#Fees2017 and the fractured leadership

By Mamaponya Motsai

On Monday morning, students from across the country took time from whatever they were doing to listen to what the Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande would say on the issue of fee increments for next year.

But instead of allaying their fears, Nzimande gave universities the green light to increase fees in 2017.

"We have looked at the challenges at hand from all sides and have concluded that the best approach would be to allow universities individually to determine the level of increase that their institutions will require… Our recommendation is that fee adjustments should not go above 8%," Nzimande announced.

Wits University was one of the first to react. Within hours of the announcement, the institution had effectively been shut down. It was not long before the cracks in student leadership started to show.

While one faction was saying, “We want free education,” another was saying, “We want 0% increase”.

While some where shouting, “Free education now,” others were shouting, “Free education in our life time”.

Some of the students seemed confused about who exactly is leading them.

“Who are you?” shouted some students as a leader from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) attempted to speak to them during a meeting in Solomon Mahlangu Hall.

In 2015, leaders from different student organisations led a nation wide #FeesMustFall movement.

While this was going on, a leader from African National Congress (ANC) aligned Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) climbed on to the make shift stage that was barely big enough, almost knocking off the EFF leader. He too wanted to address the students.

But the fractions in the leadership of the fees protests of 2016 are not confined to Wits University.

At the University of Pretoria (UP), EFF leaders and ANC aligned South African Students Congress (Sasco) leaders at odds over whether to protest or let academic activities continue as normal, particularly as the institution is currently in the process of electing new student leadership.

"We are saying let us allow for the elections to continue, especially because this year we did not have a proper SRC structure because there were disruptions last year. Sasco at the UP also says students must wait for the university to announce whether or not there will be any fee increment before embarking a protest."

But EFF leaders at the institutions will have none of that.

“We are calling for free education now. If there is no free education then there is not going to be anything happening here," says EFF spokesperson at the institution, Kabelo Mohlobongwane.

Mohlobongwane accuses Sasco leadership at the institution of taking a mandate from Luthuli house. He says that even though they do not necessarily have a mandate from students at the institution, they will protest and bring activities to a standstill if they must because they are doing so for the benefit of all students. "What we are doing we are doing for students. We are fighting for the students." 

In 2015, thousands of tertiary students from different institutions joined in the call for free education.

Not far from UP, academic activities at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) have been disrupted here and there but largely continued as normal.

Sekgololo Mathabatha from Sasco at TUT says they will not be taking part in the fees protests.

"The problem is that when TUT strikes no one pays attention. We have been striking and people say, TUT likes to strike, but just because it is Wits we must join the strike. We can't do that," says Mathabatha.

Mathabatha says all TUT campuses across the country will continue with academics as usual. “We are going to strike on our own terms for issues that affect our students.”

He says they are satisfied with Nzimande’s decision to limit fee increments only to students whose families have an income of R600 000 and above. The EFF led SRC at the University of Limpopo says they are will not be joining the fees protests.

“We don’t want to join the protests just to be fashionable. We went on strike last year, we can’t be striking again this year. That means even next year we will be striking,” says EFF secretary at Limpopo University, Julius Matlabane.

Students at the institution are on a study break and will return next week. Matlabane says they will discuss Nzimande’s report with students when they come back but they will not join the protests. He says they will decide what they will do to bring about free tertiary education in the country but they will not be dictated to by other institutions on how and when.

“We are not reactionaries. We are visionaries. We want free education, those people are reacting to fee increments,” says Matlabane.