President Cyril Ramaphosa committed his government to funding student education as he made a formal speech to the National House of Traditional Leaders in Parliament Thursday.
Ramaphosa stated that, “We will not abandon our students. We will fund their education because it is their right."
According to the President, “They have a right to education and our government, as much as we are facing enormous difficulties and challenges will continue to find solutions because funding education is an investment. We are investing in the future of South Africa - and we invest in it through educating our young people."
When Wits students had marched to ANC headquarters at Luthuli House they were met by Ace Magashule the organisation's Secretary-General. He had told the students that their demands would be met.
Student Fee Protests Spread Across The Country
Protests against university fees started at Wits earlier in the week but soon spread to the University of Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Cape Town. The start of each academic year is marked by protests as there are students who have passed their courses and wish to register for the following year but are prevented because they still owe fees to their university.
Some universities such as UWC and CPUT have avoided protests by allowing students to re-register if they make arrangements to pay off their outstanding fees later in the year.
This year student protester demands have expanded to include a wider solution to the problem than simply allowing students to sign an acknowledgement of debt. They have also called for the resignation or sacking of Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande. There was a deadline of 5pm given for him to respond but by Saturday there was still no news on a response from the Minister.
On Saturday afternoon the UCT Council was in a meeting formulating a response to their students who had occupied the university fees building on Friday. When the Vice Chancellor had not met with the students they had marched to her official residence and rang the doorbell continuously in an effort to get her attention.
On Thursday the Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, stated that Cabinet had agreed to make tertiary funding a priority.
The tertiary funding should be reprioritised from the department’s budget to ensure that all deserving NSFAS-qualifying students can receive funding support for the 2021 academic year. Their was little detail but this appears to mean that funds that may have gone to infrastructure projects like buildings will instead be diverted to NSFAS. This means that enough money is available to pay for all first-year university applicants who qualify both for a university place and a NSFAS bursary.
The Death Of Mthokozisi Ntumba
On Wednesday, Mthokozisi Ntumba was shot and killed as he left a clinic. He was 35 years old and a father of 3. It is believed that he was shot by police who were dispersing protestors near WITS University in Johannesburg. The Independent Police Investigative Directorate are investigating and a number of firearms have been seized from police officers. Noone has been arrested so far.
Ramaphosa extended his deepest condolences to Ntumba's family, during his address. He said that from what he had seen there was no reason for Police to behave in the way they had in dispersing students, and that there had been 'Police overreach'.
The President announced that the circumstances that led to Ntumba’s death must be thoroughly investigated and the law must take its course.
A few Wits University academics showed their solidarity with students against police brutality following the deadly demonstrations that claimed the life of Ntumba. Wits lecturer, Ahmed Veriava, told EyeWitness News that South Africans must stand against police brutality.
The President said that even though the government is faced with enormous challenges and difficulties, education is a top priority for the government.
"When the Minister of Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande, came to me and informed me that we are facing a huge problem in that the funding that we have for NSFAS is not going to be sufficient to fund the new intakes and also to extend those who are already in the system and there was a huge gap that ran into billions and I said to him – Minister, we have to find a solution," said Ramaphosa.