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South African students win zero per cent fee increase fight

Posted on: October 23, 2015 12:59 PM
A live television news report from Wits University in Johannesburg yesterday showed Archbishop Thabo Magkoba with Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, as they join 40 other religious leaders supporting students in their #FeesMustFall campaign.
Photo Credit: ENCA, Johannesburg

[ACNS] Student fees in South Africa will not rise next year, the South African President Jacob Zuma announced in a televised address, following talks between students and university vice chancellors.

“There will be a zero increase in university fees in 2016,” President Zuma said in a televised address from Union Buildings – the seat of the South African Government. “Discussions will continue, looking at the broader issues than the fees.”

He said that the “package of issues that need to be followed up” included free education, institutional autonomy, racism, accountability and black debt.

In addition, he said that the university vice chancellors had agreed to extend the time for the examination period to make up time lost during the protests.

Yesterday, the Primate of Southern Africa, the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba, joined other faith leaders in the country at his alma mater, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, in a protest to support the students.

Later, in a statement, the faith leaders said that the student fee issue was a “national crisis.”

“We lament that we have not discerned the signs of the times,” they said. “We have failed our students and not heard their voices.

“We lament and strongly condemn the unnecessary use of violence and police brutality against our students and children. We call for the immediate release of all detained under these circumstances.

“We further lament the exclusion of the poor from our spaces of higher education and learning because of unaffordability. We recognize that the majority of these students are black and this entrenches inequality in our nation and further disadvantages many students. Our sacred texts call us to identify with the poor and marginalised. The church and faith leaders therefore have an obligation to stand in solidarity with the students on campuses, their parents and university leadership in the country.”

There have been further protests this morning (Friday) as students staged protests across the country and at the Union Buildings – the official seat of the South African government – in protest at fee increases of up to 11 per cent. Under the hashtag #FeesMustFall - which is now being taken up by student movements globally - the students have attempted to occupy the Union Buildings.

Today’s protests were marked with pockets of unrest as other groups joined the protests. This resulted in police responding with stun grenades and pepper spray.

“We call on university authorities, government and students to avoid further violent behaviour that shuts down dialogue,” the church leaders said. “Only through deep dialogue, listening and courageous action will we be able to find lasting long-term solutions.”

The faith leaders committed themselves to “engage and journey with all stakeholders on this issue” and said that they “assure the students, their parents and university leadership and government in the country of our continued prayers in this time of crisis.”

The statement was signed by 43 religious leaders. In addition to Archbishop Makgoba, these included Dr Zandisile Magxwalisa, Archbishop of the Jerusalem Church in South Africa; Archbishop Jabulani Nxumalo, of the Roman Catholic Church; and the Revd Mukondeleli Ramulondi, of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa.

The Revd Canon Desmond Lambrechts and human rights campaigner Shirley Moulder were the other Anglican signatories of the letter.