South African students on Sunday vowed to continue their struggle for education transformation characterised by free education.
Although widespread protests died down after President Jacob Zuma on Friday announced a zero-percent increase in tuition fees for 2016, sporadic protests have continued in several universities for the past two days.
The students are demanding that free quality education be offered and institutionalized racism abolished.
Students at the University of North West said they wanted Afrikaans not be used and imposed onto students.
The nationwide protests have continued for two weeks under the slogan “Fees Must Fall”, triggered by university plans to raise tuition fees for 2016, ranging from 10 to 50 percent.
The protests have been marred by violence in many parts of the country, particular on Friday when thousands of students gathered outside the Union Buildings, the seat of government in Pretoria.
Police used tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse students trying to storm the Union Buildings. Seven students have been arrested, police have confirmed.
Emerging from a meeting with university vice-chancellors and leaders of the students, Mr. Zuma announced that there would be a zero percent fee increase next year.
Despite this, many students refused to return to class until their demand for free education is met.
The ruling African National Congress, ANC, has thrown its weight behind the students.
Addressing students in Jeffrey’s Bay in the Eastern Cape Province on Sunday, ANC Secretary-General, Gwede Mantashe, said the demands of the protesting students were valid.
“We must be able to fund free education because it is not a cost but an investment into the future. Students are the future of the country,” Mr. Mantashe said
He said the government has to make choices and will therefore identify areas where they are going to make choices.
But Mr. Mantashe said there should be a time frame for achieving the goal of free education.
He said Mr. Zuma had announced the establishment of a task team to address students’ concerns, including free education and institutionalized racism.
This is a commitment and sends a very strong message, said Mr. Mantashe.
Free education is a promise made by the ANC. In its congress in 2007, the party made a resolution to have free education in seven years. The ANC has been criticized for failing to keep its promise.
Mr. Mantashe said earlier the ANC sympathizes with protesting students, but resources does not permit their demands.
“The ANC has promised free education and it must deliver its promise,” said Mcebo Dlamini, former president of the Students Representative Council in Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg.
Also on Sunday, Parliament’s Higher Education and Training Committee said zero-percent tuition increase was an “essential building block” toward implementing a policy on free higher education for poor and academically deserving students.
Efforts to provide free education have to be fast-tracked, Committee Chairperson, Yvonne Phosa, said.
“We welcome the short-term solution as announced by President Zuma and also acknowledge that for the medium- and long-term, work is continuing in order for a sustainable solution to be found,” Phosa said.
She also noted that providing free tertiary education was a process and not something accomplished overnight.
“It will be in the best interest of this country if this process is fast-tracked,” she said.
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