The last couple of days saw one of the largest and most focused student protests in years taking place on campuses and cities across South Africa, including in Pretoria and on the Hatfield campus of the University of Pretoria. Under the banner of #FeesMustFall nationally and #UPrising locally, students embarked on protest action that highlighted the rise of tertiary fees in the higher education sector over the past few years, including substantial increases for registration and upfront payment costs for 2016. Supported by workers and teaching staff at all campuses, the students can already claim to have achieved important victories from individual institutions and government.
At the University of Pretoria, a group of academic staff stood in solidarity with our students as they were peacefully protesting. We all have postgraduate students who were not able to return to UP this year because of the increases that UP affected. We all know of students who are not able to eat three meals a day and who spend their allowances on fees and transport rather than food. We all have had to assist students distressed over finances when they should be studying for tests. We all can emphasise with parents who make sacrifices so that their children can study at university. We all know of students who are working part-time and full-time so they can pay for their university studies. Many of us know what it is like to be saddled with debt and are familiar with the stress it produces. We know how disappointing it can be for young people who qualify for a place at UP but are unable to take it up due to financial reasons. We know about those students who struggle bitterly to make ends meet when NSFAS funding or other scholarship funding comes through late.
In a country with staggering levels of inequalities such as ours, the commodification of higher learning coupled with the rising cost of living exacerbates rather than reduces inequality. The current trajectory at our university of increasing fees and the accelerating high cost of living is not viable and deeply unjust. We realise this is not only a UP management issue, as subsidies from the state have declined over the years. We also know that higher fees is just one consequence of the commodification of learning. It affects not only students but administrative, support and teaching staff as well. For these reasons we decided to stand in solidarity with our UP students in the same way that academics and workers at other tertiary institutions were showing solidarity with their students.
On Wednesday 21 October 2015 we observed students gathering on campus. We were witness to the two addresses the Vice-Chancellor and Principal gave to the students – one at the Administration building and the other at the Amphitheatre. We witnessed students exiting campus and marching around Hatfield and Brooklyn. We witnessed students returning to campus and having a night vigil.
On Thursday 22 October 2015 we observed students meeting at the Amphitheatre and then marching around Hatfield before returning for more singing, eating, deliberations and studying. As a group we made a statement to the media about inaccurate reporting by the Pretoria News about the events that unfolded on 21 October 2015.
On Friday 23 October 2015 we observed students meeting on Hatfield campus before they joined the march to the Union Buildings. We stood next to our students as they sang, chanted and tried to stop and evade the violent actions of a few protesters and excessive police retaliation
We must congratulate the UP students. They demonstrated remarkable discipline. Their leaders showed courage and determination, yet with self-restraint. During a few isolated incidents on public roads where a dustbin was overturned and when motorists in Hatfield were refused entry to some access roads, students disciplined each other. Throughout the protests UP students remained calm and steadfast in their determination to protest and pass. Since Wednesday, students have been in discussion about forming study groups even while gathered on campus.
We must commend the UP security personnel and the Brooklyn SAPS officers for the professional manner in which they acted over the last couple of days. The security personnel never aggravated the situations on campus and played an important role in directing the protests both at the library and the Administration building. UP security personnel remained open to talking to students and staff who were present and in solidarity with the students. UP security personnel should also be commended for not calling the SAPS onto the Hatfield campus. The SAPS officers who assisted with the march and redirected traffic did this in a professional manner that did not aggravate the situation.
We must salute UP staff members and students as well as residents from all over Pretoria who dropped off food, water, toilet paper, airtime and other materials in support of the students.
The issues raised by students at our University and elsewhere in South Africa are complex and will not be solved in one day. Moreover, these are not only student issues. They affect us all in our effort to deepen access to quality higher education.
Detlev Krige, Andries Bezuidenhout, Ann Skelton, Carina du Toit, Christi van der Westhuizen, Danie Brand, Edna Peres, Gairoonisa Paleker, Irma du Plessis, Isolde de Villiers, Jimmy Pieterse, Johann Meylahn, Karin van Marle, Malehoko Tshoaedi, Sepetla Molapo, Stephan de Beer, Tshepo Madlingozi, Vuyani Vellem, and Wayne Renkin
I’ll start off by saying that this was my first protest. I thought we were just protesting against the fee increase, but I realised that we were fighting for so much more. I was filled with hope to see everyone, regardless of their race, standing together. I admit a few students were blinded by frustration. The majority of us just wanted solutions, not violence. We tried to stop the violent protesters.
