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Fees have not fallen - so what now?

Five weeks in and fees have not fallen. They haven't even stumbled. And if you thought that the protests were getting ugly and out of hand, you would be wrong, writes Faith Daniels.

Faith Daniels column

They've gotten worse. Much worse. We're really at a point of no return. And week to week I'm growing increasingly anxious as I watch how students approach these protests, as I listen to those who want to resume lectures and as I consider government's limp response. 

Pictures of bleeding students, raids on campus residences and our young people lining up like criminals - that is our new normal.

Prominent voices have joined the conversation on social media, condemning the militarized response to protests. Yet very few have shown their faces on the campuses or have tried to engage either side. No solutions have been offered either.  

This week Wits Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib was chased out of a church. A church that was the venue for peace talks on the Fees Must Fall protests. A sacred place. The one place where you'd think people would for a couple of moments have enough respect to listen to the speakers, those who might come up with a different view, those who might just offer their version of some sort of accord. 

Adam Habib
Photo: Maryke Vermaak

There has been no change in what government is telling students. It's been made clear that fees can only fall for the poor and the so-called missing middle but not everyone can be exempted. 

But what is government's definition of the rich and those who can afford to pay? How exactly will this be determined? Because, quite honestly, if you live in South Africa today with millions to your name and your child is at university - would you not simply remove him or her? If you had the means to get your child into an undisturbed learning environment, wouldn't you do so? Everyone else is just getting by, I tell you. 

We need the definitions spelled out - and we must be honest about whether it really means that the actual group of people who will have to pay is South Africans who are already indebted. Which really means those who can't move their children, those with no alternative, or perhaps those who have the means and are willing to pay, but believe that the current cause is just.

Student Fees March Union Buildings 1
Photo: Maryke Vermaak

In a few days from now it will be up to Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to share government's plan on where exactly we are going with the fees debacle. This is a man who wasn't even included in the president's initial task team of ministers appointed to deal with the protests crippling our higher education institutions. A man who is fighting his own political battles after being questionably charged with fraud. 

Students have consistently shown across the country that the protests will not subside. The disruptions to lectures will certainly continue. What we need is decisive leadership. Not a government consistently repeating its stance and moving us nowhere. We don't need more talk about how protests are a sign of a vibrant democracy, while the police move in to spray campuses with rubber bullets and teargas. We need leaders to acknowledge that the situation is out of control. So who will take the lead?

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