JOHANNESBURG: The South African Council of Churches (SACC) on Tuesday convened a consultative meeting with the student body representatives of the various institutions of higher education from around the country. The meetings’ objective was to engage the student bodies in order to fully understand the challenges faced by their members in the new academic year. The role of the SACC is to broker engagement with the various stakeholders to explore workable solutions on the matter.
The meeting was attended by representatives of the student bodies from Stellenbosh University; Walter Sisulu University; North-West University; University of Limpopo; University of Johannesburg; and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. The invitation to join the meeting was extended to all SRC representatives from all the universities in South Africa, with an offer extended to assist with travel or accommodation, where resources were limited.
Chaired by President of the SACC, Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa, the church emphasized that in order to make intelligent decisions based on facts, there was a need for transparent dialogue with the students. “Today’s session is a listening exercise. We have been ignorant to the full spectrum of challenges faced by the students; however we commit to putting our influence behind the plight to ensure equitable access to education in our country,” said Siwa.
The student representatives were given an opportunity to share their challenges, and spoke with great passion about their experiences socially and academically, mostly based on their economic backgrounds:
- “The Freedom Charter states that the doors of learning should be open for all. We don’t want short-term resolutions.”
- “We need the churches to intervene with our parents. Our parents don’t understand that fees have not really fallen. We can’t be seen to be disrespecting our parents in arguing with them, and we need the church to bring this understanding to our parents, through the church structures.”
- “Why are provinces returning money to government every year, of money not spent on infrastructure development and other causes? This money should be taken and paid to universities to offset the debt of disadvantaged students.”
The general consensus from the students was that a long term solution needs to be found in addressing the issue of social and economic exclusion, which they believe to be no fees for tertiary education. “The church is of the opinion that all stakeholders can work strategically towards a resolution that will allow the universities to remain open, while the broader issues are resolved,” Siwa said