A group of UP students gathered in song. Students were filling up their water bottles alongside the police, having friendly conversations. I can’t remember exactly when things got out of hand. We got the news that the 0% increase was confirmed. We celebrated and suddenly it turned bad. Some people weren’t satisfied, I guess. The police started pushing us out. People were running as we were engulfed in tear gas, scared off by flash-bangs and shot at by rubber bullets. Everything was in chaos. The amazing thing is that students were still helping each other to get out. I saw a girl that fell down and couldn’t get up. A couple of students bent over her to protect her. This protest was a huge eye opener for all of us. Even though things turned sour we stood together and stayed peaceful. I think that we know that this is not over. We have won this battle but we are yet to win the war. United we will transform this county into a corruption-, oppression-and exploitation free country.
Gwendoline Hofmeyr, first-year BA General
The last week has been one of the most transformative that UP has ever seen. For a while fees have been a contentious issue and a further hike would have inevitably lead to the academic exclusion of even more hardworking students, as well as highly capable matric learners, as a result of economic incapacity. The students that fought for the inclusion of fellow students, regardless of their economic situation, inevitably fought for the future of our country.
The promise of a 0% fee increase was a small victory for us, as there is a lot of change that will need to succeed this initial triumph, but for the first time in our history, the country’s youth – regardless of race or socio-economic circumstances – stood together to fight the transgressions of the government against our generation and this made me enormously proud to be a part of Generation Y.
As proud as I was of our victory, I was highly disappointed in the violence that ensued at what was supposed to be peaceful demonstrations. What undoubtedly disappointed me more, though, was the amount of privileged students that claimed to support the cause but used the possibility of violence as an excuse to criticise the protests, as well as the students who felt inconvenienced by the fight for a better future for their children.
We made history but let us not be short sighted, and join in finding sustainable solutions so that our children don’t need to fight the same battles that we were forced to.
Lezanne Jacobs, third-year education
Conclusion: 0% increase. However, here is my 2 cents as a youth of 2015.
After so many injuries, energy and emotions, we get a 0% increase. Thank you. But it doesn’t change how I feel about the government or how the youth feels about them. I’m so bitter and heartbroken!
The government has hurt so many parents today. None of them knew that they would do to their kids what apartheid did to them. The group of 1976 didn’t try to listen to us, we had to do it like they did it – we had to feel how they felt and be treated how they were treated back then.
The youth of 2015’s biggest questions are: who has our backs in parliament? Who is our ride or die? Who is the enemy, here and now?
But what this taught all of us, young and old is this: There is a future for us. This nation can be a rainbow nation (because it isn’t right now). It assured us that the government is faulty and that change is needed – even if it means starting a youth party of 2015. However, changes need to be made in South Africa. As a nation, we were strong (the EFF guy next to the ANC guy, the “the white shield” protecting the protesters, the black guy on top of the white guy trying to protect him, the Muslim students being present while Christian students prayed, the list goes on), but when we are in our different groups (religious group, fat group, skinny group, black and white group, etc.) we are weak.
#Youth2015 was the rainbow nation. That is what Madiba dreamed about! And he will be proud! #FeesHaveFallen #FeesMustFall. Now what happens in five years’ time when they want to increase? (To be continued in 2020.)
The 0% increase represents the power of a unified student body. The magnitude of diversification across political affiliation, race and class is something our country has never seen. It reignites my hope and to play a small role in the week’s events gave me immense pride. As well as some important lessons on demonstrating, especially the importance of sunscreen (you’re fighting the struggle, not the sun).
I am disappointed in the learners who spent their ‘long weekend’ complaining about their one week of inconvenience. Apparently sacrificing a week of academics was not worth a lifetime of opportunities, for thousands of others, to escape the dirty cyclical nature of poverty. It was not only selfish but short sighted. Yes, the Rand weakened this week and perhaps you could blame the added pressure of a 0% increase on the fiscus. However, we can’t forget that education is an investment: by increasing access to tertiary education, we improve our Gini coefficient, develop leaders with greater competencies and stimulate economic growth, thus leading to a more productive and transformed economy with greater confidence. I’m equally disappointed in the students who chose to use violence and taint this amazing movement.
I hope that we as a student body never forget the power this demonstration has awakened, and most importantly, fully recognise the responsibility it has given us. After attaining our 0%, our next battle will be ensuring the sustainability of affordable tertiary education in South Africa.
Chris Slack, third-year BCom Accounting
To my mother.
If ever you find yourself faced with the dilemma of me not graduating, I need you to understand why.
When I first came to Tuks, I met a young lady, Mbali*, and as per natural, we were all excited about varsity, res and res activities. But I looked closer at Mbali and I became acquainted with her. I realised that Mbali had no bedding in res, she was sleeping with hospital sheets and a makeshift of a duvet and so was her roommate. I sat down with her and asked her where she came from and her life story, here it is:
Mbali is 1 of 4 children from a small village in Mpumalanga. Her father left them very early on and her mother has had to scrape through life with 4 children. Her two older siblings are on NSFAS & so is she. However, NSFAS had not paid out in time (never does) and Mbali was left stranded for almost a month without a textbooks and without bedding. Every time I saw her, my heart just sank. Not only did I feel sorry for her, but I felt sorry for me, because although I had bedding, a fridge, microwave and all other necessities. Fees were still a big problem at home. I eventually convinced my mother to buy Mbali and her roommate bedding, but that was just the cherry of their hardships.
