Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) at the University of South Africa (Unisa) on Friday threatened a total shutdown of the institution if the promise of free education "haphazardly announced by President Jacob Zuma" is not rolled out.
"We are here with the locus standi to endeavour to get free education as they promised. Even the Constitution of South Africa and the Freedom Charter speak about education. We are saying we are here, and we are black – that on its own is merit to deserve free, quality and decolonized education," chairperson of the EFF Students Command at Unisa, Ofentse Fanon Moema, said as he spoke to reporters at the closed Sunnyside campus.
"As I speak to you now, we are in engagement with the acting vice chancellor and the registrar [Prof. Michael] Temane, they are here. The students are saying those people must be held accountable. We want free education."
Hundreds of prospective and bona fide Unisa students were milling outside the campus on Friday. Several police officers had sealed off the busy Justice Mahomed Street, adjacent to the campus as impatience and frustration grew amongst the crowd of young people.
"The free education that is being spoken about, to us, is just a narrative being advanced by the media and so forth. In practical, we are here. [On the] first day of the registrations last week on Wednesday, already the university had deployed the bouncers to come and deal with us, to manhandle us, simply because they knew they can’t implement free education at Unisa," said Moema.
He said concerns about students stampeding during walk-in registrations were not a concern at one of the biggest institutions of higher education in the world because the matter had been handled well in previous years.
"Students have been queueing here for application and registration every year. Maybe at other universities, the full-time universities, that is where the stampede issue is a crisis. Last semester, these same students were here, queueing. What they are doing now is not new. The systems works such that even if you apply at home, you must still come here and queue. You must accept the offer to study here in person, at the university," said Moema.
In December, Zuma announced that the South African government would extend fully subsidised free higher education to "poor and working class" youth from 2018.
Government would increase subsidies to universities from 0.68 percent to one percent of GDP over the next five years as recommended by the Heher Commission of Inquiry into higher education and training, the Presidency said in a statement responding to the commission’s recommendations.
Regarding public universities, "as a result of this substantial increase in subsidy to universities there will be no tuition fee increment for students from households earning up to R600,000 a year during the 2018 academic year”, the Presidency said at the time.