HEParD and Council of Churches call for end to stand-off at varsities

OCTOBER 10, 2016

The Higher Education Parents Dialogue (HEParD), supported by the South African Council of Churches (SACC) have made an urgent call for the current stand-off between university management, students and government to be classified as a national emergency. 

“As the parents and the Church, we acknowledge that the history of our past of a down-graded education system has negatively impacted our development.  We now recognise that our greatest investment as a nation is in ensuring quality education for our children, and it is in this spirit that we are working to identify solutions to the current challenges,” said Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, SACC General Secretary.

The two organisations are currently working to mobilise and convene national intervention sessions with student leadership structures (SRC and non-SRC); parents; government, and university management, and, based on preliminary talks, are making for the following requests:

Government:

? We appeal to government at the highest levels, to appreciate and acknowledge the gravity of the impasse at a tertiary education level, and classify this as a national crisis and emergency, which requires the immediate appointment of a Cabinet Task Team that HEParD and the SACC can work with, as they continue their national engagement tour to universities around the country.

University Communities:

? We appeal to the management and students of all universities around South Africa to engage in open-minded dialogue with each other, as our preliminary discussions with both groups indicate that they both want the same outcome, but differ on the details and therefore are unable to progress beyond these differences, which results in ongoing protests.  With an open-minded approach, real dialogue can take place, for the sake of meaningful and long-term progress.

Parents:

? Given the SACC’s long-standing commitment to education in South Africa dating back to the National Education Crisis Committee, the Churches’ intervention and support of HEParD brings with it, the numerous far-reaching structures that would allow the parents of students around the country to feel they can contribute to the dialogue. 

?We call on all parents whose children are currently in university, and those who have children hoping to attend university in the near future to get involved in the discussion by contacting either the SACC, through their local church parishes or directly on [email protected]. Alternatively, HEParD can be contacted on [email protected].

South African Police Services and Private Security Companies:

?We are calling for all security forces, whether public or private, to exercise maximum restraint in managing the crowds of students’ protesting on the various university campuses around the country. Many of these students are unarmed and have no intention of engaging in any violent behaviour.  Let no blood be shed or lives be lost on your watch!

“We are working to make sure that the academic year of 2016 is not lost,” said Irvin Phenyane, Chairman of HEParD.  “The risks involved, not only for the students themselves but also for our country are more than we can fully grasp,” he said. If this year was lost, thousands of students would not graduate, depriving the economy of graduates in 2017. In addition, there would not be 2017 intake of the 2016 matriculants, resulting in increased numbers of unemployed and uneducated youth, creating an effect on our social structures of immense proportions.  “This situation can and should be avoided,”

“This situation can and should be avoided,” Phenyane said.

HEParD and the SACC have engaged with the national executive of the university principals, and are scheduling meetings with various groups of student leaders and university administrations across the country, from Saturday 8 October into next week. 

For the SACC, this work with HERarD forms part of the national action campaign, The South Africa We Pray For, falling squarely under pillar of Poverty and Inequality.  The work of this pillar is aimed at addressing the need to reverse poverty and inequality in order to reconcile the yearnings of marginalized poor people with the fortunes of the country so that people are reconciled with their God given dignity. In this instance the SACC stands for the right of all students, to be given the opportunity to enjoy quality education and reach their God-given potential.

“We are prepared to work tirelessly with everyone, to make sure we can bring them all closer to brokering an agreement which will diffuse the situation, and prevent the risks of a lost academic year, and incredible social and economic strain on especially poor families." Mpumlwana concluded.