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#Rhodes student: “We can’t compromise with this fee increase”

It’s the second day of the #RhodesMIPMustFall protest and it’s currently 31 degrees in Grahamstown. Protesters sit in the shade of the barricade they built across the entrance of Prince Alfred Street, the main thoroughfare of the Rhodes University campus. VALENTIA LERATO MONAISA, a third year Economics student, sits in the shadow of a tree just up the street with her friends. She is tired but hopeful for the impact the protest is having, as she tells Stuart Lewis.

It’s exciting but also very frustrating that as students we need to be pushed to the level of a two-day protest, while this has been going on at other varsities since last week, in order for us to be heard about something as simple as education being accessible to the masses.

The situation here at Rhodes with the MIP   [Minimum Initial Payment] excludes so many people and it tells so many people that “Ja, you got the marks to come to Rhodes. You’ve done your part but because you cannot afford to or you fall within a certain income bracket, you are not allowed to come to Rhodes.” That’s what the whole protest is about and that’s what everyone here is fighting for.

I’m kind of in complete shock and disbelief because yesterday I was at chased twice by police firing stun grenades at us. I was at Eastcape Midlands [College] both times. We initially left [campus to join them] because we heard that they were being threatened by the police as we hadn’t seen the police here at Rhodes almost the whole day.

ValentiaSo we joined with the students protesting at Midlands College and when we got there we saw how bad the separation between these two institutions that are so close to each other is. When we got there, we were like the protection because if Rhodes had been there, then they wouldn’t have been threatened. Police still fired at us and  them but it seemed like the police being there was not for us. They were actually irritated and disrupted because we were there as they were there to intimidate and antagonise the Midlands College students.

The fact that we haven’t really engaged with those students before all of this, honestly, it’s very disappointing because they are so close to us and because we’re all trying to get higher qualifications and degrees. Now, after all of this, we have engaged with their SRC and our SRC and hopefully we can take the matters of Grahamstown students to higher level government and we can actually get some of their demands and our demands met.

[Rhodes’ VC] Dr Mabizela being here at the protest is his job. He needs to be at the forefront of these protests. He is our VC. A lot of the time, though, I’ve felt disappointed in his presence. Rhodes students were at Midlands for quite some time being intimidated by the police and we had been fired at with stun grenades and he only arrived way after everything had calmed down, after our lecturers had stepped in with the police saying, “You cannot fire at unarmed students.”

His participation is appreciated. I just feel like, in his interactions with Rhodes students, he should make sure he looks at things from our perspective. A lot of people feel like this. He says he understands and sympathises but we have to bend over backwards and compromise with what management is telling us.

But these are our demands and this is what we want. We can’t compromise with this fee increase because people will be excluded. They cannot afford to pay the fees that are standing at the moment. So if you’re telling us that you’re going to increase those, then you’re telling a whole lot of students to pack their bags. He needs to understand that we are in such a tough spot where we can’t meet them halfway.

Hopefully, we shouldn’t have to go past Wednesday with this protest but if we don’t get to some kind of solution where management and students can be happy, then it could last as long as the whole week. Hopefully, with Dr Mabizela being in Cape Town right now talking to the Minister of Higher Education and management coming together, by [the time] tomorrow’s national strike [takes place] it will be settled.

But even last night we had a couple of students being physically abused by cops. The video is on our SRC page. The police are there to protect and serve so when you attack unarmed students, who are you protecting and serving?

– As told to Stuart Lewis
– All images by Stuart Lewis.

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