The campaign to scrap all fees at higher education institutions has become a national crisis. It is no longer a matter that should be left to the universities to “sort out” and resolve within the financial constraints that all universities function under. This has become a matter of public policy.
Whatever view one takes of the manner in which the protests were conducted, there can be no justification for the use of excessive force of the kind that was witnessed on television on 21 October 2015, yet another day destined to go down in history as a Black Wednesday. The violence with which the police treated the protesters was so excessive as to bring shame to every South African who honours law and the Constitution. The arrest of some of the protesters and the reports that they are to be charged with Treason, among other charges, is indicative of a state that has lost control. It is shameful.
Regardless of that, we hold the view that peaceful and lawful protest is a right for all South Africans. We encourage university administrations to guarantee that right in all its forms, and to encourage freedom of expression by students in all their formations.
The Constitution places the responsibility on the state to make further (including higher) education, “available and accessible” to all students. While we do not believe that “free higher education” is possible in the prevailing economic circumstances, it is clear that the state must demonstrate a commitment to adjust spending and review budget priorities to move towards the scrapping of all fees at higher education institutions. This is a public policy determination that all South Africans will support.
The question of affordable higher education for all cannot be considered outside of the ideal of transformation of which the no-fees campaign is only a part. For that reason higher education institutions, UCT included, are engaged in initiatives to advance transformation. Dialogue among all stakeholders has become very urgent.
The Convocation of the University of Cape Town will have occasion to address these concerned at the AGM in December 2015.
N Barney Pityana
University of Cape Town
22 October 2015
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