Rhodes classes on hold again

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The Rhodes Student Representative Council warned this evening that fragmentation of the student body in the call for free education for the poor weakened and compromised the movement.

The Rhodes Student Representative Council warned this evening that fragmentation of the student body in the call for free education for the poor weakened and compromised the movement.

SRC president Gift Sandi also spoke with concern about the deligitimisation of the SRC and the fact that the SRC at Rhodes, along with the elected student governance structures at four other major campuses, had lost control of their constituencies.

The statement, posted on the SRC Facebook page around 9.30pm on Sunday 25 September, followed an apparent about-turn by the University management as it announced this evening to the university community that there will be no formal teaching on the campus tomorrow. 

The activity came two days after the #FeesMustFall grouping boycotted a march by Rhodes University staff and students to the Makana CIty Hall, where Vice Chancellor Sizwe Mabizela was among those who handed over a document calling for free education for the poor.

A post on the Rhodes Asinamali Facebook page explained the boycott: "We condemn the march as a ploy by management to redirect and diffuse student demands – it is a pressure valve release to get students and staff back to class on Monday so that business as usual may commence. 

"Yet business cannot continue as usual. Put simply, students cannot march in support of a management and SRC that want students to pay the same tutition fees as last year. We couldn’t afford fees last year and we won’t be able to afford fees next year."

Meanwhile, mixed messages appear to indicate a turnaround in the official response to the fees protests.

"The formal teaching programme on this campus is suspended for Monday, 26 September 2016. This includes all lectures, tutorials, tests, submissions and practicals. All other operations of the University will be ongoing," read a statement from the University around 8.30pm Sunday 25 September.

The statement appeared to counter an earlier email sent to all students and their parents, warning that if there were further disruptions in the coming week, the University would be forced to close.

The earlier email, titled "Fees 2017" was rejected by the Rhodes Student Representative Council, who described it as condescending.

"If normal activities cannot continue next week, the University will be left with no option but to close and send all students home," read the "Fees 2017" email, issued shortly before midday on Sunday 25 September.

The SRC criticised the statement emailed to all students and parents, saying it had come across as a "threat to deligitimise our call for free education for the poor".

This evening's statement, issued by Rhodes University's Communications and Advancement Division said, "Unfortunately the environment on campus is not yet conducive to an unhindered teaching programme. The suspension of the teaching programme is intended to provide time for engagement with various stakeholders within the University Community."

The first statement emailed to students today stated Rhodes University's position with regard to the call for free education.

"Rhodes University supports the call for free high quality education for the poor. Rhodes University is working tirelessly together with other universities to lobby government for exactly this."

It went on to explain the implications of higher education minister Blade Nzimande's pronouncement on fees earlier this week.
"If your family income is R600 000 or less, you will have no fee increase in 2017, as the state will cover the increase," the statement read.

It then continued, "Continued instability will destroy our higher education system. If normal activities cannot continue next week, the University will be left with no option but to close and send all students home.

"The closure of the University will have dire consequences for the town, for all University staff, and for students themselves who will not be able to complete the academic year."

It ended with the call, "Think hard about your actions! #BeTheLeaders".

Earlier this week, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said that if he were higher education minister, he would close down universities for prolonged periods to teach protesting students a lesson. His comments in response to questions about his position on the fees protests were reported in the Mail and Guardian.

Also today, the DA has called for campuses across the country to be re-opened this week, with the university management, the Department of Higher Education and the police working together to ensure the safety of students and staff.

"This follows reports that many campuses will remain closed, including the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and University of Cape Town, further preventing students from accessing higher education," the DA's Shadow Minister of Higher Education and Training wrote in a statement.

"This situation cannot be allowed to continue. The overwhelming majority of students who want to learn and prepare for exams are having their own rights undermined by the conduct of few individuals, who have no care for the law and the rights of others.

"Keeping our universities open and ensuring the safety of students and staff on campuses does not detract from the legitimate fight for more funding in higher education… This needs to be urgently addressed in the short and long term," Bozzoli said.

The Rhodes University SRC said in this evening's statement that they would use every legal mechanism available in the fight for free education for the poor.

"Education is the most powerful tool to breaking the cycle of poverty and inequality in our society," the statement read. "As such higher education must be budgeted for at the appropriate level by the state to ensure the quality  remains of a high standard.

"The SRC is clear no student should be denied an education based on coming from a financially disadvantaged background."

In their statement the SRC demand that academic staff upload lecture and support material and assert students' right to protest, "however without infringing on the rights of others".

Addressing claims by some other student groupings on the campus that the SRC was colluding with University management, the Rhodes SRC said the intrdict meant that, as the police had told them, they could enter the university campus at their own discretion, without reference to management or students.

"We all have a collective cry and that is for free quality higher education for the poor," the SRC wrote.
"The fragmentation in the student body… weakens the movement and places all of us in a compromised position."

The Rhodes Asinamali group called on students to join the #FeesMustFall Movement "and continue the shutdown until there is a clear commitment on the part of management and government to implement a plan for Free Education as of next year".

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