EDITORIAL | SA will pay a heavy toll if it ignores fees issue

Ideas

EDITORIAL | SA will pay a heavy toll if it ignores fees issue

The student tuition situation is a tinder box and the police’s bull in a china shop tactics will only make it worse

Editorial

Yesterday’s deadly shooting during a Wits University student protest was a disaster waiting to happen. But an even greater disaster is our government’s lack of interest in pre-empting or preventing it. The spark that lit the fire came on Monday, when higher education minister Blade Nzimande, in an “update on funding decisions for prospective 2021 students”, confirmed financially stricken students’ worst fears. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) “has not been able to confirm eligibility for first-time entering students wishing to study in public universities in 2021”, he said. Basically, there is no money to fund new students’ tuition.

Nzimande rattled off a list of reasons for this precarious situation; nothing that South Africans weren’t aware of: Covid-19, budget cuts across government departments and a deteriorating economy. He made some sympathetic noises (“I am aware that this is causing great anxiety for prospective students and their families”). Two days later, Nzimande blamed it on all former president Jacob Zuma, who announced free tuition for all poor students in December 2017, as the ANC’s national elective conference started. It’s not an entirely inaccurate statement but a political blame game is pointless, especially when real suffering is playing out in the streets. 

On Wednesday morning, #asinamali (“we do not have money”) protests spilt onto the alleys around Wits University in Johannesburg. Our police officers, notoriously ruthless at crowd control, displayed their usual excessive show of force. A random round of rubber bullets hit an innocent bystander on his way to a clinic. Twice. The yet to be identified man was declared dead on the scene. The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) hurriedly issued a statement and rushed to the scene. Forgive us our cynicism...

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