VIDEO: Populism and chaos reign at NMMU #FeesMustFall student meeting

BY JESICA SLABBERT - AUGUST 23, 2016

What was supposed to be a peaceful gathering of Nelson Mandela Municipal University (NMMU) students to discuss a response to a possible fee increase for 2017 soon turned chaotic as students from the South African Students Congress (SASCO) and the EFF’s Student Command engaged the NMMU Student Representative Council (SRC) in a popularity battle.

The mass meeting eventually took place at the NMMU’s 2nd Avenue Campus, in Summerstrand, Port Elizabeth, on Tuesday afternoon after a student protest in the morning prevented access to the university’s main campus - following a call by the ANC-aligned SASCO Eastern Cape that all campuses in the province be shutdown.

The NMMU SRC, which is led by the DA Students Organisation (DASO), had early on Tuesday opposed the shutdown of the university arguing that it would affect students, who were due to write tests during the day.

Speaking at the meeting, NMMU SRC President, Nicholas Nyati, said; “This year, we have more than 4 000 students at NMMU alone, who do not have funding because of #FeesMustFall. The interesting thing about fees is that universities increase fees to cover the cost of subsidies that the government is not giving them.

“The whole reason we are having this mass meeting today is to go back to our constituencies, to ask that they give us innovative ideas as to how government can fund free higher education for the poor.”

He seemed to have struck the wrong note.

One student, took the opportunity and addressed the meeting; “Comrades, we understand that the institution, which is the university cannot pay for all of us, so the university must unite with us as students and tell the Minister of Higher Education to deliver free education to students or else we are not opening doors, we are going to sacrifice what we need to sacrifice for free higher education.”

That was when things descended into populism.

 

“If the university has to be bankrupt in order for the government to wake up and fund this free education, we will do that. We will make sure that we bankrupt this university and that free education comes from the government,” shouted another student.

Some students also claimed knowledge of various sources where government could get money to fund free tertiary education.

Nyati tried to restore order and sense arguing that causing the university to become bankrupt would not help anyone.

“We will not let our institution go bankrupt, we will not allow our student [exams] to get postponed, our students want to graduate and they want to get jobs,” he said.

Before he could finish, several students rose up in anger and started singing and dancing to stop him from continuing.

In the end, the various students at the meeting group together into several pockets of diverging ideas and engaged in a singing and dance contest.

From this point on, Nyati tried but could not continue with the meeting and his speech.

“As an SRC President, I am disappointed because this was meant to be a meeting to discuss fees, only for it to be disrupted,” he told RNEWS.

Meanwhile, the NMMU released a statement on Tuesday afternoon saying that it was engaging the students on the shutdown that affected several students, who supposed to write their exams.

“In light of the student protests on NMMU campuses and important issues to be discussed by students regarding higher education matters, the University has officially postponed all academic activities and tests scheduled to be written today. This includes both Missionvale and George campuses,” the university said.

“Management has assessed the situation, and will continue to do so. As such, and in accordance with governance procedures, campuses remained open.

“Engagement with students is ongoing, including discussions with the Sasco leadership regarding the call for a national shutdown tomorrow. We will update the University community further.

“We will issue updates as and when they come, so please keep an eye out on the NMMU Facebook page and NMMU website as well.”