#FeesMustFall Protests In South Africa: The Issues – Amukelani Mayimele @Amuster

The following is an account of the #FeesMustFall campaign in South African universities and a clarion call for support from all relevant stakeholders in the nation to attain a more just and equitable society.

Recently South Africa has been introduced to the idea of decolonizing its society and higher institutions of learning. Colonization saw state institutions victimize the poor and deny them opportunities to exist peacefully with dignity. In our country the marginalized, poor and disproportionately Black people use education as a survival strategy to get themselves out of poverty. However, the breath-taking fees of South African universities particularly exclude the poor and marginalized who desperately want to learn and are now facing further exclusion from learning institutions due to an average of a 10% increase on tuition fees. Our colonial past simultaneously marginalized the working class by failing to pay them a living wage, which miners still face. Outsourcing at South African universities fails to pay workers a living wage.

Currently, university financial aid schemes are not adequate in providing access to education since they come with mighty debts that chain the student to poverty and they are only packaged towards a particular level of poverty, excluding those who are not absolutely destitute but still unable to afford the tuition. Even the absolutely destitute are not insulated from their historical poverty. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme has not been successful because it requires a portion of the fees to be paid by the family every year, without which the student may not register the following year and it has failed to seek out the ways in which students on the scheme need additional academic support. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme is also underfunded by government and is directly affected by the yearly tuition fee increase. Destitute students still bear the brunt of the tuition fee increase because the expected family contribution towards fees inflates with the tuition fee increase.

Outsourcing companies fail to pay workers a living wage, with some earning R3 740 per month, working irregular hours such as 5am to 1pm. These are workers living in distant townships where they brave crime and weather on daily early morning commutes with public transport. Most of these workers are working on temporary employment contracts without retirement packages, medical aid and other benefits. The National Education & Health Allied Workers’ Union has been embroiled with university management on the matter for years and universities have failed to become committed to protecting the workers from these unjust practices.

For these reasons we seek solidarity in unlocking the gates of education to the poor and underprivileged in society and liberate the working class from poverty by jointly achieving the following national goals:

  1. Suspend the proposed fee increase pending emergency council meetings to decide how poor, marginalized and disproportionately Black students will be given valid opportunities to become educated without being chained to poverty.
  2. End the practice of financial exclusion and demand student debt be recovered by other means that do not interfere with the academic progression of the student
  3. End police brutality against peacefully protesting students.
  4. End outsourcing at universities and demand council become committed to ensuring that workers earn a living wage and are given benefits from their employment.

Below are further justifications for why the above goals need to be achieved as a matter of national importance:

Section 29 (1) (b) of the Constitution of South Africa states that everyone has the right to higher education. Unlike the right to access housing, which is qualified by its progressive realization within available resources, the right to education is not qualified by the availability of resources. In the constitutional court case Government of the Republic of South Africa and Others v Grootboom and Others (CCT11/00) [2000] ZACC 19; 2001 (1) SA 46; 2000 (11) BCLR 1169 (4 October 2000), the court held that any retrogressive measures in reference to the realization of the right to education needs to be fully justified in context of the totality of the rights in the constitution.

In an article written by constitutional expert Pierre De Vos on his website, it is argued that equal treatment of students from universities may amount to unfair discrimination, sanctioned by section 9 of the constitution. This is so because the poor and underprivileged in South Africa are disproportionately Black and thus requiring equal fees from students disadvantages Black students who come from a history of poverty by excluding them from the university because their tuition fees are in arears.

Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognises the right of everyone to free education (free for the primary level and “the progressive introduction of free education” for the secondary and higher levels). This is to be directed towards “the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity and enable all persons to participate effectively in society. Education is seen both as a human right and as “an indispensable means of realizing other human rights”, and so this is one of the longest and most important articles of the Covenant.

The exorbitant price of university tuition fees in South Africa contravene the article 13 by firstly excluding poor and marginalized students from higher education and secondly by not being progressively made to be free but rather tuition fees rise by an average of 10% across the country.

Article 7 of the Covenant recognises the right of everyone to “just and favourable” working conditions. These are in turn defined as fair wages with equal pay for equal work, sufficient to provide a decent living for workers and their dependants; safe working conditions; equal opportunity in the workplace; and sufficient rest and leisure, including limited working hours and regular, paid holidays.

Outsourcing contravenes article 7 of the covenant by not providing workers with a fair wage that is sufficient to provide a decent living for themselves and their dependants.

The contravention is evidenced by the documentary of an outsourced worker at UCT, Mama Aggie, and available here:

This international covenant was ratified by South Africa on the 12th of January 2015 and is thus legally binding on the state to fulfil.

The above goals have been tirelessly worked towards by a plethora of university student led organizations and their fruition must be liaised with them.

All in all, the most serious focus of universities should be to pass knowledge and opportunities to those who are marginalized and structurally disadvantaged. This is a focus area that needs to be taken seriously at multiple levels of society. We have an opportunity to develop our society by making universities accessible to poor and marginalized students, by empowering them to flourish in the study of their choice, and by helping them to seek employment, we help them realize their potential and further furnish the nation with skilled work and a knowledge economy.

For more information at the campuses you can contact the following students: Khutso Modiselle African Union club at University of Cape Town: +2784 034 7021 or Sechaba Nkitseng +2772 253 8621, Shaeera Kalla, SRC Deputy President at WITS University: +2776 786 6929, Ponelopele Moloi, Student at University of the Free State: +2761 120 3310 and Nosiphiwe Ngqwala at Rhodes University: +2782 530 5801.

Amukelani Mayimele | | @Amuster | 21 October 2015

Photo: DW.COM

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