She was surprised to discover recently how well thought-out and researched students’ proposals on the matter had been, she said in an interview.
“I was quick to say, after they spoke to us, that we have not listened to these kids. They are making a demand, but in their documents there are clear proposals on how to solve this thing.”
She is part of the ministerial task team President Jacob Zuma announced on October 11. It was set up to help Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande end protests at universities. It includes the ministers of home affairs, state security, police, planning and monitoring, and justice.
‘Back to the drawing board’
She said she realised, while speaking to students, that the country’s leaders seemed to not have the full picture regarding their demands.
“To be honest, I was the first to go ‘Whoa!’ There are things we didn’t know, so we need to go back to the drawing board, and see what it is that we can do to appease them.”
Her participation in the task team has led to fears that the army would be deployed to universities. She said this was not the case and she would keep a low profile at the task team.
“I don’t want to be at the forefront, because when people see the minister of defence, they immediately shrink and get anxious, thinking defence is coming in.”
During apartheid, it was almost a guarantee that soldiers would be sent to deal with students.
“It’s not 1976,” she said.
She said police seemed to be acting in panic when handling protesting students, especially at the University of the Witwatersrand and Rhodes University.
“I think they are not confident in how to manage crowds.”
She referred to their using shields, batons, water cannons, teargas, and when the situation became difficult, rubber bullets.
“I even asked what happened to dye?” she said, referring to how police dispersed crowds during her days in the anti-apartheid struggle.
She expressed concern about how police were firing rubber bullets. They should be aiming at protesters’ feet or the ground, instead of at their upper bodies. They should not try and injure, but “neutralise” the situation, she said.