Pretoria – The Department of Higher Education and Training has welcomed the resumption of classes in some of the universities across the country, although not all classes are up and running fully.
Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande has urged all stakeholders to work tirelessly to save this year’s academic programme.
“We are grateful for all efforts by stakeholders who have been engaging in a number of campuses. As we have said before, access to higher education, especially for the poor, is a societal problem. The only way to salvage the situation is commitment to dialogue.
“Government remains committed to provide no fee and free education to the poor, however this must be subjected to a process, as led by the Presidential Commission chaired by Justice Jonathan Heher,” said Minister Nzimande.
The department has been working with a number of institutions and stakeholders to try to find innovative ways for the resumption of the 2016 academic programme.
These engagements have, according to the department, proven to be fruitful with some campuses still experiencing protests including intimidation and violence.
Minister Nzimande condemned the violence and destruction of property and looting, emanating from protests at the University of Witwatersrand, which has extended to the City of Johannesburg.
“The horrific scenes of a bus being torched and the looting of shops in the city is a clear demonstration that criminality has infiltrated student’s genuine demands. This kind of behaviour only serves to undermine the legitimate call by students for free education for the poor,” said the department.
It said it has noted some comments in the media which suggest government is wrong to deploy police on campuses.
“Government wishes to place on record that police deployments were necessitated by violent protests and the rampant destruction of property.”
The Minister expressed concerns following the torching of a building at the Cape Town University of Technology. It is believed students locked two security guards inside a building and set it alight.
“This barbaric behaviour and some we have witnessed in some campuses is unacceptable and should be rejected by society,” said the department.
Minister Nzimande said government would not like to see students learning under conditions where a police officer is placed at the door of a classroom or police roaming around campuses.
“Campuses are places of learning not for policing, similarly not for violence, intimidation and destruction of property. The police are there to protect the rights of protesting students and non-protesting students who want to go back to class and continue learning,” said Minister Nzimande.
The department has been receiving reports from a number of universities across the country and continues to monitor the situation.
“We call on all students and vice chancellors to prioritise dialogue with students that will see the total reinstatement of the academic programme and culture of learning returning on our campuses.”
The Minister welcomed the Ministerial Task Team appointed by President Jacob Zuma to assist in efforts to address the challenges on campuses.
The Minister and the department will work together with the task team and all stakeholders to ensure everything is done to save the 2016 academic programme.