11 February 2014
Over the past few weeks students across a number of institutions namely, UJ, DUT, TUT, CPUT, MUT, WSU, CUT, VUT were engaged in mass action on issues related to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). We felt it important to coordinate a nationwide campaign to raise these issues and engage in a process to resolve them. This included mass action, continued engagements with NSFAS, DHET and the institutions themselves.
On student victimization
We were largely concerned by the response of university management to our peaceful protests, which were aimed at halting registration until all students have equal access regardless of gender, race or social class. Universities showed a lack of appetite to fruitful engagements with our SRCs and structures in order to resolve these challenges. They decided rather to victimize students particularly student leaders. This made the environment for engagement very antagonistic and in most cases collapsed negotiations. This we believe was irresponsible on the part of university leadership particularly Vice Chancellors. Our comrades in UJ, CUT and VUT are still under suspension whilst horrendous expulsions were delivered to our comrades at the University of Limpopo.
A number of our student leaders were arrested and summarily suspended from institutions. We believe this comes against the constitutionally enshrined rights of freedom of expression, association and the right to protest. We believe that our institutions should be advocates of social justice and not perpetrators of suppression and victimization. SASCO is concerned with the dangerous trend of universities illegally evicting students from residences during protests. This is pure lawlessness on the part of institutions and exposes students, particularly female students, to vulnerable conditions, this must be condemned with the contempt it deserves. We call on Vice Chancellors to be responsible and to drop all charges against our student leaders and to allow them to register and conclude their qualification. It is an indictment on our institutions that they could even be engaged in legal action aimed at refusing students the Right to Learn.
On the relative resolution to the NSFAS Crisis
Following the commencement of our nationwide campaign, meetings with DHET and NSFAS we convened expeditiously to intervene on these issues. The main challenges that were raised during these engagements included;
It is public knowledge that the Minister announced a R1 Billion increase in NSFAS funds for the year 2014, taking the budget of NSFAS from about R8.4 Billion in 2013 to almost R9.5 Billion in 2014. This we believe goes a long way to ensure that more students are able to benefit from the scheme, even though it is not enough to meet the numbers of poor students, particularly the new entrants. The Minister also announced that about R230 Million will be going towards paying for historic debt of NSFAS beneficiaries within the system. This has resulted in a number of students being unblocked and allowed to register. This too is not enough but it did make a dent in alleviating the burden from students and as activists of SASCO we must be proud that we have put enough pressure so that action can taken by our government.
Even though these undertakings were communicated to us and the public, we did not suspend our protests on campuses nor did we call off our plans for a General Student Protest. Our view was that our structures must make assessment of the impact of these funds and whether they impact on the crisis that we had identified on the ground. We allowed for this process to ensure and made an impact assessment which has led us to conclude that by and larger this intervention has yielded positive results. Many students were unblocked and allowed to register across our institutions. Where there were challenges NSFAS and DHET intervened to ensure that lists of student are released and students are able to register.
SASCO wishes to thank all students that participated in our mass actions including those who were clear for registration but who pledged solidarity with their fellow students. This achievement and milestone can only be attributed to united action by South African students. Our collective belief that education should be rid of all exclusionary methods based on race, gender and social class guided us during this period. Our revolutionary commitment derived from the Freedom Charter, Opening the Doors of Learning and Culture, has been taken a step forward. We believe that a lot still needs to be done, and therefore recommit ourselves to intensify the struggle for Free Quality Education in our lifetime. We shall work harder to ensure that our government of the African National Congress lives up to its commitment to South African students to introduce Free Education for the working class and poor.
We therefore wish to announce our decision to suspend all our plans to engage in a General Student Strike until further notice. Our plans to march to NSFAS and the Department of Higher Education and Training are therefore put on hold pending any emergence of problems similar to those we recently faced during this registration period. We are aware that some of our campuses are still engaged in campus protest on various institutional specific issues; we pledge our solidarity with them and call for speedy resolutions to these by university management working with, and not against, student leaders. SASCO supports any mass actions that are meant to resolve the issues of students and we believe that students do not just engage in a protest of the sake of it, but they do so as a last resort.
We also wish to thank the government of the ANC for speedily intervening to avert this national crisis that we were confronted with. We believe that it is only the African National Congress that carries the interests of the working class and poor students of South Africa. We remain committed to our Complementary and Contradictory relation to the ANC and its government and we will continue to advise the movement on certain needs of students even though this advice will sometimes come through mass action.
Issued by the NEC of SASCO
For more information contact
Ntuthuko Makhombothi, President on 071 875 2209
Luzuko Buko, Secretary General on 071 879 3258