Student protesters from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) walked through the streets of Port Elizabeth yesterday canvassing for moral support from residents. The students, numbering nearly 500 said they also wanted to convey a message to ordinary citizens, parents and others that they were not violent and disruptive, in contrast to the way they have been portrayed in the media.
Led by Nathi Dwayi of #FeesMustFall, the group gathered at the main taxi rank in Govan Mbeki street. Dwayi pleaded with taxi bosses, taxi drivers and commuters that they should join them in solidarity because the issue of fees affects everybody.
“We have decided to come and address you as our parents and ask for your support. We are here to tell you as poor parents that this also affects you. We know you don’t have better jobs so where does the government think you will get the money from? Some of you are struggling to send your children to schools yet the universities are demanding more money. This only affects the lives of the ordinary people while the rich are enjoying,” said Dwayi
Another woman student told the gathering: “This struggle [is not only about] university students. Most parents are struggling to send their children to better schools because of lack of money. What we request from you parents is to stand together and tell the government with one voice that education should be free. The government can afford this.”
Dwayi told Groundup: “We decided to proceed to the CBD knowing that is where most of the working class is found. This also includes the hawkers and the unemployed. All these people use public taxis. They don’t have money to own cars.”
He said they were arranging a big march for Wednesday. “We would like to be joined by … churches, black business people and taxi people. We want to send a clear message to the government that we are poor and cannot afford anymore fee increases.”
Some parents are collecting signatures to petition the university to open or face a court action. Dwayi responded to this by saying the issue of fees is political and not a matter for the courts. “Also ever since the #FeesMustFall protest started, there has never been an incident at NMMU or in town where students broke even a simple glass. We are being portrayed as violent and disruptive when in fact we are peace-loving. What we are demanding is the fulfilment of the right to free education only. We know our government can afford that.”
Taxi drivers and bosses expressed support for the student demand to freeze fee increases. Some told GroundUp said that the continued closure of the university is affecting their income because of the drop in student travel.
Siyabulela Tsoyi, a taxi driver, said “We urge the government to seriously look into the plight of these students. Most of them come from poor families whose parents mostly get minimal salaries, not enough to pay for university education. The continued closure of the university also affects many people who depend on the students for their livelihood.”
He said there are 110 taxis on the NMMU route employing 220 people. “All these people directly depend on the students.”
We were unable to get comment from NMMU, but it has been confirmed that the university is closed until further notice.
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