(en) South Africa: Students are struggling

News from Workers Solidarity Movement (wsm_news@geocities.com)
Fri, 07 Nov 1997 05:00:13 +0000


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South Africa: Students are struggling

Three years on from the dramatic election win by the ANC in South Africa's first parliamentary elections, the country has been rocked by country-wide student protest against racism, exclusion of the poor, and the government's plans to drastically cut subsidies to the universities and technical colleges. The recently announced budget cuts mean fee increases, fewer bursaries, more financial exclusions and redundancies for staff and workers.

In the last few months students from the University of the North, the University of the North West, Unisa, University of Zulu- land, the University of Fort Hare, Natal Tech and Wits have taken up the battle on their campuses. Students also united on a wider scale when the South African Student Congress (SASCO) successfully held massive marches in Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal against the budget cuts and other issues.

This is not to say that there were no problems with these marches: the Gauteng march called on big business to extend its "charity" to help offset poor State spending, instead of openly criticising the ANC. Many politicians and university administrators stated that they believe students grievances are legitimate. But they showed no compassion to protesters, and acted harshly against them. Four universities were closed. Riot police were called on campuses like University of the North and attacked students.

A few days before the final Budget was announced, the ANC Education Minister Sibusiso Bengu retreated, stating that the budget cuts would not be as drastic as those initially announced in December 1996. Many students viewed Bengu's reduction in the budget cuts as a huge victory for their protests. However despite Bengu's claims that this was an important concession, the new ANC budget figures will still mean a cut in university funding.

Some universities budgets will be cut up to 5%. Bengu argues that it is necessary to cut some of the Historically White Universities' subsidies (HWUs) to redistribute funds to under-funded Historically Black Universities (HBUs). Certain SASCO national leaders agreed with this and cheered the cuts. But Bengu plan is a lie.

If Bengu and the government were really committed to 'redistribution', they would make more money available to those black and working class students that attend the Historically White Universities. If the budgets of these universities is cut, it is these students who will face high residence and education fees. In other words they will be excluded because they cannot pay.

This means that these Universities will remain dominated by white or rich students. No transformation will take place!! If Bengu and the government want to improve the financial situation of the Historically Black Universities why do they insist that these universities pay back crippling debts? Over the last few years HBUs have had to increase their fees, lower their bursaries, and cut back on spending on resources (books and equipment) just to pay back their debts to the government!! To top it all, HBUs like University of the Western Cape are also the targets of budget cuts.

It is clear that Bengu is not committed to the welfare of Black working class students. While he talks of redistribution, he plans to attack both Historically White and Historically Black tertiary education in line with the government's free market "GEAR" policy. Debt repayment and subsidy cuts stand in opposition to transformation in universities and technical schools. They mean fees hikes, fewer bursaries, financial exclusions, cuts in university resources and retrenchment of workers. The effect will be to exclude the black working class youth from higher learning.

This report is taken from the Workers Solidarity (Issue 3-2), the paper of the Workers Solidarity Federation. The WSF can be contacted at PO Box 1717, Rosettenville 2130, South Africa.

From Workers Solidarity No 52 Autumn 1997 (Irish anarchist paper)

Other articles from the same issue are on the web at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/2724/rbrdx.html

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