It's a national crisis, academics tell Nzimande

Lizeka Tandwa,News24

Johannesburg - Hundreds of academics who are in solidarity with protesting students across South African institutions have called the situation that has gripped the nation a crisis that government and vice chancellors need to urgently resolve.

This is in stark contrast with Higher Education Minister Minister Blade Nzimande's statement that the national protests were not a national crisis.

Over 490 local academics have written to Nzimande, Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene and vice chancellors, urging them to make education more accessible to students.

In the letter, appearing on a community advocacy website, academics are standing in opposition to their employers, saying that the inaccessibility of education for poor students was an injustice that needed to be rectified immediately.

The academics strongly condemned the use of violence against students by police and said they had witnessed students acting with "extraordinary discipline, tactical skill and moral purpose".

"This commitment and self-control has gone unseen by many university managers, government leaders and the media who have misrepresented students as uninformed, irresponsible or irrational.

"Protesting students have faced and overcome potentially divisive tensions within their ranks, and have shown maturity in their intellectual arguments and political interventions. Above all, they have required us to confront a grievous national problem.

This in the face of "persistent exclusion of those who are black and poor from higher education, and from the opportunities that higher education makes possible", the statement read.

Academics said they saluted students in their principled call for fully-funded transformative education.

"Students are insisting that a frank national debate be opened on both the funding and orientation of higher education.

"We reiterate the urgency of this debate, and call on our vice chancellors, the Department of Higher Education and Training and National Treasury to understand that creative alternatives are now both urgent and essential.

"We cannot continue as usual. We are no longer in a moment in which we can quibble over percentages.

"We watch, year on year, as public funding of higher education is diminished, effectively turning our universities into semi-private institutions... We call for a radical reinvestment in public universities by all who manage, work and study in them, and we commit ourselves and our work to the creation of a society in which all can thrive," the academics wrote.