Two Wits Economic Freedom Front (EFF) leaders were detained by police after occupying offices at the Department of Higher Education in Pretoria on Thursday.
Vuyani Pambo and Mbe Mbhele were detained at a police station in Pretoria. “They took us to the station … after a while they realised they can not hold us,” said Wits EFF chairperson Vuyani Pambo who described the detainment as a “game of intimidation.”
On Thursday morning 17 EFF members travelled by train from Johannesburg to the Higher Education Department in Pretoria to address student concerns over the lack of funding by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). Almost 3 000 Wits students who had been promised funding by the scheme have been left unable to register for studies this year.
Pambo said that before the Pretoria protest, they engaged with the university to understand the issue with NSFAS but after careful investigation realised that “this is bigger than what we thought – we were barking at the wrong tree, the university is not accountable for a national crisis.”
Shortly after their arrival at the Pretoria offices the protesters sought a meeting with senior officials at the department, but were asked to move off the premises by a South African Police Service (SAPS) special crowd control unit, who later escorted the two student leaders to the station. While they were detained, no official arrests were made.
“They tried to pacify us,” said Pambo who described the police officer’s attitudes as “fathers offering advice to their children.”
Director for security services at the department Richard Zungu denies that the students were detained, saying “the students were not detained and no meeting took place, even though they wanted a meeting.”
“The department says it is unable to secure funds because it doesn’t have funding from the government,” said Wits EFF member Sive Mqikela who was present at the protest.
EFF’s member of parliament Andile Mngixtama, who was meeting with EFF chairperson Vuyani Pambo, told Wits Vuvuzela: “They are criminalizing the poor, criminalizing blackness … Here students are saying they want education which is a fundamental right and what comes is the intimidation of the state.”
Mngixtama believes the solution to South Africa’s education crisis is to remove the bursary system and implement a free education for poor students.
Both Pambo and Mbhele have since been released without charges laid against them.
- Wits Vuvuzela: Wits Management and SRC reach agreement on NSFAS, January 23 2015.
- Wits Vuvuzela: PYA gives Wits NSFAS ultimatum, February 5 2015.
- Wits Vuvuzela: Wits students protest NSFAS application complication, Januray 21 2015.