Higher Education Department says student protests fuelled by various factors
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THE Higher Education Department says there were a number of factors that lead to the student protests that break out at tertiary institutions.
“We know student protests start around registration challenges for student whom NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) funding is not confirmed, those who face debt and delays in processing appeals,” director-general Nkosinathi Sishi told members of Parliament on Friday.
Sishi said the department and NSFAS have the responsibility to ensure all matters that have the potential to result in student protests are attended to prior to the start of the academic year.
He, however, said they objected to the use of violence during protests.
“We strongly condemn any violence that has taken place in the past and present. We are to do and we commit to this committee to do everything in our power to ensure perpetrators of violence, whether within our institutions or establishment, have no place to hide.”
Sishi told MPs about their yearly sessions with stakeholders in the tertiary education sector, where matters related to registration are discussed and one was held last week for 2022.
“We are to do the best we can this year so that previous agreements are implemented,” he said.
He also told MPs of efforts by NSFAS to improve its administration and systems as well as briefing institutions on the implementation of bursary guidelines.
Sishi said the Universities South Africa (Usaf) had shown commitment to work with SAPS.
“There have been engagements between USAF and SAPS in ensuring that there is good working relationship between universities and SAPS.
“The department is committed to work with Usaf and universities to improve the capacity of institutions to maintain peace and keep campuses safe and secure.”
He also said universities were requested to submit their plans aimed at enhancing safety and security on their campuses and residences.
“The plans were submitted and are being analysed. The aim is to identify urgent matters that need to be addressed at particular institutions, including the need to improve the capacity of institutions to maintain peace and keep campuses safe and secure.
“In collaboration with Usaf, work will be done to develop a regulatory framework for safety and security on campuses.”
Sishi said since 2015 student protest have resulted in damages amounting to hundreds of millions of rand.
“Universities, in their plans, will have to include strategies to avert the vandalism of the university property from internal and external threats during the unrest.”
He insisted that violent protest was unacceptable and was not a licence for use of excessive force by the police and private security companies.
Sibusiso Chalufu, of the USAf, said there was a need to rethink strategies and approaches.
“Beyond student protests we need to think about student mental health,” he said.
Chalufu noted that Usaf used to have a campus safety and security task team, but it fizzled out.
“It was engaged in quite a number of projects which looked at safety and security at our campuses.”
Chalufu also said they needed to have a proactive way of dealing with the issues raised by the students before they reached crisis situation.
“We must have proper strategies. We need to address systemic issues in a systemic way.”
South African Union of Students (Saus) said the police presence on campuses exacerbated student protests into violent action.
“Saus strongly believes that the police brutality in our campuses is one of elements that perpetuate student protests on campus and bring about violence,” the union’s president Lulu Ndzoyiya said.
He charged that tertiary institutions’ management often ran away from engaging students and hired private security companies, something that resulted in violent protests.
“There is a need to create space for student leaders and management to have constructive engagement. There must be a process to formalise the role of student leaders and their contribution,” he said in his presentation.