As NMMU looks set to enter a third week of complete shutdown, the #FeesMustFall movement is losing patience with the university’s management which, it says, fails to listen to its “reasonable” demands.
With a mass meeting organised by the Student Representative Council (SRC) set to take place at noon today, the #FeesMustFall movement said they had been disciplined and had in no way incited violence, yet university management would not engage with them.
This was in complete contrast to NMMU acting vice-chancellor Lebogang Hashatse’s statement yesterday that the university was constantly engaging with students and believed protests would end, and classes resume, in the near future.
The impasse, which has seen classes grind to a halt, will be discussed at today’s mass meeting at the NMMU Indoor Sports Centre, with the SRC calling on students, parents and staff to “join hands and find a way forward”.
The #FeesMustFall movement and the SRC, once a united front, have since parted ways.
Yesterday, Hashatse said while many people had criticised the university’s stance on the protest and shutdown, management believed it to be the best approach.
“We have immediately engaged with students and this has been to our benefit. We did not bring in the police or extra security, which proved to escalate the situation at other universities.
They have chosen the hard-line position and we have chosen not to go that route.
We are engaging them [the students] and this takes time,” he said.
“This is not just an NMMU struggle but a national struggle. Students are aware that they need to complete the year so it is also a temporary struggle.
“At worst, it will be extended into 2017, but this is not an open ended campaign.” Hashatse said there were management meetings twice a day to assess the situation and emergency management meetings that looked at possible risks each day.
He said the university council was confident in how management had been handling it.
He said the students had no faith in President Jacob Zuma’s commission of inquiry into higher education and training, which they did not believe would be effective.
“If you look at how we have managed these protests and our soft-line approach, there has been no violence and no damage to property.”
“This will assist us in building social cohesion with less impact in the medium to long term.”
He said while there were threats of legal action from concerned parents, the university was confident students would finish their academic year.
“We have lost a few days, which is recoverable. We believe the students’ studies will be concluded and they will graduate.”
But # FeesMustFall activist Azola Dayile said the lack of violence and damage to property at NMMU when compared with other universities was a result of the students’ “own self-instilled discipline”.
“We repeatedly plead to one another as students to remain focused and not act in a manner that we see our noble struggle deligitimised and us losing genuine sympathy from those who are on our side,” he said.
He rubbished Hashatse’s claim that there were constant engagements between management and students behind the movement.
“If by students he means the FMF collective and general student body at large, then indeed it is a myth. Perhaps then by students he means the SRC, DASO as well as those who regard themselves as “Fed-Up Students” who want to put an end to our genuine protest for a basic right.”
Dayile said Hashatse had, in his personal capacity, been attempting to play an active role as an ally to the movement itself.
“He and the rest of management have made it very clear to us that they are not willing to cooperate with us on our reasonable terms and as such have taken up a position to support the “Fed-Up Students” who are calling for a return to normalcy, which for us means further exclusion of marginalised bodies at NMMU,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hashatse said there was a lack of understanding around the # FeesMustFall movement as many did not comprehend that the crisis was a collapse of the higher education funding model over the past two decades.
“The sector was pushed to accept a larger number of students to allow for transformation, but the problem is that while the number of students increased, with costs increasing, the grants from government have not been increasing.”
“Universities were forced to find money elsewhere and have resorted to increasing fees.”
“Prior to 1994 the upper and middle class could afford increases but with a larger number of poorer students now attending university, this is no longer possible,” he said.
He said the students behind the movement “understand what they are doing”.
“If they do not shut down the university they know they will not have another opportunity to get government to sit down and listen to their demands.”
“If there is never free education for the poor then the majority of youth in this country will remain trapped in poverty. You may disagree with their tactics but they recognise the need to make this stand.”
Regarding criticism levelled at the perceived “absence” of vice-chancellor Professor Derrick Swartz, he said Swartz was working on an “innovation trajectory” at NMMU.
“When he became vice-chancellor he analysed that NMMU was geared to become a different university.”
“Others receive funding based on knowledge production such as research and the number of post-graduate students, while he developed a model for a university that works more with industry and doesn’t necessarily lend itself to higher research grants.”
He said Swartz had developed this “innovation trajectory” during 2013 and council accepted the new business model in 2014.
“He was given permission to work on this business model revision and new revenue streams and that is the work he is currently in the middle of.”
“We cannot remove him from this strategic work when it will eventually assist with the growth of the university and untapping new revenue streams which is part of the challenge we are now facing.”