Today Mbali has turned to “sugar daddies” to survive and live somewhat a decent life.
Mama, I can’t and will not allow other children to come into this system and experience what Mbali had to because not only is Mbali putting her life at risk, she could contract STDs or be subjected to abuse of any sort by these men that basically pay for her sex.
Your brother, Ma, my uncle died for an inclusive and non-discriminatory society. So many more freedom fighters laid down their lives to ensure that what was happening in the apartheid era doesn’t happen now. Yet today the students of South Africa have shown me that not much has changed since 1976 and 2015. Discrimination has been structured and moulded in a way that shuts out the majority, the working class, the black.
You fought this fight. You’ve been incarcerated for this very purpose – freedom.
I too am fighting this battle. Not because it’s a fashion or we are bored, but because YOU deserve better, I deserve better, and my children deserve better, way better.
So Ma, I will not bring a child into this world until I see the change she deserves, because you did the same for me.
Your daughter, Noluthando Maseko
My mum said: “Don’t go”
I said: “I’ll fight this struggle”
It was never about wanting to be
Day after day we hear our parents
complain about having to save up so
much money for tuition. Suddenly
one ‘blade’ wants to increase their
pressure? He wants to suppress
us? Steal my education rights?
ON MY WATCH?!
I took to the streets, learnt new
songs, stood in solidarity with fellow
students fighting for the cause.
We have conquered – Come out
History has been made
Natasha Chirwa, final-year BSc
Students have shown strength, resilience, confidence, and the ability to mobilise themselves. They are the sources of change and, possibly, the catalysts to a revolution. Despite a strong handed SAPS, media bias and time constraints, we as students have taken the first step to free education. We stood alongside people we had never met, yet the feeling was as if we had known each other forever. Black and white alike, Ubuntu was and is within us.
Our generation has been called “born free”, but in Mcebo Dlamini’s words, “Born free into what? When we are born, we are not born equal. A child of the suburb is not equal to a child from the township.” This is the unfortunate truth, and until we can have free education, it will not change. Zero percent increase is merely the beginning. We did not protest for #FeesMustRemainTheSame, we protested for #FeesMustFall. We must keep applying pressure on the government until they make it economically viable to allow for free education. If not for everyone, at least for those who cannot afford it. It must be done in such a way that we do not allow maverick groups to violently interfere with our cause.
Our generation is united. We have power. We demand our future and the future of those to come. Amandla! Awethu!
The TUT Soshanguve students arrived at Pretoria CBD and started vandalising flats and cars. There was no violent commotion when we arrived at the Union Buildings and all the students seemed to be quite peaceful. Then my fellow TUT protestors started to burn toilets and they also started vandalising the fence that was separating us from the stage. Unfortunately a small group of UP students nearby started singing a song, “No violence” they sang with their hands crossed. Unfortunately they were singing next to the big fire, most of them were white and the TUT students started to provoke them. Then the TUT Soshanguve students grabbed a young white guy saying, “re mo lahlela mollong!” meaning “we are throwing him into the fire!” Then I realised that the white guy is not the Minister of Education, and he is not the president of the country so I decided to attempt to save him. So I devised a plan to save him. I stood in front of the mob singing while facing the young man as if I was spurring on the mob to kill him. I looked at the young man and he was scared and asking for forgiveness. I realised that the Soshanguve students were determined to kill him and I wanted to help him. As the students threw him toward the fire, I broke his fall by tripping his legs with a stick. This prevented him from falling into the fire, the TUT students didn’t realise I was actually helping him. I then distracted the TUT students from the young man by showing them a camera from a journalist that was facing us. They became very angry and approached the journalist, then they took the journalist’s bag and camera, and threw it into the fire. I saw the young man again about 5 minutes later and he said, “You saved my life, now I’m free because of you”. He wanted to take a photo with me but I refused because I did not want to get into trouble for what the TUT students had done. He then gave me R50 as a reward for helping him. This incident made me realise that racism between black and white students is still a big issue in this country. The other reason I tried to save him is because one of my family friends is also a senior UP student, and it would have hurt him to hear about a fellow student being killed. That’s why I risked my life to save him.
As told by Sam, a TUT student
Today I marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria from our university in solidarity with many other students. Our main goal is to be acknowledged and have our voices heard. We expect to be addressed by the president of South Africa. We arrive, we all dance and sing and start to sit down after the long walk. Not long after that, a group of individuals armed with sticks and water bottles charge at us and shouting for us to “Move!” We comply. I am so mad that we have spent days protesting peacefully and in one second, that is all diminished. I am scared. I hear screams and shouts and panicked voices.
