Students at Wits arrived at campus on Monday to the sight of increased security and a bolstered police presence.
The air crackles with expectation following rumours across the country that a new round of protests against the cost of tuition was set to commence.
“It’s something that we’ve all been anticipating, because we’ve felt the ground shaking for a while now. I think everyone is kind of on the fence – we knew it was going to come. It’s almost inevitable,” said Amanda Mashego, a student at Wits.
The South African Union of Students (SAUS), a national and non-partisan umbrella structure elected by the Student Representative Councils (SRCs) of universities across the country, called for mass meetings in a statement released over the weekend.
According to the statement, the purpose of these meetings is to form and consolidate a national list of demands from the students.
A number of unsigned text messages have been distributed in student chatrooms warning of nationwide protests – particularly speaking to a shutdown at Wits. Both the Economic Freedom Fighters Students Command (EFFSC) and Pan-African Student Movement of Azania (PASMA) national have distanced themselves from this action.
Students are not satisfied with the Fees Commission, in particular the delays in the commission’s final reports. The commission’s report has now been delayed to May 2017. Students have said that they do not want the commission to investigate the feasibility of free education, rather how to realise free education.
“I don’t understand a commision on student fees can have no students in it. It really doesn’t make sense. They can’t understand the plight of the students, they don’t understand how much we’re suffering and what problems we have,” said Witsie Mpumelelo Mdlalose, (19).
Aside from the increased police presence, there seems to be no kind of fees protest action at Wits, despite the media buzz and sense among students that something will be occurring soon.
Shirona Patel, Wits’ communications manager said that increased security measures were as a result of the messages, texts and statements going around speaking of a national shutdown.
“They indicated that there may be protests all across the country. In light of that the universities have been asked to have police and additional security on standby if required,” said Patel.
Patel added that this came as a result of the meeting that took place on Friday morning between Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, and university vice chancellors across the country.
“The Vice Chancellors basically met with the minister and told him that they should have further consultation before they announce anything to do with the fee increase, if any, for 2017. The minister agreed to that,” she said.
The Council for Higher Education has recommended that a fee increase of 6,3% be implemented for 2017. Patel said that that Nzimande took note of this but was looking into consulting other stakeholders in the private sector, national treasury and others to look into how they could fund higher education for 2017.
Patel ensured that the university had no problem with peaceful protest, and that the police presence was only on standby in case violence erupted on campus.
“We don’t have a problem with anyone who wants to protest peacefully, provided that it doesn’t infringe on the rights of those who want to learn and work,” said Patel.
Students at Wits say a resurgence of the #FeesMustFall protests is inevitable.
“[FMF] was bound to happen because of the fees increase. Lots of people are struggling to pay for their fees, so it has to happen because these fees are quite ridiculous,” said Fozia Sahib, a 19-year-old student from Wits.
This story is being updated.