NMMU balks as fee protest grows louder

STUDENTS PROTEST: Hundreds of NMMU students protest yesterday, trying to block campus entrances and disrupt tests in lecture halls. Picture: EUGENE COETZEE
STUDENTS PROTEST: Hundreds of NMMU students protest yesterday, trying to block campus entrances and disrupt tests in lecture halls. Picture: EUGENE COETZEE

As hundreds of NMMU students protested yesterday, demanding a 0% fee hike next year, the university dug in its heels, saying that a zero fee increase would cripple it financially.

Students ran amok yesterday, trying to block off various entrances and disrupt tests in lecture halls ahead of a mass shutdown planned for today.

NMMU spokeswoman Zandile Mbabela said the university had not yet made a decision regarding a fee increase for next year.

“But, like all other universities, NMMU is awaiting feedback from the government,” she said.

“As with all universities, NMMU is facing financial constraints. A no-fee increase [option] is not sustainable.”

The university postponed all academic activities and tests scheduled to be written yesterday, including those at its Missionvale and George campuses.

“Management has assessed the situation and will continue to do so. As such . . . campuses will remain open,” Mbabela said.

“Engagement with students is ongoing, including discussions with the Sasco [SA Students Congress] leadership regarding the call for a national shutdown.”

The drama unfolded yesterday morning as about 300 students, many affiliated to Sasco, led a protest in University Way, which saw the entrance to the south campus blocked until 11am.

Campus security closed the road for motorists as students protested near the traffic circle between the north and south campuses.

Student Siviwe Ngaba, who used a loud hailer to address the crowd, said they had been assured that management would be arriving later to engage them.

“We want management to come and say that they are with us, so that when we go to provincial government we know they are on our side,” Ngaba said.

“They should be fighting for free education along with us. “We are the generation that is going to deliver free education for the poor. “Even if it means that 2017 will be a gap year, it ends with us. We will be the ones to deliver.”

The students then received information that tests were continuing and decided to “peacefully disr upt” the tests taking place at various lecture halls, including Heinz Betz and the north campus engineering block.

Students slowly made their way to both venues before protesting in a lecture hall at the engineering block, just as a lecturer was collecting completed tests.

Ngaba said: “We are sorry for the inconvenience but we are trying to change the world.”

The students then made their way to the new administration block at the north campus, which was locked.

“We want to engage the dean of students. We must have a solution and a model for free education,” Ngaba said.

He then suggested the group take the university’s shuttle service to the Second Avenue campus, where the Student Representative Council (SRC) was meeting with university management.

At Second Avenue, hundreds of students gathered to hear the views of those demanding a 0% increase.

One student, Siya Mandela, said: “We do not even have the money to afford a 0% increase. How about we call for a 15% decrease in fees? “We all agree that our government has failed us when it comes to delivering free education for the poor. “We understand that the university cannot pay for all of us, but they must stand with us. “They must go with us to the minister of higher education and say that we will not open our doors if free education is not delivered.”

Another student, who was not identified, said: “There are students who would not be here today if it was not for last year’s #Fees Must Fall protests. “If this university must be bankrupted for the government to take notice, then so be it. We will bankrupt this university.”

The situation reached boiling point when Sasco members disrupted the closing speech of SRC president Nicholas Nyathi, who said the rights of students to attend lectures and write tests should not be infringed while Sasco members called for a campus shutdown until their demands were met.

“We will not allow our university to go bankrupt,” Nyathi said.

“We will compile a written submission for the university management. “We are students who want to graduate. “We will not allow anyone to be victimised. We will not be dictated [to]. “We want to graduate so we can support our families – our mothers are unemployed,” he said, to loud cheering as well as booing.

Nyathi, a third-year nursing science student, said the SRC had met university management earlier yesterday.

“We agreed that we would hear proposals from students and then give it to the university, who would make a submission to the Commission [of Inquiry into Higher Education]. “However, the other group of students [from Sasco] came to disrupt our meeting. “They are trying to shut down the university, but we say a shutdown will disadvantage our students who are writing tests this week before recess. “The university cannot provide free education; only the government can do that. “Sasco students are aligned to the ANC . . . They are trying to divert blame to university management.”

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