The Higher Education National Convention was postponed indefinitely by the National Education Crisis Forum after students disrupted proceedings and would not allow the Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande to address the crowd.
The National Education Crisis Forum is a civil society platform aiming at finding long-term solutions in the education sector. The convention was set to take place over two days to engage on numerous propositions on free education and a peaceful resolution of the higher education crisis.
Communications director of the Nelson Mandela Foundation Luzuko Koti said the conveners could not meet on Sunday to discuss a way forward as planned due to availability issues but would make arrangements to meet later in the week.
“The forum still exists and will continue the dialogue,” said Koti.
The forum was convened by former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke and nine co-conveners from various backgrounds including partners such as the Higher Education Parents Dialogue and the South African Council of Churches. Interested parties in the sector include the government, business community, student formations, university leadership and staff as well as civil society formations.
The convention was abruptly put on hold on Saturday when Nzimande and vice-chancellors were heckled by a group of students at the convention.
Moseneke and his co-conveners addressed the remaining delegates and ended up calling off the session on Saturday afternoon.
“We had convened to listen to each other and to have a full, complete festival of ideas around the issues that you have raised and the struggles you have fought. [The convention] can no longer be meaningfully held,” said Moseneke.
The students said they were facing registration problems and an accommodation crisis across the country but Nzimande wanted to engage in “intellectual masturbation” at the meeting. The student body was angry that they had submitted proposals on free education at previous public forums but were still having the same conversation three years later.
EFF student command spokeswoman Naledi Chirwa said they had refused to give the minister the platform to address the convention as they knew that it would be bureaucratic and he had nothing new to bring to the conversation on free higher education.
Chirwa said the convention was a platform for the minister and his friends to try legitimising their guilty conscience that was “catching up with them”.
Nzimande was lambasted for agreeing with the students in principle that education should be free but presiding over student arrests…
Nzimande was lambasted for agreeing with the students in principle that education should be free but presiding over student arrests while advocates of the cause were expelled under his watch. “Remember Blade told vice-chancellors to deal with these hooligans decisively,” said Chirwa.
Among those heckled were the vice-chancellors of the various universities including vice-chancellor of Wits University Adam Habib, standing in for Universities SA CE Professor Ahmed Bawa to give a presentation.
Bawa admitted they knew the process would not lead to permanent solutions but added they thought it would provide an opportunity to start addressing issues.
“It [the cancellation] does set us back because we had placed a lot of hope in the process giving rise to something tangible,” said Bawa.
Prior to events proceeding at the convention the students had warned authorities if the engagement would not be about putting feedback on the table and explaining to students what they had done in the past two years to answer their call for free education.
“What is the fees commission for?” asked Chirwa. “If they don’t have solutions then why did they make the gathering happen?”
Michelle Gumede is an education and health writer at Business Day and Financial Mail news publications.
This article appeared in businesslive.co.za on 19 March 2017