, government intervened by paying just over half of the six percent increase in university fees. This year students are faced with the same problem, so the systematic exclusion of the poor black majority continues.
As an African country, why are the majority of black people still poor? This is the question that the current generation demands to be redressed. The feeling is a festering one. Over the next few months, we will see more and more protests as the situation becomes aggravated by growing frustrations. And students will once again try to change something in this country, but to which extent government will respond is unknown.