Hope at breaking #FeesMustfall impasse at NMMU now pinned on Monday's mass meeting

OCTOBER 3, 2016

Ahead of a crucial student mass meeting at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) on Monday, Port Elizabeth police said that they arrested a 22 year-old student in the morning after a group of #FeesMustFall protesters at the institution set barricades at the university's North Campus entrance alight.

The student will now have to appear in court for a bail application. Police are monitoring the situation.

Meanwhile, NMMU students will hold a mass meeting to continue deliberations on the campaign for 'free higher education', and on whether to resume the academic activities or continue with the NMMU shutdown. That is while NMMU SRC President, Nicholas Nyati, partakes in a multi-stakeholder engagement with President Jacob Zuma and the Higher Education Department on Monday.

A mass meeting on Saturday, initially billed for students, parents and community members, was later converted into a student body meeting, committing to a process of ongoing dialogue with a view to collectively arriving at workable solutions.

Earlier in the past week, a group of concerned NMMU academic and professional and support staff, as well as students, met to deliberate on the same issues and committed to create spaces to enable constructive debate of the local and national issues confronting us.

The NMMU management, which has previously said that it supports the establishment of a 'free higher education system for the poor', says it is of the view that all should be done to get the current sector funding crunch addressed, and is supportive of efforts by staff, students and community members, directed at the resolution of the funding challenges.

In the context and spirit of the above, the Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor: Institutional Support, Lebogang Hashatse, has agreed to support the student assembly by allowing shuttles to ferry students to campus.

Last week, the NMMU announced that should academic activities not resume in two weeks from the 26th of September, it will be forced to close the 2016 academic - which means students will lose out on exams and the scheduled graduations, and will need to repeat the year in 2017.

#FeesMustFall protests that broke out on the 19th of September across the country after the Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, recommended an 8% fee increment for affording students.

“The national campaign has been waged by students across the country; the majority of these students waging this campaign are against free education for the poor only and also financial assistance for the ‘missing middle’. They want government to pronounce on free education for all, and they see the Universities as the site of pursuing their struggle,” Acting NMMU Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sibongile Muthwa, told reporters at a media briefing on Tuesday.

“We have actually tried to persuade our students that there is no reason we see, why their struggle cannot be pursued while they are back in classes and learning. Because their campaign talks to the issues that cannot be resolved soon, this is a long term campaign.”

She said that the NMMU is committed to opening a dialogue with the students.

“The essence of the disagreement with the students is that they wish to wage this campaign for free education while they are not attending classes,” said Dr Muthwa.

Different groups - different agendas

However, preventing the speedy resolution to the impasse is that divisions have since emerged among the protesting students. Various student groupings, including the Student Representative Council (SRC), initially formed a coalition to collectively voice their concerns in relation to the announcement, but were divided in their approach.

Howver, by the 21st of September, it emerged that the SRC was no longer part of the coalition. At the end of the week, the  NMMU had actually received petitions from four different student formations in Port Elizabeth and George, and responded to each by last Sunday evening.

Below are the four memoranda received from four student formations at NMMU being the SRC, the George Campus Student Council, the student FMF coalition in PE and the FMF movement on the George Campus.

On Monday, the NMMU held meetings with two student formations in George, and one at the Kraal on the South Campus in Port Elizabeth. The SRC also held a public meeting at the city hall where things did not go so well.

The NMMU has been closed since the 21st of September.