'where Is Blade?’

By Janice Roberts

Last Friday evening, I watched the ENCA channel in both shock and awe, as Wits Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib and chairperson of the Wits Council, Dr Randall Carolissen sat amongst protesting students in the Senate House concourse of the university.  I was, at some stages, concerned about the safety of Prof Habib and his colleague as the young people seemed extremely angry.  The students had reason to be very, very unhappy: Wits University had decided to increase fees by 10.5% for next year.

On Twitter, several students were asking the question: “Where is Blade?” They were referring, of course, to Dr Emmanuel Bonginkosi Blade Nzimande, our minister of Higher Education and Training, .

I was saddened when a student tweeted it would cost R10 000 just to register at Wits next year. The student said this sum of money was difficult to come up with, as her mother earned only R2 000 a month as a domestic worker.

I, too, began to wonder, “Where is Blade?”

While Prof Habib and Dr Carolissen were listening to the students’ demands, shouldn’t Minister Nzimande have been there too?  Yes, he was at a conference in KZN, but Prof Habib had been at the very same conference.  Like a caring vice-chancellor, Habib had left the conference early in a move to bring about a dialogue with the protesting students.  So where was Blade?

I had to give up watching the protest when ENCA continued with its normal programming.  On Saturday morning, I was relieved to hear that the situation had been diffused at dawn – but not without significant consequences.

It’s not as if Prof Habib wanted the increases.  He told iol.co.za before the protest in Senate House, that students had a legitimate gripe over the fee increase at the institution.

“The increase in fees is onerous and students have a legitimate concern on that but we are caught in a bind. Utility bills have gone up and that means research equipment has also gone up so we are really in a bind,” Habib was quoted as saying.

But the issue of Wits having insufficient funds isn’t Habib’s problem.  What has Nzimande done to acquire more funding for tertiary education – he’s the minister in charge of it, after all?  Very little, I imagine. And why? Well, he knows that there simply isn’t enough money for the youth who want to study at a tertiary level through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

And, as the DA puts it, “universities themselves are also suffering from a funding shortage as their subsidies have declined in real terms over the past 20 years under the ANC government, yet are pushed to take in more students without the proper support to match the increased intake.”

Well why has funding for universities declined?  Easy, it’s because some ANC politicians have had their snouts in the trough ever since the democratically elected government came into power in 1994.  What did the ANC government do with the country’s money once it had settled into parliament?  Yes that’s right, it bought aircraft and submarines.  You’re all familiar with the so-called ‘arms deal’?

In 1999, the ANC government inked a deal to purchase US$4.8 billion worth of weapons.  Never mind the allegations of bribery and corruption around the deal, my question here is:  Did the government really need to spend almost R5 billion on armaments?  After all, arms deal critic Terry Crawford-Browne has already said that the weapons acquired haven’t been used and are becoming derelict. Surely, the arms deal money would have been better spent on both basic and higher education?

The ANC is obviously embarrassed by the latest Wits protest and its outcome.  I just hope that Prof Habib keeps his job.

I have no sympathy whatsoever with the ruling party or Minister Nzimande.  As I write, students at Rhodes, Stellenbosch and the University of Cape Town have begun protests over fees. I hope it dawns on them that they shouldn’t be protesting on campus, but rather at Luthuli House.

And just by the way, a ‘listener’ to Talk Radio 702, reminded us that the Nkandla homestead money could have subsidised 2,200 students for a full year.  Our students aren’t stupid, they know who and what’s to blame for this crisis in higher education.

Finally, has anyone seen Blade?

Read Wits’ statements on the student protest here


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