MAXINE TWADDLE The South African Students Congress (SASCO) marched to the Department of Higher Education’s offices in Pretoria to demand free and quality education on Friday 4 May.
SASCO is calling for free education because many “of [their] people, largely from poor and working-class backgrounds, are denied access to higher education simply because they do not have the monetary means to buy education.” This is according to a statement released by the organisation.
SASCO’s statement uses the Polokwane Congress (the ANC’s 2007 National Conference) to support its demand. According to Resolution 44 adopted in Polokwane, the ANC must “progressively introduce free education to the poor until undergraduate level.” Resolution 46 acknowledges that “education must be prioritised as one of the most important programmes of the next five years.”
SASCO has expressed disappointment that, in spite of these resolutions having been adopted by the ANC, Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training, has not yet implemented “a cogent plan on how free education is to progressively be realised.”
The ANC Youth League (ANCYL) issued a statement expressing their support of SASCO’s march. The statement echoed SASCO’s concern of the lack of implementation of the resolutions adopted at the Polokwane conference. The ANCYL encouraged its members to join SASCO in their march “as a means of demonstrating to our government and society that we do champion the interests of young people.”
According to the statement, student protest indicates that students are concerned about the social and economic problems which South Africa faces.
The call for free education “is a good initiative, which addresses the injustices of the past, while arming the majority of South Africans with the most pivotal tool to assist them in addressing their struggles: education,” COPE@Tuks chairperson Thabo Mdlalose told Perdeby. Mdlalose also pointed out that it may be “unrealistic” to demand free education, and questioned the ability of the South African government to provide it. “COPE@Tuks believes that free education should only be granted to those who need it most, but how can we trust the government to ensure that this is the case, when corruption has infested itself within the ruling party?” he said, adding that “it is impossible to envisage free and fair education being efficiently and correctly implemented by the current government.”
DASO Chairperson at Tuks, Thorne Godinho, told Perdeby that “free tertiary education is not a reasonable or affordable option.” He also said that DASO supports the use of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, as well as other forms of financial aid, to provide youth with the opportunity to attend university. In April, Minister Nzimande said that government is still committed to providing the poor with free education. See “Free tertiary education for the poor” on page 5 for more details.