national shutdown

National shutdown: Student protests delay academic start [video]

Published by Andile Sicetsha

The Wits protests have been ongoing for weeks and after the series of events that unfolded last week, the movement has escalated into a national shutdown.

National shutdown: Why are students protesting?

The death of Mthokozisi Ntumbi, a bystander who was killed by public order police, is still lingering over the tensions witnessed outside many tertiary institutions, on Monday.

The tragic passing of the father of three reignited the historic ‘Fees Must Fall’ protests of 2015. Through all the bloodshed and tears, students have rallied on their calls for free higher education and on Monday, the fight was taken to all 26 tertiary institutions in a nationwide shutdown of all academic activity.

Already, the University of the Western Cape has cleared the way for debt-owing students to register for free, on the condition that a repayment plan is committed to.

Wits University is also exploring this idea. In a memorandum received from the tertiary’s student representative council, these are the students’ demands:

  • Wits (and other universities) should postpone the commencement of the academic year to 30 March 2021.
  • All students must be allowed to register, irrespective of the quantum of debt owing to the University.
  • All students must be allowed to graduate, irrespective of the quantum of debt owing to the University.
  • There should be no fee increases for 2021.
  • All students who receive residence offers must be allowed to occupy residences with immediate effect.
  • Universities must pressurise government for a debt bailout for all institutions.
  • All international students from the SADC and broader Diaspora regions must be allowed to register without having to effect payment of 75% of the tuition fee upfront.
  • All suspension orders must be uplifted with immediate effect.

ANC accused of hijacking fees movement

The movement has gained a lot of support from discourse watchdogs. However, the ANC has found itself at the receiving end of criticism for participating in a protest whose message is targeted at the ruling party.

ANC Youth League leader Lindokuhle Xulu, who has been on the frontlines of the national shutdown with his party cohorts, was asked about the irony of his involvement. Here’s what he said:

National shutdown: Here are the latest updates

At the time this article was published, the protests were ongoing outside of many tertiary institutions.

In the Western Cape, a large group of ANCYL students held a picket outside NSFAS offices. The scheme’s newly appointed chief executive Andile Nongogo, it’s said, was expected to hold a talk with the students.

In Gauteng, not much action was witnessed outside the University of Johannesburg. Nonetheless, a team of public order police has maintained a presence in case any protests break out.

Wits University issued a statement, on Monday, indicating that after a meeting with SRC members on Sunday, a number of outcomes will be announced in the afternoon.

“The academic programme will continue online tomorrow, as determined by faculties, and Wits remains fully operational. Senior executive members, in consultation with managers, will determine the on-campus staffing requirements in order to ensure the continuity of University activities,” the tertiary noted.

So far, Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) is the only institution that has outrightly ignored the national shutdown. From what we understand, the tertiary has decided to resume classes on Monday. At this time, no disruptions have been reported.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) has opted to cancel classes for the week until tensions have subsided.

“After thoughtful consideration of the ongoing dialogue between national government and the various bodies representing student formations in South Africa, we have decided to suspend the academic programme for the coming week, that is, from Monday 15 March until Friday 19 March 2021, both dates inclusive.

“Remote online registration for 2021 will, however, continue for all returning students and first-entry undergraduates. University management will inform staff and students on the dates for re-commencement of the semester”. the tertiary said in a statement.