Student riots force university fee freeze

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Student riots  – our future leaders?

Responses from leadership positions:

  • President Zuma did not comment on the violent scenes that played out on the lawns of the Union Buildings while he was discussing the impasse inside. “Government understands the difficulties faced by students from poor households and all those affected,” Mr Zuma said.
  • UCT vice-chancellor Max Price said: “While I believe the interdict (issued) on Monday was an appropriate and necessary action to take at that time, it has been misunderstood to be a charge against individuals and organisations, whereas it is in fact only a requirement that people act lawfully. … It has also become encumbered with connotations of brutality and police action. This was certainly not intended, as its purpose was to protect the rights of those writing exams and wishing to access the campus.”
  • “Students are rightfully angry about university affordability. They expressed concern about how the South African Police Service has dealt with protests. The police ombudsman investigation is an opportunity for students to come forward with their complaints. …The community safety department also has … teams monitoring all court cases involving student protesters,” Ms Zille said in a statement.
  • Adam Habib said: “It would not compromise the books of the university, it would not (push) the institutions into financial problems. I think the government responded appropriately in this regard.”

What are the implications?

  • President Jacob Zuma announced that there will be no university fee increase for 2016. Wonderful! His election strategies are excellent. The student vote is guaranteed.
  • Students have succeeded in forcing the government and universities to agree to a moratorium on fee increases for the next year after shutting down universities and protesting for more than a week.
  • A wide-ranging process will continue to deal with issues raised by students, a.o. transformation and living conditions in university residences.
  • Universities SA chairman and University of the Witwaterstrand Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib unequivocally said the impasse over fees would not compromise the financial viability of the institutions. Good to know! So the universities CAN work smarter with money. The students were right in assuming that fees are needlessly high in spite of government cutting subsidies.
  • The exam period will be extended to allow students to catch up and prepare.
  • University of the Western Cape (UWC) students are planning a march on Cape Town International Airport as part of anti-fee hike campaign, saying the campaign for “free education is just beginning”.
  • Earlier on Friday Western Cape Premier Helen Zille was escorted from a student protest at Stellenbosch University. Protesting students reportedly turned on her and shouted: “V*****k, you aren’t here for us! Leave!” The premier was quickly whisked away in a police van.

Lessons learnt

If one disrupts, destroys, and does damage, one gets rewarded. A culture of protest is firmly entrenched in the psyche of our country. Violence is effective! Although it certainly is time to re-think several issues regarding university education in South Africa, the effectiveness of the protest action may have far-reaching negative consequences alongside positive ones.

This discussion is far from over!


Collapsed Bridge on M1

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Tragedy: Collapsed Bridge on M1

Tangled wreckage of red metal sprawls across Johannesburg’s M1 highway near a busy off-ramp leading to the Sandton financial district where the stock exchange is located, visible to rush-hour traffic. It looks like some macabre installation art, but it horribly real.

Murray & Roberts shares take a tumble

Two people died and 20 people were injured when scaffolding for a bridge collapsed over Johannesburg’s main motorway on Wednesday. The loss of life and the injuries and possible consequences to the injured parties and their loved ones, is a tragedy. The immediate responses to this disaster were, however, indicative of an out-of-kilter society.

Good reactions:

  • Murray & Roberts, the construction company responsible for building the footbridge, will cover the costs of the funerals. Presumably they will also pay compensation to the families of the deceased as well as the injured. A pro-active response is appropriate and just. Senior directors of Murray & Roberts, including its Group CEO Henry Lass, have been on site helping rescue and clearing operations since the incident occurred.
  • To contact the families of those affected and ensure they are being taken care of and to clear the scene so that motorists in Johannesburg are able to commute, are clearly the priorities.
  • The construction and rescue teams have worked tirelessly to restore safety and the use of the road. Sometimes the only redemptive factor during times of distress lies in this kind of commitment and concern. As well, the selfless risk to personal safely and comfort is often not acknowledged. The unsung heroes are often the fire fighter/ rescue / emergency / ambulance / paramedic teams. They deserve our gratitude: Pictures of bombed sites during WW11, earthquakes, 9/11, floods, sea rescue efforts, and many more flash before one’s eyes. They often remain nameless while we all know the sick glamour that attaches to tyrants and gangsters, murderers and dictators, smugglers and fraudsters.
  • The city of Johannesburg is on the scene and involved.
  • Trade union federation Cosatu expressed its shock and sadness over the incident.
  • The Department of Labour was already on the scene on Wednesday night
  • as was Mayor Parks Tau who announced that the City of Johannesburg had appointed independent engineers to conduct an investigation on its behalf.
  • The Engineering Council of South Africa (Ecsa) is expected to investigate the cause of the collapse.
  • Motorists were asked to use park-and-ride facilities that were inaugurated for the Sandton Ecomobility Festival.
  • The City announced that Metrobus services would be increased, fees would be scrapped on the park-and-rides and that Gautrain and Putco busses would be free on certain routes and that JMPD would deploy pointsmen on alternative routes.
  • Uber offered free rides to Gautrain stations on Wednesday night for people stranded as a result of the bridge collapse and free rides to Gautrain station on Thursday morning until 9:00.