After finding some neutral ground amongst familiar ‘Tuks’ and ‘UPrising’ t-shirts, we await our president. Two fires break out in the distance, chaos. There is shouting. We watch in absolute horror as sticks and bottles are thrown towards the police and podium. A riot van, in an attempt to extinguish the fire, rams through as people jump on it with sticks. Panic, running and screaming. Bangs, smoke, people grouping together. I hide behind a bakkie while the stun grenades go off, and when that vehicle moves along we cling to a tree. I cry because I am scared. There are too many people. There is no sure way out. Our president isn’t coming, and the bricks are going higher. We hear rumours that the fence has been breached. We hear shouting and watch on as these individuals provoke the police, gesturing for them to throw more grenades. We watch as teargas is deployed and watch as people choke, some going back and throwing rocks.
The people around me wet their bandanas. I don’t have one, and I am scared. They put t-shirts around their necks preparing for the possibility of teargas.
Calm. We need to calm down and this will all get better. Where is the president? He just needs to neutralize the situation, show them that he is listening. We wait. The bangs continue, and then suddenly the running doesn’t just stop it continues and then we cannot breathe and our noses burn. People are sneezing and coughing and choking and covering their faces.
I’ve lived in Pretoria for 14 years now and since I can remember I’ve always wanted to visit the Union Buildings. I would imagine picnics with my significant other in the gardens, taking pictures in a beautiful dress before some fancy function, or most recently just acting like I’m hi5-ing Tata Madiba.
But neither of those were my first time experience. The first time I visited the Union Buildings was during a national march against systematic exclusion of peoples by institutions of higher education. I march 10km to and from with thousands of students with one common goal, a 0% fee increases for 2016. The struggle songs we were singing are still ringing in my ears and when I close my eyes I can still see the crowed pulsating with dancing students. Although I didn’t quite know the words and my feet were more off beat than on, I will never forget that feeling of solidarity, of being part of something greater than one’s self.
I got tear gassed twice, nearly missed being trampled by a stampede multiple time, heard the deafening sounds of stun grenades so many times I lost count, and witnessed how a group of students tore down a fence with their bare hands. I stood in the blazing sun waiting for our president to address us in person (which never happened) for so long my skin turned an angry shade of red.
My first time experience at the Union Buildings wasn’t “romantic” or “fun”, my first time experience was history in the making! And if ask me, that’s not too shabby at all!
Shannon Wathen, third-year BA LAw
On Wednesday, 21 October, I stayed at home and watched the news all day. That night I asked my mother if I could join the protest with my fellow students and, being a single mother, she said yes! I protested for 2 out of the 3 days but the last day was the best! Regardless of all the stun grenades, teargas and the water truck, our UP students stood proud and tall! For my first protest ever I must say it was an experience of a lifetime! I’ve never made so many new friends, so fast in my life. I was dispensing water with my fellow students to my fellow students. I enjoyed every minute of it. I am proud to be part of the University of Pretoria and I am honoured to be part of the unified society of UP students. I was never judged or ridiculed for my race, class or creed. UP, I am honoured and so proud to be part of such a united group of students.
Taylynne van der Klashorst
I saw a fire, a flame… and it burned into ash. But that fire meant something else to me, it symbolised the violence that has been done, the fire of hate – the wrongs that have been committed that perpetuate themselves. I ask myself, “When will you be reborn dear people?” As those flames feast upon the peace that we once so desired, it’s these ashes that remain, let only God take up and make beauty of such brokenness. Have I not seen white protect black, have I not seen Christian help Muslim? Have I not seen such extraordinary beauty of unity birthed from such agony?
Shaun Nortje, third-year Psychology
Our feet and legs hurt
Our bodies full of dust
Our nose and eyes still burn from
But our minds are strong
And our hearts are proud
23 October 2015
The youth of South Africa made
This is only the beginning
Great things are to come
Zindy Whittal, second-year LLB
Taking part in the protest was both scary and exciting at the same time. The protests we had at the university were far different from the one we encountered at the Union Buildings. The #FeesMustFall campaign was just the beginning of something bigger, reflecting underlying issues that the youth are not happy about. Even res fees are ridiculous. The system itself needs a complete transformation. It felt good to be a part of something bigger than I could ever imagine, something that didn’t just affect me but thousands of students and parents across South Africa. One can only hope that the government realises that we are not interested in paying for its irresponsible behaviour of mismanaging funds. I plan to vote for a government (still to come) that lives among the youth, knows and understands the challenges that we are facing as the youth and citizens of South Africa, and not a government that thinks it knows best by simply existing as a superior. Wits students represent a stunning example of what good leadership and unity can achieve. I hope we can all learn from them.
Anonymous, first-year BA Law
Photo: Wade Hoffman