It is clear that what is happening at Wits – the fee increases, privatisation of residence etc – is part of the ANC government’s plan for the general neo-liberal restructuring of the universities in order to turn them into “market universities” orientated first and foremost towards generating profit. This is a hard fact which both the ANCYL and Sasco students leading the protests have tried studiously to avoid admitting.
In the same way that government’s neo-liberal policies (eg Gear and Asgisa), which say that service delivery must be based on cost recovery and ability to pay, affect primarily the working class and poor, so too does the restructuring at Wits and other universities. The proposed 25% increase in upfront fees, the 500% increase in admin fees for students coming from outside the SADC and increases in residence fees are obviously going to affect poor and working class students the most.
The proposed outsourcing of some residences to the commercial for-profit wing of the State, the Public Investment Corporation, in conjunction with various banks, shows clearly that the intention of the government and Wits management is not to improve the university and quality of education, never mind the access of underprivileged students to higher education, it is about making profit and needs to be resisted.
Since government and Wits started implementing this restructuring by adopting the Wits 2001 plan in 1999 more than 600 support jobs have been outsourced, as a result of which workers’ wages were cut in half, their unions were smashed and their working conditions became extremely harsh. Departments have been closed, posts frozen and there is a continual pressure on lecturers to research and teach more with declining funds. Ongoing fee increases and stricter cost recovery measures such as the proposed increase in upfront payments are affecting students. Indeed, before 2000 upfront payments did not exist at all; by introducing them, management blocked the way into higher education for many poor students, and the barrier has been getting higher ever since. Declining conditions in the residences, increasing prices of food and class sizes, and overcrowded facilities are affecting student’s ability to concentrate, apply themselves and do well in their studies. Coupled with Wits management’s decision to cut bursaries in 2004, working class students are particularly hard hit by fees increases. In contrast, the power, size and power of senior management has increased dramatically throughout this period.
As anarchist communists we support the students’ struggle at Wits not only because it is in the interests of all students to resist the implementation of this restructuring, which turns Wits into a profit-driven enterprise accessible only to those who can afford to go there, an ever-decreasing number, but also because it is an important struggle against the marketisation and commercialisation of higher education in general.
We call on students not to put their faith and hopes in the student leaders, some of whom have been shown to ignore the essential cause of the crisis at Wits because of political party affiliation, but to take matters into their own hands. We urge students to carry on with protest action until all their demands have been met. We encourage students to make their voices and concerns heard by carrying out direct actions, such as occupations, sit-ins and boycotts, rather than by negotiations and appealing to management who, after all, are only implementing the ANC government’s neo-liberal for-profit policies at a local level. In order to be more powerful we urge students to join forces with the support services staff at Wits (cleaning, catering, etc.) who have also been hard hit by the outsourcing of their jobs as part of the neo-liberal restructuring of Wits into a for-profit university. We also encourage students to seek allies amongst the many activists from poor and working class communities who are resisting and fighting back against neo-liberalism, privatisation of services and cut-offs in their communities.
What is happening at Wits is happening all over the country, at every university and in every poor community. The entire economy is undergoing neo-liberal restructuring by central government, the purpose of which is not to make education or service delivery more accessible, but to make sure that it will only be accessible to those who can afford it. This has devastating consequences for millions of the population and must be fought to a standstill before it goes any further.
We support the following demands, and urge students, workers and progressive staff not to give up, not to stop occupying, disrupting and resisting until these demands are met:
- Rather than the increasingly authoritarian style of management under Wits 2001, students and staff should manage their affairs collectively, and be directly involved in that which affects them
- Student fees must be immediately cut, as must the proposed administration and residence fee increases
- Bursaries for the children of both outsourced and non-outsourced support staff must be reinstated immediately
- Financial aid for poor and working class student needs to be increased dramatically
- Wits needs to defend itself from capitalist and neo-liberal influences and against the commercialisation of the university
- Wits must send a strong message to government that it firmly opposes subsidy cuts
- The ongoing outsourcing of support services needs to be halted, and outsourced staff brought back into permanent and secure jobs at Wits
We emphasise again that these demands will not be achieved by negotiating and appealing to Wits management, nor by leaving things in the hands of the student leaders. The only way for this struggle to be successful is for every working class student to become directly involved in the struggle, by participating in direct actions such as occupations, disruptions, sit-ins and the like.
An injury to one is an injury to all!!