S AFRICA: Bishops Urge Government to Address Issues Raised by Students, Calm Varsity Protests

PRETORIA MARCH 4, 2016 (CISA) – The Justice and Peace Commission of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SABC) has urged the government and university leadership to promote an environment for dialogue with protesting varsity students.

“They have not done enough to promote an environment that enables open and honest dialogue to happen. We call for honest dialogue on the issues raised by the students at various campuses,” the bishops said in a press statement sent to CISA.

“Honest dialogue includes being clear and transparent to the students about the time frames by which the university and the government would address student concerns, including the calls for tuition-free higher education regime. Honest dialogue includes having clear policies about transformation of our universities to end racism and colonial models of being a university,” said Bishop Abel Gabuza chair person of the Justice and Peace Commission.

The bishops expressed concern on the level of violence and vandalism that has accompanied student protests in tertiary institutions. “As Church, we firmly support the campaign of the students to end financial barriers to accessing and completing higher learning and other equity-related concerns.

“The escalation of campus violence and vandalism is however playing into the hands of those who seek to discredit the legitimacy of this important campaign,” said Bishop Gabuza.

The commission has also called on the various political parties to show greater ethical leadership in relation to the current crisis at the tertiary education.

“Political parties are a part of the problem when it comes to campus violence. They can also be a part of the solution. Political parties should make a commitment to refrain from discourses that discourage honest dialogue and fuel campus violence.”

The Commission has also invited the government and university leadership to involve Church leaders in the mediation processes between the students and the universities.

“We call upon the government, university leadership, political parties and Church leaders to sit around the table and address the issues at various academic institutions that are marked with campus violence,” said Bishop Gabuza.

Studies in at least four university campuses have been affected by student protests.  These include the University of Pretoria, the University of Cape Town and the University of the Free State.

South African President Jacob Zuma agreed in October to student demands not to increase fees in 2016 and said that the government would spend more to help poor students meet the cost of higher education.

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