At a specially convened meeting of students, government and university management on Monday, Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande accused student leaders of duplicity.
“What I announced the other Monday, the R600,000, the 8% and so on – we agreed with you as the SAUS (The South African Union of Students). Yet today you come here and say what you are saying,” he said.
SAUS is an umbrella body of student representative councils.
Nzimande further alleged that student leaders had agreed on the amended fee increase of 6% in response to the #FeesMustFall protests last year.
“I want people to know that last year you agreed on a maximum 6% increase last year,” he said. “Then, we were all supposed to go out and convince our constituencies to accept that. The moment we left that meeting you never did that. You left me on my own, thrown under a bus.”
UCT SRC President Rorisang Moseli however said that the minister’s remarks had surprised many of the students at the imbizo.
“It is my understanding that they did meet with the minister but they actually walked into that meeting very confused. There was no clear direction, no clear resolution in hand…. So when the minister made his announcement and particularly used (Wits SRC Secretary General) Faseeha Hassen as an example, it was a surprise to a lot of us,” he said.
Nzimande however alleges that student leaders have not been committed to sincere engagement.
“You keep on shifting the goalpost all the time because you don’t want us to have a proper engagement,” he said.
“As far as I’m concerned you are not playing a fair game. And in the process, you are gambling with the future of the majority of poor students in this country. I just wanted to say that so when you continue on, the country must know the truth.”
Addressing Wits SRC president Nompendulo Mkhatshwa, Nzimande said Mkhatshwa was disingenuous in her engagement with the minister.
“It’s not true that I am not engaging on this matter,” he said. “And we have agreements that you are violating right now. You are violating our agreement and you keep shifting the goalpost every time!”
“You don’t want us at the end of the day to have a proper conversation and discussion. You can’t say you want to be in a meeting where the VCs are not there – The VCs that you interact with all the time.”
Nzimande further alleged that student leaders had abandoned him.
“You left me on my own, thrown under the bus, the 0% gets accepted and you distanced yourself as you if you never did that. I want you to try and disagree with me – there are SRC presidents here who were there,” he said.
Significantly, however, the minister said that while there is no disagreement on free education for the poor as a goal, students must allow due process to follow.
“It’s not correct or possible to say that we can sit here and arrive at free education. As if anyone disagrees with you on free education – for the poor. But we have to allow this process the space, and there’s also the presidential commission – and I’m not going to speak for the president. I’m going to speak for myself,” he said.
Moseli, the student leader from UCT said the minister’s remarks were an attempt at self-preservation.
“He tried to protect himself. There are other dynamics obviously that go beyond us, but we have to stand our ground and fight for the students that actually elected us to be here and not fall prey to other dynamics that we have no party with,” he said. “They tried to make students look like they were disorganised, that they were disingenuous and that they were consistently being populist, being pop stars effectively. Which is complete nonsense, absolute nonsense,” he said.
In the meanwhile, university management across the country are committed to continue with the academic programme, while students say they are ready to continue their protest.
Over the weekend, Wits Fees Must Fall (Wits FMF) and SRC rejected the the #WitsPoll results and committed to continue the shutdown of the university until free, quality decolonised education could be realised.
Yet as things are likely to escalate at Wits this week, progress had been made by the movement – who have developed a proposed model for free education that they had intended to present to Minister Blade Nzimande and President Jacob Zuma on Monday.
The model was developed by the Wits FMF research task team made up of students, academics and professionals such as Khaya Sithole – a chartered accountant.
The model itself is more progressive than what has been proposed by Vice Chancellors and academics such as Nico Cloete – it calls for free education for all.
Featured image by Zilungile Mnisi
Editor’s note: This story has been updated and also edited as the original misattributed a quotation.