As the new university academic year begins, Anglican bishops have warned that a “militarised presence” on some university campuses creates “a false sense of calm... which conceals the potential for renewed violent confrontation.”
The Archbishop ofCape Town, Thabo Makgoba, said the Anglican Church's Synod of Bishops was appealing to university managements to scale back to normal levels the presence of security guards on campuses.
Quoting a statement by the Synod, Archbishop Thabo said: “We plead with university managements to adopt a deep listening posture in response to student unrest, and to work with students to find creative solutions to the pressing issues with which we are confronted. While we are grateful for those campuses which have returned to normality, we are deeply concerned at the presence of police and increased numbers of security personnel on a number of campuses.”
South African police have been involved in clashes with students protesting over an increase to tuition fees of up to 8% in 2017 – well above the inflation rate.
Demonstrations over the cost of university education, prohibitive for many black students, have highlighted frustration at enduring inequalities in the continent’s most industrialised country more than two decades after the end of white-minority rule.
The former President of the Anglican Students Federation in southern Africa, Ayabulela Pinzie, summed up the mood amongst students: “Living on campus these days, is difficult and worrying, one is not sure what will happen next; the traumatic incidents that happened previously had a negative impact on students. Although things have calmed , a post traumatic counselling might be of assistance to some of the students. Some of them had to write last year’s module that they couldn’t complete on time; you can understand the pressure and conditions at which they need to prepare and adapt. At Walter Sisulu University, clashes resulted in chaos, with some students forcefully evicted from their residences, resulting in them sleeping in nearby churches and halls.”
The full text of the synod's statement follows:
SYNOD OF BISHOPS - ANGLICAN CHURCH OF SOUTHERN AFRICA
“You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world. Let your light so shine before people that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5: 13-16
The Synod of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, assembled in Benoni from February 20 to 24, reflected on the state of education in South Africa with specific regard to the disruptions of the educational process arising from the protests over university fees, curricula and the living conditions, transport problems and safety of students which have formed part of the #FeesMustFall, #Decolonized Education and similar campaigns.
The 2017 academic year
The Synod of Bishops applauds the efforts of students, university management teams and the National Education Crisis Forum to save the academic year at the end of 2016. We pray God's blessings over the 2017 academic year and beyond.
Civil society involvement
The Synod acknowledges and wishes to encourage the tremendous work of civil society through the South African Council of Churches, the Higher Education Parents Dialogue (HEParD) and the National Education Crisis Forum, and of the business community and political parties in certain areas, in engaging with government, university managements and students in seeking to normalise life on campuses while at the same time addressing the real and urgent problems which #FeesMustFall and #Decolonised education activists have brought to the fore.
The responsibilities of students
We acknowledge the right of students to protest over issues about which they feel strongly. At the same time we plead with them to find and maintain constructive ways of making themselves heard without resorting to violence or destructive action. We urge them to accept the responsibility for facilities on their campuses which accompanies a sense of being co-owners of their institutions.
The responsibilities of university managements
We plead with university managements to adopt a deep listening posture in response to student unrest, and to work with students to find creative solutions to the pressing issues with which we are confronted. While we are grateful for those campuses which have returned to normality, we are deeply concerned at the presence of police and increased numbers of security personnel on a number of campuses. This militarised presence kills dialogue and serves to deepen polarisation between students and management. In doing so, it induces a false sense of calm on those campuses, which conceals the potential for renewed violent confrontation. We therefore also call on university managements to withdraw the police and to scale back to normal levels the presence of security guards on campuses.
The Government's responsibility
Whilst we commend efforts by government to address the tertiary education crisis, we feel it is at times overwhelmed by it and we would like to see government, especially the Minister and the Department of Higher Education and Training, play a more pro-active role in addressing it. We strongly urge the government to seek more creative ways of providing more resources for education, and in particular of creating a “free funding model” for tertiary education – including provision for high earners and companies to contribute to the costs of that education – so that students do not have to graduate with crippling levels of debt. We acknowledge the Minister of Finance's allocations for tertiary education in his budget and we appeal for further tangible commitments and timelines for increased funding.
We call the church to prayer and action to help all parties involved to develop a new vision for the future of education in our land, a vision which will guide us in finding a long-lasting solution to the challenge of giving all our children, especially those living in material poverty, access to a good education which enables them to realise their God-given potential.
Benoni, February 2017