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Protests and Shutdowns

Protests and Shutdowns


Mid October 2015

Students at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa received news that tuition prices for 2016 would be raised 20% for the incoming school year. A few days later, on October 14th students assembled to protest against the outrageousness of the increase. This started the campaign for Fees Must Fall. The rest of the month saw other universities joining the cause, more support, more protests, and the rise of a new movement.
The 2015 Fees Must Fall campaign ended when President Jacob Zuma announced that there would be no increase in tuition for universities across the nation. Protests stopped but the damage was done and the tension was still in the air. The University of Cape Town was home to violent protests, the burning of school shuttles, burning of paintings and property, and the fire-bombing of the Vice Chancellor’s office. The student’s involved were arrested, suspended, or expelled, while a few are still waiting for their hearing and have been barred from campus. Campus activities were suspended and finals were postponed. International students abroad had to complete their tests back in their home countries while full-time students had to take them weeks or months later. But, the protests were successful. The fees did not increase and students were able to return to normal class the next semester.

sp22Oct7UCT-Anonymous-20151022_0_0       UCT1-20151020-MasixoleFeni

Present Day 2016
As Spring Break ended and the 4th term of the year began the tension in the air thickened. It was less than a year ago when protests broke out and people were waiting to see what was going to happen. Soon, we found out.
As the anticipation for the new tuition price announcement, the University of Cape Town suspended academic activities on Friday September 23 and Monday September 19. Small protests had already started the day before and more were expected due to the coming announcement. Sure enough, on Monday students received the email informing them of the expected 8% fee increase for the 2017 school year. Immediately, students mobilized and protested this increase. However, this time the fees were not alone. Tribunals for the students suspended have started again and there is outcry from students for their release and ability to return to school.
Tuesday morning arrived and the protests only grew. Students blocked entrances to the school with boats, benches, branches, cars, and themselves. Other protesters marched on residence buildings calling for all students to join in the march. The Medical School was taken over with classes being disrupted and exits and entrances being blocked. They took to the highway and blocked cars on their way towards Upper Campus (the main campus of UCT). The sang, chanted, clapped, and danced as the went along. All this occurred before 10AM. Around 10:30 UCT officially announced that it was shutting down yesterday and today, Wednesday September 21. And tonight they announce that campus will be closed until Sunday with the hope that some kind of solution can happen so that school may start up again soon.

UCT feesmustfall

Not many study abroad experiences have massive on-campus protests occurring during that time. This experience gives a unique insight into the dynamics of South African turmoil. With the elections occurring in August South Africa has seen a great shift in its domestic power and many people calling for better services. The fight for cheaper, and even free, education is just one of the many social issues that South Africa faces. As an outsider looking in, the current situation with Fees Must Fall and the UCT Shutdown is rather intriguing.
I am the sort of person who has the ability to understand arguments from many different points of view. The protesters are demanding for greater and cheaper education; their ultimate goal is for all education to be free. I understand the fight for lower tuition costs however there are many aspects that need to be taken into account. Last year, after the success of Fees Must Fall the university had to fire a large number of staff members in order to stay operational. In addition, the government has lowered the amount of funding that universities have access to. This, in turn, has caused the need for higher tuition fees in order for universities to stay open and accessible. The university can only do so much with what it has. I am pleased that there is a plan to protest outside the parliament building in order to get the government to get involved. Hopefully this will open their eyes to the education problems and try to find a solution.
The protesters presented the university with a list of demands (I have attached them at the bottom of this post for those of you who are interested). Though many of these demands are fine some stretch things a little too far. The main demand I disagree with is the call for the release of students who were expelled or have hearings coming up in the future. As much as one may want them to be freed and pardoned their actions were illegal. Burning shuttles costs the university money, money which could have gone towards the cause, and puts people’s lives in danger. Furthermore, the fire-bombing of an office could have had devastating results if someone had been inside when it occurred. It is hard to argue that no consequences should come to the people who participated in these events.
I hope that an agreement can be reached in the very near future as, though I can’t believe I am saying this, I want to go back to class. All in all, I am happy that I get to experience this while I am here and express my support for their cause. I am not going to be personally participating in the protests but I stand behind the fight for cheaper education for all. For anyone with concerns, I am well and safe and there is no need to worry.


List of Demands:

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