#NMMUFeesMustFall and #OpenNMMU protesters meet at silent protest


Two student groups on somewhat opposing sides over the current shutdown at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) met on Wednesday during a silent protest that took place at the corner of University Way and Admiralty Street in Summerstrand, Port Elizabeth.

#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.

At the NMMU, one group, the #OpenNMMU campaign, has stated that they fully support the current protests against fee increases for the 2017 academic year – but while students are in class. However, the #NMMUFeesMustFall movement has been actively ensuring that the institution remains closed until government gives in to their demands for 0% fee increases – or even better, free education, in 2017.

On Wednesday morning, the two groups organised separate meetings – just a few metres apart, while public order police officers kept a watchful eye to ensure things did not get out of hand.

Besides differences on how to push on with the ‘struggle’ for free education, it also did appear as though the two groups were racially divided - with the #OpenNMMU movement composed of mostly white students, while the #NMMUFeesMustFall group had mainly black students.

“We do support Fees Must Fall and we are for the movement, we want the cost of education to drop, we are struggling students at the end of the day, but all we are asking for is that the Universities stay open.

“It’s not the Universities fault; it’s the government's fault, and if government can spend R1 trillion on a nuclear deal, surely they can spend the same amount on helping us with our educational struggle,” said Ishaan Jassaf, a final year student at NMMU and a representative of the #OpenNMMU campaign.

“Government needs to play a part in this, they need to say something and stand up and stop being cowards and hiding behind everything. There are so many ways and stances that they can take; surely they can do something here. We need those answers so that we can move forward and everyone can be put at rest.”

In the middle of their silent protest, a few representatives from the #NMMUFeesMustFall group approached the #OpenNMMU campaigners and said that they wanted to engage on their different stances.

It also emerged from the discussion that while #OpenNMMU students are of the view that free education can be a gradual goal that can be attained in the future; the #NMMUFeesMustFall group wants it now. The latter also called for the “decolonising” of the curriculum.

“One thing we need to understand, is that this is a moment in history, and history is going to judge whether what we’re doing is really as bad as the media describes it to be, or if we can stick together and do this,” said Mkhululi Lwanga, a student representative of the #NMMUFeesMustFall movement.

“We are under the impression that what we learn at school will benefit us as a group, but half the stuff we learn is very toxic. I am supposed to maintain a 75% average, but half of my textbook is in Dutch. That is where we made the call for free, quality, decolonised education.”

The shutdown at the NMMU is now in its third week and the university, last week, stated that if students do not return to class next week, it will be forced to shut down for the 2016 academic year.

That will effectively mean that students will have to repeat the year again in 2017 – a particularly stressful prospect, especially for paying parents as well as international students.

The NMMU released a list of responses to Frequently Asked Questions relating specifically to various issues and challenges at the university. Click here > FAQS

Several efforts to resolve the impasse at the NMMU have failed.

Different groups - different agendas

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.

However, 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.

The NMMU has held meetings with student formations. The SRC also recently held a public meeting at the city hall where things did not go so well.

The #OpenNMMU group will be hosting these silent protests from 8am until 12pm until Friday.