President Jacob Zuma on Friday said he was concerned by the violence that had broken out at universities following the announcement of government’s position on fee increases.
He urged students to explore peaceful avenues to “constructively” engage on the issue.
“The destruction of property is a criminal offence and will be treated as such by the law enforcement authorities.”
Zuma said the police had been instructed to ensure that all such cases reach the courts so that those responsible could answer for their actions.
“This infrastructure must be available for use by generations to come, and students should respect university property as leaders of the future.”
Students have been protesting throughout the week following an announcement by Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande. He said universities could raise fees but by no more than 8%.
Call for co-operation
Following standoffs between students and police, some student leaders at the University of the Witwatersrand said they were looking for ways to protest without their demonstrations culminating into violence.
“We don’t want our students to be shot at and physically harmed,” said outgoing student representative council secretary general Fasiha Hassan on Thursday.
Zuma urged university administrations and students to co-operate and work with Nzimande and the department.
“We wish to remind all that education is a societal matter. We must all work together to find solutions to the higher education access challenge. From parents, business community, labour, religious leaders, traditional leaders, political parties and communities in general, let us find solutions together,” he said.
“It is not a matter that must be resolved by government alone, or by the Department of Higher Education and Training alone.”
He said the funding base for higher education students had expanded considerably over the years, although it had not yet entirely offset financial challenges for many students.
The president’s fees commission was still considering issues of higher education funding.
Zuma implored students to work with this commission.
Commission hearings disrupted
University of Cape Town students forced the commission to end a hearing in Cape Town earlier this month.
They expressed their distrust of the commission’s “narrow” mandate and the money being spent on it.
The group then held their own commission in the same space, inviting their peers to share their personal experiences.
Just a week before that, the commission’s Musa Ndwandwe said students had disrupted their oral hearings in East London.
“We had one of our hearings disrupted by a mob of very angry students from the University of Fort Hare who were determined to disrupt speakers,” he said.
“They demanded to chair the session themselves.”
A “serious scuffle” ensued and the hearing had to be suspended for an hour.