Today, Wednesday. Fees Must Fall supporters are planning to protest at Parliament during the mini budget speech again, this time when beleaguered Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan takes the podium
Last year students surprised police and guards when they arrived in their thousands to demand that former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande listen to them.
Nene was presenting his medium term budget policy statement at the time – the budget which is adjusted according to conditions since the first version presented in February.
Last year the protesters got as far as the steps of the National Assembly before they were pushed back by police, and stun grenades thundered across the precinct.
For this year’s protest a large group of students attended a mass meeting on lower campus at the University of Cape Town (UCT) on Tuesday afternoon to prepare for the march.
One of the main issues they had to organise was transport from Rondebosch to Parliament. Students with the Uber app or their own vehicles were asked to help out.
Other options being looked at were the use of the university’s Jammie Shuttles and public transport.
Supporters from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, whose Bellville students have been particularly active in protests this year, will be joining forces with their counterparts from UCT in the protest.
Marchers planned to gather early on Wednesday morning.
Treason charge abandoned
Mention was made of possible arrests and the police’s response to their actions. Students were told to charge their phones and get airtime so they could keep in touch and up to date on detentions.
Last year Nene and Nzimande were shouted down when they emerged to try and address students through a megaphone.
Six of the students arrested that day were originally going to be charged with treason as Parliament was considered a National Key Point with special protection. The treason charge was abandoned but since then Parliament has tightened up its security, which the Economic Freedom Fighters can attest to after being thrown out several times by unidentified officials wearing black and white suits.
The added complication this year is that Gordhan has been criminally charged for being involved in a former SA Revenue Service deputy commissioner’s early retirement and reappointment on a contract.
Last year’s student uprising appeared to calm only after President Jacob Zuma announced a raft of measures which included a fee freeze and a commission into the funding of tertiary education.
The shortfall to universities in 2016 due to there not being a fee increase was estimated at R2.330bn and universities have said they will not survive if they are not allowed to put up their fees by at least 8% in 2017.
While comparatively low key struggles continued at universities, such as the ”Shackville” movement to highlight complaints over student housing at UCT and the fight against the presence of colonial era symbols on campus, things appeared to have calmed down.
Free, decolonised education
But the relative peace was shattered after Nzimande’s announcement on September 19 that tertiary institutions could increase their fees, but by no more than 8%. However, there would be another fee freeze for students from homes earning less than R600 000 a year, and the better off would be liable for an increase.
Following the announcement protests have increased across the country, with demands for completely free education and a decolonised syllabus.
Police in the Western Cape arrested Fees Must Fall activist Masixole Mlandu on Monday while he was drumming up support for Wednesday’s march.
It was the charismatic leader’s fourth arrest this year.
His lawyer advocate Lufuno Musetsho said Mlandu was injured by rubber bullets and was shocked at being arrested again.
The charge is expected to be malicious damage to property.
Another student leader, Athabile Nonxuba, was also arrested on Monday.
Meanwhile, the DA will also march to Parliament to demand that government provide more funding to higher education.
“Our nation faces a serious crisis. The illegal and violent action of a few has forced campus shut-downs, while not enough funding exists to support poor students, and the ‘missing middle’,” the party said in a statement.
“Chronic under-funding and a lack of leadership by Jacob Zuma’s government have only compounded the problem, forcing fee-increases and the tensions which arise as a result. This has to come to an end if we are to save higher education in South Africa, and ensure that the future of young South Africans is not jeopardised.”
The party said it wanted universities to reopen and for funding to be made available “so that no person be denied an education because they cannot afford to study”.