Despite only making headlines recently, student protests at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) have been going on for almost a month. The events started out as a protest against fee increments, but students at the Pietermaritzburg campus are now also focusing their attention on the way the police have responded to their protests.
On Aug. 10, students began organizing when talks of increasing fees at the university in 2017 by 6 percent began. One student told the Mail & Guardian that a large number of students at the university relied on financial aid and would not be able to return to class in 2017 should there be a fee hike.
By Aug. 15, the university was shut down. The university’s vice-chancellor and principal said that no decision had been made with regard to fee increases for next year.
“The university council has not deliberated on issues relating to fee increments as it awaits a directive from the department of higher education and training. The department, on the other hand, constituted a multi-stakeholder forum to discuss the issue. In a nutshell, no decision on fee increments has been made,” UKZN vice-chancellor Dr. Albert van Jaarsveld said.
After the initial shutdown, the university was re-opened and students returned to class until Aug. 23 when the vice-chancellor released a statement to students saying that all five of UKZN’s campuses would suspend their academic program and the decision was taken in consultation with the SRC, which has been active in the protests.
One student told the Mail & Guardian on Tuesday that the SRC handed a memorandum of demands to management and negotiations had begun to address students’ concerns. But no agreement was reached.
“The SRC was not happy with that but they encouraged us to go back to class so they could continue with the negotiations and we don’t fall back in our school work,” said the second year geography and environmental science student, who wished to protect her identity.
But on Sept. 4, following reports that vice-chancellors at various institutions had agreed to an 8 percent fee hike for 2017, the UKZN Fees Must Fall movement posted a call to students to begin protesting.
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