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Gwede Mantashe: “If I was the Minister, I’d close universities for six months.”

What is it about South Africa that it always needs to learn the hard way? Bad decisions always have consequences. Mostly these appear after a period of gestation. So it has been with the current crisis around university fees. Last year when students protested about a proposed fee increase, President Jacob Zuma folded like a cheap suit. Not surprisingly, the emboldened activists are raising the bar – introducing a new rallying cry of free education to replace the #feesmustfall. The ruling party’s secretary general Gwede Mantashe now says he would wield a big stick, close universities for six months and residences for a whole year to teach students “the importance of higher education.” Trouble is, this is a problem of his own Top Six’s making. And his radical approach will punish the silent majority for the sins of a few. Cool heads are what is needed now. Not those who see escalation into chaos as the solution. South Africa deserves better leadership. – Alec Hogg

By Liezel Hill and Renee Bonorchis

(Bloomberg) — South African universities suspended classes and closed campuses as police clashed with students protesting tuition fee increases and demanding free education.

African National Congress (ANC) Secretary General Gwede Mantashe. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
African National Congress (ANC) Secretary General Gwede Mantashe. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where police fired tear gas at stone-throwing students on Tuesday, halted all activities for the rest of the week, it said in a statement. The University of Cape Town suspended classes, lectures and tutorials on Tuesday and Wednesday, while the University of the Free State closed its campuses until Friday. The University of Pretoria said Wednesday its main campus is closed. The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, has shut for two days.

Student demonstrations erupted on Monday after Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said the government will allow universities to determine fee changes for the 2017 academic year, while recommending that increases be capped at 8 percent. The government is subsidizing fees for poorer households, meaning any rises won’t apply to them. President Jacob Zuma last year put fee increases for 2016 on hold following weeks of student protests, and in January established a committee to evaluate the viability of free education.

Read also: The real tragedy behind “student riots” – we all lose, but Africa the most

Students were injured after police fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at Wits, as the Johannesburg university is known, the Student Representative Council said in postings on Twitter on Wednesday. ER24 was treating several students injured in the protest, the medical emergency care provider said in a separate post.

Nzimande’s decision on fees was correct and the government should close universities for a prolonged period until the student demonstrations end, Gwede Mantashe, the secretary-general of the ruling African National Congress, told reporters in Cape Town on Wednesday.

“If I was the minister of Higher Education, I would close the universities for six months and then keep the residences closed for a further six months until the students realize the importance of higher education,” he said. “You must first deepen the crisis before solving it.”

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