Instead of feeling hard done by the fact that the #feesmustfall student protesters had disrupted Treasury’s mini budget on Wednesday, Deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas said we should feel proud.
Speaking in his office above the sound of protesting students, he told Fin24 that what is happening “in part reflects our success”.
“It’s obviously a very unfortunate situation,” Jonas said. “We could have developed more effective mechanisms of engagement to find more amicable solutions to the issues.
“The success that we have had is the success in widening access to education,” he said.
Jonas said universities used to be able to handle everybody, but said since 1994 SA has successfully widened access to basic education. “We are almost close to universal access to education in the country as we speak,” he said.
“That has its own pressures on our administrative systems of education in general,” said Jonas. “What you see is not actually a failure, (but) a reflection of our success in broadening access.”
Access puts pressure on infrastructure, resources, systems, he explained. “We need to quickly shift towards quality and aligning more systems with the labour market and development challenges of the country.”
Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s 6% university fee cap proposal was rejected by universities across South Africa on Tuesday evening and a country-wide protest saw students break into the parliament precinct in a bid to engage with Nzimande.
However, when Nzimande tried to address the crowd, it was too late. After a battle with stun grenades and an efficient police force, the students had turned their ire from “fees must fall” to “Blade must fall”.
“We should be proud,” Jonas said. “It’s engagement with all the issues affecting us. It also opens up another debate about choices we must make as a country.”
However, he said the protest action needed to make way for incisive debate.
“It’s not a debate that can be resolved by protest,” he said. “We do need to take this whole thing beyond this protest into a more decent and deeper and more incisive debate about choices that we need to make as a country.
“The debate about education is an important one,” said Jonas.