#Feesmustfall2016 Explained: Why Witsies are protesting

ASSEMBLE: Students begin to organise at Solomon House on Monday following a fees announcement by Minister of Education Blade Nzimande.

ASSEMBLE: Students begin to organise at Solomon House on Monday following a fees announcement by Minister of Education Blade Nzimande.

Let’s say you were in a lecture yesterday when email came in advising you to leave campus because a protest had broken out. Even better your tutorial was disrupted by a group of protesters calling for a campus shut down.

You’ve checked your Twitter feed to get the scoop on what’s actually happening and although you have an idea of what #Fees2017 means, you require a lot more clarity on the issue?  Well we hope the next few points will clear things up for you.

What did Blade say?

In yesterday’s press conference the Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande announced that university councils had to determine their own fee increases for 2017, however the increase should not be above 8%.  This increase would not apply to students on the government loan scheme NSFAS and students belonging to the “missing middle” whose families earn too much to qualify for NSFAS but too little to afford fees. In Nzimande’s definition this would be students whose families make less than R600,000 a year.

What does this mean for students?

So essentially students that qualify for NSFAS and are granted the bursary will pay the same fees in 2017 that they paid in 2016. Nzimande says students who make up the missing middle will also in effect pay the same fees as 2016, with their 8% increase subsidised by the government.

In other words rich students have to pay the 2017 increase.

So then why are students protesting?

So far students have said they were protesting because they felt that the real issue of free, decolonised education has not been addressed since last year’s protest. But there is not agreement on what free education means, who should get it, as well as when it should be realised.

The Wits Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Student Command students said they were protesting for free higher education now.

On the other hand the Wits SRC, which constitutes of only ANC-aligned Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) members, have called for a moratorium on all fee increases until free higher education is attained.

Students have also complained about the fact that a fee “freeze” is not the same as a fee reduction. Students who were struggling with fees in 2015 and 2016 are likely to face the same problems in 2017 if fees remain unchanged.

So what’s certain at this point?

Two points. Students have rejected the work of the Fees Commission saying instead of looking into the “feasibility” of free higher education the commission needs to focus on how to make it a reality. Students have also asked for the proper implementation of insourcing for workers a move which they say will bring dignity to the workers.

Who is involved in the protest?

Several parties are involved in the movement. Monday’s meeting was called by the Wits SRC, however the Wits EFF and Fees Must Fall–a nonpartisan movement, are also key role players in the protest. In last year’s protests workers joined in solidarity with the student’s call for free education as well as their own issue of insourcing, but they have not been present in this week’s protest so far. It is unclear whether they will join the students at a later stage.

Okay thanks for all that, but what does this mean for the academic programme?

Well classes could be delayed slightly or severely which probably depends on whether the students demands are going to be addressed in a positive manner. It depends on how students and the university deal with each other. Students have vowed to keep campus shut down until their demands are met, meanwhile the university has sent out communique which called on students to come to campus because it will be business as usual. Some arrests of student protesters by the SA police service have already been made.

We will just have to wait and see how the day unfolds as well as the protest at large.

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