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Minister Nzimande expected to address the nation on tertiary education fees, calls for calm

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The Department of Higher Education has called for calm after the death of a man who was shot and killed allegedly by police in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, during a protest by Wits University students earlier on Wednesday.

Two student journalists were also shot during the protest.

Minister Dr Blade Nzimande is expected to address the nation on the latest regarding tertiary education fees.

There are growing calls on the minister to explain where money from National Student Financial Aid Scheme  (NSFAS) meant for needy students is.

The ministry and the NSFAS have come in for criticism after saying there isn’t enough money for first-year entrants and other fund beneficiaries.

Nzimande says former President Jacob Zuma’s announcement of free higher education for poor students has caused major problems for the NSFAS.

Spokesperson of the Department of Higher Education Science and Technology, Ishmael Mnisi explains:

‘Financial exclusion’

The department says it is in communication with management at Wits University over the incident and the impasse with students.

Students have taken to the streets over the financial exclusion of some students at the institution.

The students want those who owe the university up to R150 000 in fees still be allowed to register for 2021.

“We are in contact with the university management to establish the facts of this occurrence and the impasse that might be there between the students and the management. We want to appeal for calmness at this moment whilst we allow the law enforcement agencies to do their work. We are told that they are hard at work at the moment trying to investigate this case. We want to give them an opportunity to do so and upon receipt of the report of this occurrence, we will, therefore, be able to communicate further,” says Higher Education Spokesperson, Ishmael Mnisi.

Ipid investigation

Police have arrested some students. The police earlier confirmed that members of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) have been dispatched to start their investigation.

“We have summoned the stakeholders to the scene including Ipid to determine what actually transpired. We will determine who was involved in the incident. Police were deployed to the scene and we believe they know when to act when it is necessary,” says Police Spokesperson, Kay Makhubela.

Political parties

Political parties have reacted to what is currently happening in the higher education sector.

The Freedom Front Plus has blamed the African National Congress (ANC)for the current circumstances.

“There is no such thing as free education. Someone always pays. And in this instant, EFF and the ANC students want the universities to pay for these school fees, which is completely unacceptable. I think that is the direct fault of the ANC and the ANC government and their utterances, especially former president Jacob Zuma (who) promised free higher education and now, we are seeing protests; we are seeing people being killed because of these protests,” says FF Plus’ Tammy Wessels.

She says that the party also welcomes the investigation into the death of the man.

United Democratic Movement Nqabayomzi Kwankwa has also blamed the government for the impasse.

“Well, the government is to blame for what is happening at Wits University. We would like to believe, as a party, that this is not an isolated incident. It is what we expect to happen from other universities across the country if we continue to have an uncaring government. Even last year, we were among the few political parties who complained that a lot of money was being redirected, taken away to other priorities of government at the time.”

He says although they accepted that the focus should be on dealing with challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, they expected the government to deal with funding challenges at higher institutions of learning.

The African National Congress has expressed concern over the protest.

“We believe that there should be better ways to resolve problems, especially during this time. We know that our higher education institutions are going to be constrained with many students from different parts of the country, looking for space. This reminds me of scenes we saw at UJ some years back where lives were also lost.”

The party has also welcomed the South African Human Rights Commission’s step to monitor the situation closely: 

Reasons behind the Wits Univesity protest:

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The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in Gauteng, has condemned the shooting of protesting Wits University students.

A 35-year-old man was shot dead and two Wits students wounded when police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets at the protestors on Wednesday.

SAHRC Chairperson in Gauteng Buang Jones says they are deeply concerned about police conduct when dealing with protests.

“I’ve expressed my concerns. I also called the provincial commissioner Elias Mawela to also register my concerns about the way in which the police have managed the situation. There has to be a better way of managing when dealing with protests. We should be allowed, as the commission, to facilitate a discussion between all the parties with a view of finding a solution. We don’t want another protracted protest action that’s similar to what happened five years ago.”

Portfolio Committee condemns the killing

The news of the shooting incident came while the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education was in a meeting with the Department of Higher Education and Training, discussing the shortfall in funding for tertiary students, who are beneficiaries of the NSFAS.

The committee has condemned the killing of the bystander.

Addressing the portfolio committee on Wednesday’s events, the Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Buti Manamela says a meeting will be set up with the Vice-Chancellor and student leaders. That will be a bid to try and resolve problems that led to protests at Wits University.

Manamela described the loss of life at protests as “quite unfortunate and unnecessary”.

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