Genuine concerns regarding high tertiary education fees are hijacked for wrong ends, South African President Jacob Zuma said on Tuesday.
This is worrying, Zuma said in his address to the country’s annual Heads of Mission Conference held in Pretoria.
He was referring to widespread student protests over fee increases that have gripped major universities over the past few weeks. The protests, violent at times, have forced some universities to suspend academic activities.
“We have to ensure that universities complete the 2016 academic program, while we are still finding medium to long-term solutions,” Zuma said.
He said the Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe, is leading efforts to support the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande and universities to support students who want to write exams and ensure that the academic year is not lost.
“The police will also continue to ensure that those who use genuine grievances to promote criminal acts are arrested and face the full might of the law,” he added.
“We are sympathetic to the message from the students because we share the understanding of the need to ensure that children of the poor and the working class obtain higher education,” said Zuma.
The president said South Africa is making progress in promoting free education.
“For example, 80 percent of our schools are no-fee schools and the children of the poor and the working class do not pay fees,” said the president.
The expansion of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme is part of efforts of ensuring that more children of the poor and the working class attend universities, according to Zuma.
The government gave the green light in late September to universities to raise fees, provided that it does not exceed eight percent. The move sparked a new wave of student protests.
To look at long-term funding and support for higher education, Zuma has established a judicial commission of inquiry.
“We urge all who have an interest in finding a solution to make presentations to the commission,” Zuma said.