Driving around South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, after midday yesterday was a bit problematic as students from the African National Congress baby, the South African Students Congress (SASCO), closed the city centre in protest for free education. They came out in their thousands from the University of Johannesburg (UJ), the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Limpopo’s Medunsa campus.
The national leg of the organisations has been fighting for free education for a while now, but it seemed as if Friday’s march was dominated by the Medical students from Medunsa as most of the banners on show were from them. The thousands on the capital’s streets wanted a meeting with the minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, but he never pitched sending a representative.
Then as the day progressed the students hijacked a public lecture he was due to give at the Tshwane University of Technology in the afternoon. They arrived late, wanting him to enter the room first and as he was to give his speech and interact with the audience then one or two interrupted by starting a song. Some tried to stop them, but Nzimande gave permission for singing to start and it never stopped.
He tried to calm them down but through music they called him a traitor and said he must go. Even the word “shoot” was heard on some songs and Nzimande was not a happy man as he was escorted out by boardguards, returning a few minutes later with a changed agenda and addressed their grievances.
Medunsa students want management to leave, they demand more accommodation and are pleading for the campus to be an independent university it once was. Nzimande says he has appointed a task team to the university which has done a thorough investigation and the report from them is in his hands and will be studied properly before findings are revealed. The students were not happy with anything the minister had to say eventually he told them he will drop everything whenever they call him to their university.
Nzimande was an angry man when he left to have a cigarette in the foyer. TUT students seemed to have been at their own university to make up the numbers on Friday night.
The Tshwane University of Technology must be worried about students that hijack these monthly public lectures. Last month the country’s health minister had to discipline SASCO members who were shouting at him and called him by his first name. But this shows that this is a thriving democracy where citizens can voice out their grievances and even interact with their politicians about them.