Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande as well as the Minister of Police Nathi Nhleko were on campus this week as part of a tour of universities.
The visit began with a meeting with Deputy Vice Chancellor Andrew Crouch on the status of protests and security in the universities. Then, the ministerial entourage went to the William Cullen Library to see a collection of original documentation from the Rivonia treason trial.
At the press briefing that followed the tour, the minister explained that it was important for protesting students to note that universities hold very valuable information such as this collection and that it is important for these to be protected.
While the media briefing was underway, students from the Fees Must Fall Movement came and attempted to get questions answered by Nzimande. They were told their questions could not be answered as the briefing was open to only members of the media.
The students disrupted the media briefing demanding that Nzimande take their questions as he was in ‘their campus’. They also told the minister that “he was out
of touch with students” and that he must “Voetsek!”
The students were then forcefully removed by members of the two ministers’ security entourage.
Nzimande encouraged protesting students to go back to class so that a dialogue between students and all other stakeholders can take place.
“The first thing we resolved in our meeting is that all conflicts should be resolved through dialogue and peacefully, without needing the involvement of private security or the police,” Nzimande said.
Nhleko on the other hand, explained, in response to questions relating to police being called into universities that police were “constitutionally mandated” to act in situations that endangered the lives of ordinary South Africans.
Nhleko also added that it was important that the government not be seen as looking down on these protests. “I think we should not be understood as saying we are looking down on the validity and legitimacy of some of the grievances that have been raised by students. They are still valid … that still does not inform the chaos and violence that come out of them, I think that is the point,” he said.