President Cyril Ramaphosa has expressed concern at the acts of violence and intimidation at several universities in South Africa, and called for calm. Universities in KwaZulu-Natal were forced to shut down this week after violent protests by students, while sporadic demonstrations flared up at the University of Johannesburg and the University of the Witwatersrand in Gauteng.
The protests were over a range of issues, including alleged academic exclusion on the basis of registration fees and delays from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) in finalising funding applications for students. Another demand was that students with historical debt be allowed to register, regardless of whether they pay 50 percent of the amount owed, as required by most universities.
Last night, 07 February 2019, while delivering the 25th annual State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Parliament, Cape Town, President Ramaphosa raised concern at the violent protests that occurred at several universities.
"We are concerned about developments on some campuses this week, especially reports of violence and intimidation. Of particular concern, is the tragic death of Mlungisi Madonsela, a student at the Durban University of Technology," the president said, also extending his deepest condolences to his family.
"We call on law enforcement agencies to thoroughly investigate the incident, and for a speedy resolution of the problems. We call on student representatives and university authorities to work together to find solutions to the challenges that students are facing," he said.
President Ramaphosa said the government will prioritise the strengthening of the capacity of NSFAS to avoid delays in the financing of qualifying students. "Stabilising the business processes of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme will also be a priority in the coming year, so that it is properly capacitated to carry out its critical role in supporting eligible students."
Earlier this week, Minister of Higher Education and Training Naledi Pandor appealed to protesting students to resist calls to shut down universities, and warned that such actions would have detrimental results to students. "It will severely affect the academic year, resulting in many not being able to finish their degrees on time, if ever. I urge student all student organisations to focus on real student concerns and to make every effort to resolve problems without impacting on the academic programme," Minister Pandor said.
Last year, the government introduced free higher education for qualifying first year students. The scheme is being phased in over a five year period until all undergraduate students who qualify in terms of the criteria can benefit.