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“We are Fully Behind the Call for a Free Education as Promised by the Freedom Charter” – Cosatu on #FeesMustFall

Cosatu in CrisisThe Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) issued statements on Monday and Wednesday in which they expressed their ongoing support for the wave of student protests that have taken the country by storm.

The #FeesMustFall movement have had a ripple effect across the campuses of the University of Cape Town, Wits University, Rhodes University, the University of Pretoria, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, the University of Johannesburg, Stellenbosch University, the University of the Western Cape and more, culminating in the #NationalShutDown movement this week where students have been marching to Parliament in Cape Town, Luthuli House in Johannesburg and the Union Buildings in Pretoria to demand action from government.

In the first statement, Cosatu’s national spokesperson Sizwe Pamla says: “We are fully behind the call for a free education as promised by the Freedom Charter.”

For more on the organisation that has played a crucial role in championing democratisation, read Cosatu in Crisis: The Fragmentation of an African Trade Union Federation edited by Vishwas Satgar and Roger Southall.

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We are fully behind the call for a free education as promised by the Freedom Charter. This commodification of education will continue to keep working class children at the bottom end of the economic pyramid.

It is an established fact that higher education is correlated with better employment outcomes and greater labour market participation. For most people a university degree offers an escape from unemployment and grinding poverty. Pricing education out of the reach of most people is suicidal for this country.

Cosatu strongly believe that education should be treated as a societal issue, largely located in the hands of government. The whole concept of institutional autonomy of universities does not work because it disconnects these institutions from the reality of our society.

In the second statement, Pamla reaffirmed Cosatu’s support of free education for all, but cautioned against the flinging of insults against Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande: “Minister Nzimande is not Father Christmas, who will deliver free education, but that is the responsibility of the entire ANC led government.”

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We believe that all stakeholders need to have sober and frank discussions on how to resolve the funding, governance/management crises in specific institutions. We are fully behind the campaign to do away with the commodification of education and the call for fundamental transformation of universities.

Whilst we support this campaign, we want to make it clear that we are opposed to the opportunistic attacks directed at the Minister of Higher Education, Cde Blade Nzimande. The responsibility of delivering free education and fix the apartheid fault lines that have led to the current situation, cannot be left at the door of one individual, who is subject to the decisions of both Treasury and the cabinet.

On Tuesday, Cosatu shared their wishlist for the Mid-Term Budget Policy Statement with News24, which includes their expectations for basic education and higher education and training.

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Higher Education and Training

Whilst government has done excellent work since 1994 in increasing student bursaries from R10m to R10bn, we expect to hear that the administrative chaos in NSFAS is being addressed and that we are moving towards free tertiary education.

The current crisis at our universities shows that students and their families can no longer bear the high prices being forced upon them. Now is the time for a bold and decisive intervention. We also expect Treasury to reclaim the financial reserves that have been privatised by many universities and are sitting in their accounts.

They should be audited by the Attorney General and turned over to National Treasury for funding of academic projects in schools.

Book details

  • Cosatu in Crisis: The Fragmentation of an African Trade Union Federation edited by Vishwas Satgar and Roger Southall
    EAN: 9780992232948
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