NUMSA condemns student fees increase

Union says it demands free education and abolition of all content in education system which is racist, promotes colonialism

Numsa condemns student fees increase

We demand free education

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa deplores the decision of the Minister of Higher Education (and General Secretary of the South African Communist Party), Blade Nzimande, to betray students hoping for a reasonable response to their demand for free tertiary education. Instead he has allowed universities to decide on student fee increases of up to 8% for the 2017 academic year – even higher than the current rate of inflation of 6%!

He cushions the fee increase by limiting it to families with an income of R600 000 per annum or more, but the mechanism for such a means test is not in place and could be difficult to implement.

He has failed to consider the #FeesMustFall’s zero-fee campaign with the seriousness it deserves. So now the doors of learning will remain firmly shut to hundreds of thousands of young, overwhelmingly black, South Africans, who will not be able to afford these fees.

For those who qualify for funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, there is a trail of tears; its funds run out before qualifying students are serviced, it pays late and leaves expensive debt to repay. Its debt recovery rate is so low – less than 10% - that it is clear to everyone (aside from Nzimande) that a grant-based (not credit-based) strategy should be urgently implemented.

And leaving the final decision on fees to the universities is just a crude attempt to shift the blame for the increase away from himself and the ANC government to the university authorities. This will result in more angry protest of the sort seen today, yesterday and in recent weeks at various campuses.

But the real enemies of the students are in Nzimande’s ministry and the Treasury. They have had 11 months’ warning to address the demand for free education – and have no plan except a laggard presidential commission which has delayed its report until next June.

The last commission that Nzimande himself mandated to look into fee-free education came out with an affirmative answer in 2012-13. But he showed his true leanings by keeping that commission report secret. When his spokesperson was asked “why the findings of the report and government’s decision not to implement the policy were not released to the public in 2013”, he replied: “It is a public document, but due to the nature of the report, we decided not to make it public. Obviously we would have been setting the finance minister up against the public if that decision and report was released.” (Petersen, C. 2015. Free higher learning plans. Cape Times, 25 October.)

“Those who can pay, must pay”, says Nzimande - a brutal statement that spits in the face of the Freedom Charter’s pledge that “the doors of learning and culture shall be opened!” and that “education shall be free, compulsory, universal”. 

On higher education and technical training, the Charter specifically says that these “shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit”, which Nzimande on SAFM on 20 September twisted to argue that the Charter justifies the continuation of fees, and making education a commodity, available only to those with the money to pay for it.

Numsa is appalled by a supposedly Communist Minister of Higher Education consistently maintaining that free education is not possible for the South African working class, in a filthy rich country very capable of funding education for all.

Numsa further condemns the Cosatu leadership who rushed to support their ‘communist’ ally, in a complete betrayal of their statement as recently as 19 October 2015 that: “We are fully behind the call for a free education as promised by the Freedom Charter. This commodification of education will continue to keep working class children at the bottom end of the economic pyramid”. This is further proof of the utter degeneration of this once militant workers’ organisation.

The crisis of the continuing racist, colonial and Apartheid education system in South Africa post 1994 is a class matter, which largely affects the working class and their children and is central to the class struggles in South Africa today.

Numsa is ready to work with progressive students and their formations in their campaigns to end racism, colonialism and exclusions by all means, including fees, in the entire South African education system.

The problems facing students will not end when they graduate. The crisis in education is just one part of a catastrophic situation in which one out of every two young black South Africans is unemployed, including two million with secondary and tertiary education.

We reiterate our full support for the students, and urge them to intensify the struggle for free education and unite with primary and high school learners, and young workers, employed and unemployed, to fight the common enemy: the neoliberal economic policies championed by the ANC government on behalf of white monopoly capitalism, which have perpetuated and worsened the levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

Numsa is discussing nationwide solidarity strike action with university students and calls on all workers and poor communities to rally behind their protests for free education. We repeat our demands to the ANC government:

1. Accept the demand of the students for free tertiary education.

2. Put an end to the buying and selling of education and to deliver free public pre-primary, primary, high school and tertiary education for all!

3. Accept the demand of the students for an immediate moratorium on fee increases and to abolish fees!

4. End immediately all exclusions from tertiary institutions.

5. Create decent jobs, including jobs for graduates, by nationalising, under democratic workers’ control and management, our minerals and strategic sectors of the economy including finance.

However, fully aware that any education system reproduces the dominant economic, cultural and psychological paradigms of its ruling class, we do not expect that South Africa’s untransformed racist, colonial and Apartheid economy and society can suddenly produce a progressive, humane and emancipating free education system, from birth to death. We must fight for it!

This is what the revolutionary students of 1976 demanded 40 years ago and it is our duty to take up their banner and continue the fight that they so bravely began.

We demand free education and the abolition of all content and forms of education in the education system which are racist, and promote colonialism, patriarchy, oppression and domination of the black and African person.

Statement issued by Irvin Jim, Numsa General Secretary, 20 September 2016