NEWS & ANALYSIS

Govt is trying its best to expand access to post-school education – SACP and COSATU

Party and federation says students should direct their anger to the doorsteps of capital – which is where the problem lies

Joint SACP and Cosatu Statement on no fee increment in public colleges and universities for 2017 and violence in our institutions of learning

21 September 2016

The South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) have been meeting since Tuesday, 20 September in a bilateral strategic session to assess the challenges and opportunities and analyse the threats facing the national democratic revolution. The objective of this meeting of the socialist axis of the tripartite alliance is to develop shared perspectives on the way forward, including immediate tasks. The meeting is still in session, and is scheduled to conclude this afternoon. Once this has happened, the SACP and Cosatu will jointly and comprehensively communicate all the key outcomes of the meeting.

Both organisations could however not remain behind closed doors, while a situation that needs urgent attention was developing a few metres away, at the University of the Witwatersrand with a potential to cause serious problems not only at Wits but in other institutions of learning. The bilateral meeting therefore decided to convene this press conference, as a matter of urgency, to communicate our organisations’ positions in no uncertain terms with regards to the issue of no fee increase for 2017, the need to accelerate our country’s progressive rollout of free post-school education, and address the violent forms of mobilisation violating the constitutional rights of other students.

The SACP and Cosatu are fully in support of the students’ struggle, which is in fact a working class struggle, for the realisation of accelerated progressive rollout of free post-school education for students from working class and poor households, including the lower strata of the middle class, who cannot afford to pay. The SACP and Cosatu both believe that the announcement made by the Department of Higher Education and Training on Monday, 19 September, that all students in public colleges and universities qualifying for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), as well as students falling in the category of the so-called missing middle will all experience a no fee increase in 2017 is progressive.

The government’s intervention represents a milestone while the Higher Education and Training Commission, also known as the Fees Commission established by the President conducts its work. The Commission must develop measures to accelerate progressive rollout of free education for those who cannot afford. This is firmly in line with the Freedom Charter, the country’s constitution and the Polokwane resolution of the African National Congress (ANC) on this matter.

Education is and must be seen to be a societal priority. The private sector is disproportionately benefiting from our education and training and is the sole consumer, on a private basis, of the wealth produced by our workforce – minus the cost of production, yet its contribution is almost invisible.

The SACP and Cosatu are urging students to redirect their mobilisation to the door steps of capital – which is where the problem emanates, rather than fight against the government that is trying its level best to expand access to post-school education as evidenced by the massive progress our country has achieved since 1994 and more so after 2009.

Both of our organisations are pledging their joint support to this mobilisation directed at the exploiters of our education, training and labour power. In this regard, the SACP and Cosatu will fight side by side with students. We have been consulting with students on a national day of action. Cosatu and the SACP have confidence that the leadership of the South African Union of Students (SAUS), a body representing universities’ Student Representative Councils or SRCs, has adopted progressive positions on this matter. On 14 October, we will support and march together with students to the Chamber of Mines and other centres of private capital to call on them to make a meaningful contribution from the wealth produced by workers but appropriated by the greedy bosses.

The SACP and Cosatu are calling for a decisively progressive or graduated tax on the rich and the wealthy to finance education as an apex priority. We are calling on the state to move forward and introduce this direly needed tax reform.  For the SACP and Cosatu, the pursuit of radical to fundamental economic transformation as the focal point of our alliance’s shared perspective, of the need to place our democratic transition on to a second radical phase remains central in our national project of overarching social transformation.   

Cosatu and the SACP are calling on students who want to exercise their right to protest as enshrined in our country’s constitution to do so peacefully, observe the rule law and respect the rights of other students. 

The SACP and Cosatu condemn in the strongest terms possible, the violent conduct by a few disruptors who found their way among students at Wits University. We are not only concerned about public property but the human rights of other students who are being forced to abandon their studies. South Africa is a country governed by the rule of law. No person has a right to advance their demands by means of violating the rights of others as enshrined in our country’s constitution. A legitimate state that seeks to preserve its democratic integrity has the responsibility, and will undoubtedly exercise its functions and strategic discipline, to protect the rights of all its citizens, including students. 

Issued by Alex Mohubetswane Mashilo, National Spokesperson, SACP, and COSATU, 21 September 2016