Pretoria – Good leadership, trustworthy people and fostering confidence in the system could have prevented the spate of student protests that have gripped the higher education sector.
Evidence that leaders everywhere were on their side would have given students reason to sit down and engage on the issues, political activist and chancellor of the Tshwane University of Technology Dr Gwen Ramokgopa said on Wednesday.
“They did not have to go out and protest. If they had known that everyone was on their side; that no one wanted them to be financially excluded, they would not have protested in the way they did,” she said.
Students had no hope in dialogue and thought they would not be heard unless they took the violent route, she exclusively told the Pretoria News.
She said leaders had to come out and create an environment of trust; they should have demonstrated their solidarity with students.
“Substantial steps have to be made to break the impasse,” she said, adding that many students had already discovered that they were in the situation together with government and other leaders.
Ramokgopa spoke after TUT announced the suspension of seven students for engaging in violent disruptions earlier this week.
They had violated a court interdict granted by the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, in October, banning students from protesting and disrupting activities on any of the university’s campuses.
The students had been among the many across the country protesting against university fees as part of the #FeesMustFall campaign.
Students began protesting since September when Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande announced approval for an 8% capped increase in next year’s university fees. However, it was up to the universities to decide how much they would increase their fees, he said.
Violent protests saw buildings damaged, cars burnt and missiles exchanged between students, the police and security companies on campuses across the country.
There were also threats to shut universities down.
“We have this dialectical challenge which we need to manage,” Ramokgopa said. One aspect of it was the transformation of education, both in content and accessibility.
“This while we make sure students acquire knowledge and skills to take themselves forward, and to contribute to the development of the country’s economy,” she said.
But the kind of leadership to drive this would have to get buy-in from students to trust them.
They had to allow themselves and students the space to address the legitimate issues at play, to address the trust deficit and iron out differences.
“We need to engage and continue engaging,” she said. Ramokgopa said the reality was that education could not be free, tax payers and the rich had to pay. The discussions had to be about making it free at the point of delivery: “But otherwise it cannot come free.”
There were big issues to discuss, like graduates getting into the economic stream.
“Students did not need to go out and protest,” she said.
They should have known their leaders were trustworthy enough to communicate with them on the burning issues, added Ramokgopa.
Source: IOL – Crime
TUT chancellor speaks out on #FeesMustFall