Basic social justice issue of inequality and exclusion are at the core of “Fees Must Fall”

On Friday, 30 September the Public Protector, Adv. Thuli Madonsela convened a dialogue on Higher Education at the offices of the Public Protector in Pretoria. The event was hosted by the Public Protector CEO, Adv. Louisa Zondo, on behalf of the Public Protector who was out of the country attending a global summit of young people in Canada. The dialogue came about as an initiative of the Public Protector to bring together key stakeholders for the purpose of collectively searching for lasting solutions for the realisation of the right to education for all in our country. The Public Protector, takes the view that the crisis which is unfolding in our higher education system constitutes a threat to our constitutional democracy and calls for the involvement of all stakeholders in meaningful engagement.

Participants at the dialogue included students from various institutions of higher education across the country and representation from Universities South Africa (USAF), Dr Ahmed Bawa. Prof Adam Habib, USAF Chairperson and Wits University Vice Chancellor, excused himself about an hour after the scheduled start time of the dialogue, as he needed to attend to matters related to the delivery of the results of the Wits poll. The dialogue was facilitated by Ms Yasmin Sooka, Executive Director of the Human Rights Foundation.

The message delivered on behalf of the Public Protector declared the Public Protector’s recognition of the legitimacy of the struggles advanced by the students in institutions of higher education and the basic social justice issue of inequality and exclusion being at the core of “Fees Must Fall”. Recognising the centrality of social justice to the existence of sustainable peace, the Public Protector’s message also highlighted the importance of: harnessing the leadership of young people and directly embracing and incorporating their ideas in the co-creation of lasting solutions to the challenges of our time; and focussing collectively on finding solutions to the crisis we face as a nation and instead of succumbing to the temptation of scapegoating and apportioning blame for the crisis.

Having listened to the students’ articulation of the major issues they face in institutions of higher learning, Dr Ahmed Bawa’s response recognised the anger and frustration of the students and expressed the view that the Vice Chancellors ought to have listened to and heard the anger of the students.

Speaking about the major sources of their anger and frustration, the students identified: the silence of South African society and its institutions and their failure to influence the direction of institutions of higher education away from the victimisation of students. In deeply emotional accounts, the students articulated their experience of victimisation through a wide range of actions meted out by and/or supported by university management, including constant intimidation, expulsions, suspensions, exclusions, interdicts, assaults, experiences of rape and sexual assaults, arrests and detentions.

The students expressed deep levels of frustration as a result of the failure by university management to engage with them and open themselves to understanding the essence of the struggles that affect students. The waste of resources on the engagement of private security at enormous financial and other cost also causes untold anger and frustration and has endangered the lives of students.

The students called on the Public Protector to advance the realisation of the right to education through:

  • Initiating an investigation on police conduct at institutions of higher learning;
  • Being accessible to students and provide the relevant information and support to deal with their victimisation; and
  • Initiating investigations on the conduct of university management in: unleashing the violent actions of private security and police on students; failing to engage with students on their grievances; use of resources for matters that do not address the realisation of the right to education; the suspensions and exclusions of students associated with the suppression of student protests; the shutting down of universities; and the responses which criminalise students for involvement in protest actions.

The students called on USAF to immediately engage with Vice Chancellors who have caused the arrest and detention of students (especially female students) from UKZN, DUT, Mpumalanga and other institutions of higher learning for their immediate release and dropping of all charges against them.

The students also requested urgent assistance from the Public Protector in regard to ensuring the release of all detained students and legal representation to support them with the aim of having charges against them dropped and proper defence against all charges while protecting their right to education.

In conclusion, the students declared that the creation of an environment conducive to meaningful engagement on the realisation of the right to education for all, requires:

  • The development of proposals for an education fund replacing the current reliance on the NSFAS and bursary systems;
  • Support for the creation of platforms to enable students to voice issues; and
  • Urgent legal representation for students facing arrests and criminal charges, the lifting of interdicts, criminal and internal disciplinary charges, expulsions and suspensions against students.

The Public Protector declares its commitment to continued engagement with relevant stakeholders and calls upon all stakeholders to contribute by all means available to them towards the creation of an environment conducive to the realisation of the right to education, the advancement of good governance and the strengthening of our constitutional democracy.

For more information, contact:

Ms Kgalalelo Masibi
Spokesperson: Public Protector South Africa
Tel: 012 366 7006
Cell: 079 507 0399

Published Date: 
Sunday, October 2, 2016