South African universities and students are watching tertiary institutions and social media as the promise of #FeesMustFallReloaded  protests hangs overhead.

Last week, the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training held public hearings with various student organisations, including the South African Union of Students (SAUS), to hear submissions from various stakeholders on free higher education in South Africa.

The Commission was set up by President Jacob Zuma last year after the first student protests to look into the feasibility of free higher education.

Things were off to a rocky start before the hearings had even begun, when, in July President Zuma announced an extension for the Commission to complete its work. The Commission must submit its preliminary report by 15th November this year, rather than by the original deadline of 30th June 2017.

The hearings began unraveling when, after a few days into them, the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania (Pasma) and the EFF Student Command withdrew from the commission before Thursday and Friday, when they were meant to make their submissions respectively.

It has been widely reported that fees are set to increase between 6% and 8% next year, after the Council on Higher Education (CHE) task team, set up by the Department of Higher Education and Training, released its own report last week recommending that fees be increased by 6.3%.

No official fee increment has been announced yet. Last year, Zuma announced increases across all public universities for this year would be scrapped.

SAUS, the largest federation of student governance representation in the country, yesterday said on its Facebook page that it’s disgusted by the report’s delay, adding that this shows a “lack of political will and a deliberate will delay the realisation of free education”.

“We reject the fact that the commission is investigating the feasibility of free education instead of investigating the modalities of how to realise free and quality education…The question should not be whether South Africa can afford free education but can we afford NOT to have free and quality education,” it said.

It added that the setting up of the Commission and CHE task team was a delay tactic and a waste of tax payers money.

“As the Union our stance is very clear: there can be no increment in any student fees until the realization of free and quality education. The zero percent last year was a symbolic commitment to the realisation of free and quality education which is our ultimate goal,” it said.

Mass student consultations and meetings scheduled

SAUS  said it will not be deterred from its “revolutionary mandate” and that today marks the beginning of the process of mass consultations and mass meetings with student representative councils.

“It is important that we consolidate a national list of demands that come directly from our students. We will continue to engage universities, Department of Higher Education and Training, National Treasury, and the private sector to ensure that our students’ best interests are forwarded,” it said.

Earlier this morning, listeners on the John Robbie show in 702 Talk Radio sent messages expressing worry over protests at Wits University today.

Wits Vice Chancellor, Adam Habib however said there has been no protest action witnessed so far.

[Image – CC Wikimedia Commons]