The African National Congress (ANC) joined government in its condemnation of the destruction of university property as part of student activism around the issue of free university education.
The calls come after more than 20 students were arrested for public violence at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. UKZN announced it would break early for the September holidays following destructive demonstrations as the students raised issues which include fee increases, financial aid and the state of some residences.
Vehicles and a library at the university’s 85-year-old Howard College building were set alight.
Naledi Pandor, chairperson: ANC NEC Sub-Committee on Education and Health, said: “The burning of books and University Infrastructure is reprehensible and has no connection to the calls for free education for the poor.
“The burning of books is a symbolic act of anti-intellectualism. In the 1930s the German Student Union, a Nazi structure, ran a book-burning campaign, targeting books written by Jews, liberals and communists. It was a prelude to Fascism and the Holocaust.”
Pandor said that attacking university property and harassing university leaders is illegal and a crime. “Unlawful conduct cannot be justified by the mistaken belief that burning books is an attack on white monopoly capital.”
“Our country must expose this vandalism, that seeks to hold universities to ransom in the name of decolonisation.”
The DA meanwhile, said it also condemns the violence and the destruction of property at UKZN.
The political party called for calm across all university campuses in South Africa, as the relevant parties work together to find a solution to the fee crisis in Higher Education.
Pandor said that the ANC is confident that a solution will be found to ensure that no young person from a poor family is denied higher education. “We urge the government to determine a solution that ensures those who can afford to pay fees do so and those who do not have the financial means are supported by state resources.”
The DA said that the current fee crisis in universities is the result of two decades of chronic financial neglect by the ANC government.
In July, the party made a submission to the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training, who have been tasked with making recommendations on the feasibility of making higher education and training fee-free in South Africa.
The DA proposed the following:
- The poorest students need the most comprehensive financial support, and should be supported.
- The “missing middle” students should receive support, but it should be proportional to their financial standing.
- Better-off students should not receive government financial support for fees or other expenses, as they would either be able to pay for their studies themselves or be eligible for bank loans.
University subsidies should move gradually towards the level of 50% of costs to a) support quality education, and b) minimize the fee-increase cycle we are currently experiencing.
- These proposals will expand the numbers of students receiving NSFAS funding, and ensure that those who do receive funding will be properly funded.
The DA said it was able to identify R2.73 billion in the 2016/17 budget which could have been transferred to assist poor students while also giving universities enough subsidies so they can pay their bills.
Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) acting director general Donald Liphoko reassured South Africans that the matter of student fees is receiving government’s full attention.
“We are working together with all parties concerned to find a lasting solution. Destruction of property and violence during this process cannot be tolerated. Government calls on students to allow the ongoing consultation to be concluded peacefully,” he said.
He said the Department of Higher Education and Training will soon make an announcement on the matter of student fees.