A discussion on the future of student movements across the country resulted in a walkout of almost all the participants at a Jozi Book Fair event at the Wits’ Science Stadium yesterday evening.
The panel discussion about where the student movement is heading after #FeesMustFall hosted a number of representatives from tertiary institutions across the country. The discussion ended in the walkout after panellists ignored the rules to allow each other to speak without interruption. Ncedisa Mpemnyama (Black First Land First) and Shaeera Kalla (Wits PYA) ended up in an argument over the interruptions while Fallist Thenjiwe Mswane expressed her fury at the behaviour of the panel and some members of the audience which seemed to spark the walkout.
Sparks flew right at the beginning of the debate when Mpemnyama proposed that white people should leave the venue “because of the symbolic and historical nature of the issue of financial exclusion on higher education”. Oupa Lehulere, the moderator, objected to his request saying that the issue permeates all the levels of society. A number of other members in the half-filled auditorium also rejected the idea, despite one white individual leaving almost immediately as a result.
Kalla, one of the leaders of the 2015 Fees Must Fall protests, said students need to be introspective about their hypocrisy and move past party politics in order to make a progress in their cause. “We need to chart a new path and we need to be changing power structures,” said Kalla.
Palesa Mcophela of UWC EFF Student Command, said last year’s 0% fee increment came through blood, sweat and tears. “When 0% increase was announced, we had been shot,” she said. She then called for all student leaders to be self-less in the struggle for free education.
Mpemnyama said he doesn’t take seriously people who have betrayed the student struggle. He spoke of how some students claimed an undeserved victory on Fees Must Fall while they went against the mandate given to them by students. “If we don’t speak the politics of truth, this country will be a failed banana republic,” he said.
Nthabiseng Nooe from the University of Pretoria told the audience of her disappointment on how the government reacted to the Fees Must Fall movement last year, saying the government reacted as if “we were forty years back”.
“My expectation was that the minister of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET, Blade Nzimande) would discourage us from protesting because of the implications a protest would have on our future or psychological state, but his fear was about what his (Nzimande’s) government would do to us,” said Nooe. She said although political ideology is important, there is a need for students and the broader community to unite.
There is still uncertainty about the potential increase in higher education fees in 2016 with reports circulating this weekend that university councils are likely to propose an 8% fee increment for next year.