COSATU will join the Fees Must Fall movement and march with students on October 14.
By Nasya Smith and Tebogo Tshwane
The Congress of South African Trade Union (Cosatu) has declared that they will join the Fees Must Fall movement and march with the students on October 14.
Two groups of students at the university marched from Wits main campus and education campus to Cosatu House, corner Jorissen and Simmons Street, Braamfontein. The groups combined on Empire Road where they continued to move towards Cosatu House.
The march was non-violent and peaceful. Mcebo Dlamini, former Wits Students Representative Council (SRC) president and Fees Must Fall leader in 2015, said Campus Control will continue to escort students on the march as “we will not ask police to escort us as they have blood on their hands,” following student-police clashes earlier the week.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) met the protesters once they exited campus to monitor the march. Some students protested against their presence while Dlamini said “We have been provoked by the police this week, but we will not allow them to provoke us today,” calling order amongst those upset.
— Nasya Smith (@NasyaSmith_SA) September 23, 2016
Upon arrival at Cosatu house, SAPS formed a barricade in front of Cosatu House’s entrance to prevent protesters from entering. Student leaders addressed students, whom many’s parents belong to the union.
A student was called from the crowd to read the memorandum to the union representatives that were present.
The memorandum asked for workers of Cosatu, the largest trade union federation in South Africa, to join the students and not “turn a blind eye” to the student’s fight for free education.
“We ask Cosatu to join us in the fight against the status quo, that being intelligent is not enough if you are poor and you are black,” said the student whilst reading the memorandum.
The memorandum was handed over and signed by Cosatu as well as several student leaders. Cosatu said that they will take up the challenge to join the movement.
Solly Mapaila of the South African Communist Party said they would be joining students in a march on October 14.
“The march that will also be directed to capital” at the JSE, said Mapaila. The march was organised by the South African Union of Students.
However Fasiha Hassan, the outgoing Wits SRC Secretary General and SAUS Deputy Secretary General said that the meeting was organised months ago prior to the current protests of #FeesMustFall. She added that the urgency of the current protests requires the march to be moved forward.
After the memorandum had been signed, students moved back to main campus for a debriefing session in which Zwelinzima Vavi, former Cosatu secretary general, addressed the students.
While many were happy to see Vavi, he was also met with some opposition. Some students were removed from the meeting after disrupting Vavi’s speech to express their displeasure with him being there. Nevertheless Vavi told students that free education was possible in South Africa.
He commended the “non-sectarian” way students have protested and kept unity for over a year “but the time for workers now to come and give you their political support has arrived”.
He also challenged students to march to the meeting that will be held on Monday, September 26, by the steering committee of all 57 trade unions in South Africa.
“We challenge your leaders to come and make no request but a demand that those unions must unite with all other progressive trade unions and support your demand for free education,” said Vavi.
He added that Numsa had requested for unions to submit a section 77 notice at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC).
“When you submit a section 77 to NEDLAC you are saying to the government, the bosses and ruling elites in the country ‘unless you solve the problem right now you are going to have to face a strke from all the workers of this country’,” said Vavi.
Student leaders are yet to discuss if they will be marching to meet the union committee on Monday.
Wits Professor David Dickinson also addressed students. He expressed his support and applauded students for the work they had done since yesterday in uniting the leadership and moving forward with the programme.
“Academics differ in their views, I can only speak for myself and those who agree with me. We believe that no child in this country should be denied an education because they do not have the resources.”
“And on that we are fully behind you, and on that we are fully with you” said Dickinson.
Students have taken Saturday off as a day to recuperate and strategise for the coming week. On Sunday there will be a religious and spiritual retreat at Solomon House where students will be addressed by a diverse selection of “progressive religious leaders”. There will be leaders from various faiths such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism as well as traditional healers.
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