Leila Kidson, a journalism and law student at Rhodes university writes about the ongoing strike concerning students’ demands for free education

 At the University Currently Known as Rhodes (UCKAR), students have been protesting since mid-September for free education for the poor. 

To begin with, students entered into negotiations with university management to find common ground on a proposed sliding fees structure which would exempt students from families earning below R600 000 per year, from paying any fees.

Significantly, the sliding scale approach also means that students from families that can easily afford tuition fees will continue to pay for university fees, and thus not receive free higher education.

Although negotiations continued for weeks, nothing was resolved as where students were willing to negotiate, the university management remained hesitant and rigid, despite the fact that many stakeholders supported the arguments presented by students.

It is this lack of flexibility by the management to engage constructively, that has led to the current impasse. It has been considered that bringing an external agency to mediate such negotiation could have remedied the situation and paved the way towards a resolution.

It is understood by protestors that the money to fund free higher education can come from many avenues. Although targeted at government, the protests also seek to draw funding from the corporate sector. This is a narrative that has been prominent across the country, and at UCKAR.

Students are aware of the corrupt nature of the government, as well as gross misuse of tax money, and see that that money should go towards higher education, and education as a whole.

It is instances of corruption such as discussion of a nuclear power deal that may cost billions, as well as the infamous case of Nkandla that show the misdirection of funds that could be used to further the call for free higher education. 

Most recently in Pravin Gordhan’s medium-term budget policy statement, he announced that higher education was due R17.6 billion to be able to continue over the next three years. Proposals from students, academics and other areas have been provided to the Finance Minister, and it these models that need to be considered. 

UCKAR campus, unlikely to close any time soon, has become a war zone for its students, with police firing shots at all who pass, and journalists being heavily censored by police through intimidation and threats of violence and arrest. 

Students have been arrested without charges, for merely questioning the police, and police have fired rubber bullets and stun grenades into residences, one of which was illegally entered by police officers. 

As things stand, UCKAR has offered students an option to write their end of year exams either in November, or in January 2017, for those who need time to recover from the traumas of severe police brutality.

The fight for free higher education for the poor continues, and students will not stop until that fight is won.

 *Leila Kidson is a 2nd Year Journalism and Law student at Rhodes university. She intends to pursue a career in journalism and Human rights resources.

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