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SAHRC calls on authorities to act with speed to resolve student protests

ATTENTION: Editors and Reporters
22st October 2015

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) notes with concern the growing intensity of student protest at various universities across the country.  Whilst it is clear that the protests point to underlying and systemic factors that require resolution, the Commission is desirous that normality of classes, learning and teaching is restored.  For this reason, the Commission urges all stakeholders to aim to achieve speedy resolution of the issues that give rise to these widespread protests.

The SAHRC is aware of a number of initiatives that preceded the eruption of these protests.  These include the hosting of a Summit on Transformation of Higher Education in Durban, which brought together stakeholders from Government, Civil Society, Chapter 9 Institutions, Academia, Student Unions and Business to consider, amongst other things, mechanisms for improving affordable access to higher learning and fostering greater speed in transforming Higher education.  A central issue that received priority attention at the Summit was how tertiary education could be funded in order to ease the burden of students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Commission is encouraged by some of the concrete recommendations that were presented that, should they be implemented, should go a long way to alleviating the cost of tuition burden currently exacted on students and families.

The Commission was represented at the summit by the Chairperson and the Chief Executive Officer of the South African Human Rights Commission.

The SAHRC is also aware of recent commitments at the highest level of Government to intervene in this matter by convening an appropriate forum for the ventilation and resolution of the very important problem of funding of higher education in South Africa.

For its own part, the SAHRC will shortly be sharing a suite of findings and recommendations arising out of a National Hearing that investigated the factors that either constrain or enhance levels and speed of transformation in Institutions of Higher Learning in the country. This Report will be presented to Parliament as well as stakeholders for implementation.

In view of these efforts, the Commission appeals to student councils and unions to co-operate with ongoing processes and allow these processes to reach fruitful conclusion.  The Commission is confident that the combined outcome of these state-led initiatives on the one hand, and the participation of student and union representative bodies, on the other hand, will result in a desirable and sustainable outcome for all concerned.

In the meantime, the Commission will continue to monitor the situation across the country through our provincial offices. The Commission also avails itself to participate in the mediation of positions of various role players, mandate holders and parties having an interest in this matter.

Issued by the SA Human Rights Commission

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