Bad reactions:

  • Share price of the construction group Murray & Roberts, the contractor behind the project, are tumbling. Immediately after the incident on Wednesday afternoon the company’s share price dropped sharply by 7.32% to R11.15, leaving it 48.37% lower than a year ago.
  • This comes when trust in the construction industry from government, (the industry’s major client), is at a low level following the earlier 2010 World Cup stadia collusion, and the hearings before the Competition Tribunal.
  • The supplier of the scaffolding deftly and immediately shifted blame. Denial seems a bit callous under the circumstances. Silence would have been less hurtful until investigations have proceeded. Temporary form work is integral to any building project and a more responsible or compassionate response would have been more appropriate.
  • Cosatu demanded a “thorough and transparent investigation” and for “the responsible parties to be held accountable, if any wrongdoing is found.” This reaction seems rather disproportionate. Is it because it is a private company that they feel they must jump up-and-down? The same attention is not focused on disasters perpetrated by government, nor does Cosatu focus on on-going loss of life caused by violence against women and children. Are the two lives lost of more value than others?

Arrive Alive

10‚000 pedestrians used the bridge.

The Ecomobility Festival aims at getting people to use public transport instead of private vehicles. This incident is a sad setback to a valuable cause.

Crisis shows us what we are. This incident draws attention to problems that range from faults in the engineering/constructing industry to the poverty in the humanities.

Let us hope that something of lasting value can be salvaged alongside the practical. All the good stuff that Ubuntu upholds are there, but it is important that we admit our shadow if we are to have real substance.


Ref: BD Live

ANC National General Conference

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Gallagher Convention Centre goes green … and black and yellow

It is only to be expected that the declining membership of the ANC would have been prominent on the agenda. What is interesting from the point of view of party political maturity is that the ‘gate keeping’ accusation which was put forward as a reason for the decline does not precipitate self-examination by the leaders of the leading party. The ability to look reality squarely in the eye and ask “WHY?” is the prerogative of adults, and this was sadly lacking. Blaming our colonial and apartheid past, while legitimate in many cases, is also a distracting technique – a strategy to prevent the electorate from looking at the faults of the current system. Similarly, by blaming ‘factions’ the ANC is a) admitting that wedges exist between groups and b) a way of not taking responsibility. The inability to explore where the party is going wrong speaks of utter complacency. The fact the ANC still wins elections with a huge majority seems to bear out their confidence.

An odd kind of hope

Solidarity was the watchword of black empowerment. The splintering of this unquestioning party loyalty does, however, mean that perhaps the people are beginning to grow up. Small children do not question the parent. They blindly accept as gospel everything authority claims. Maybe as a nation we are at last reaching adolescence, where we are questioning the veracity of certain claims. In a true democracy declining membership is a sign of hope, creating the possibility of a division of power which keeps any government on its toes.


Everybody knows that power corrupts (although one can still be amazed at how quickly it happens) and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. The corruption charges against ANC officials were raised at the conference, and the intention to address it seriously, expressed. However, South Africans can be forgiven for not holding their breaths. The very leaders who blithely say this have never adequately answered for their own behaviour in areas ranging from arms deals to nepotism, and the answers to some difficult questions have long been brushed under the carpet. Free access to information (like crime statistics and actual figures in dodgy contracts), freedom of the press, and a free market system were the tenets much sought after by oppressed people. Just how free these areas are today is difficult to ascertain. Again, the old refrain was trotted out: some version of “apartheid made me do it”. That again sounds childishly like: “I hit my sister because my dad hit my mom, so you can’t punish me… whe-lah-peh-lah … watch me get away with it!” While it may be true on some oblique level, it does not make it justifiable. Neither does the claim that the media spreads lies about the party and therefore should be transformed auger well for freedom of the media. If you sweep your own doorstep you do not have be nasty about the people that notice it is dirty.

An independent judiciary

Another disturbing attitude was the denigrating of opposition parties that use of the courts to sort out issues. Is that not what the courts are for? When the courts are only there to consolidate the position of a one party state, there will be real reasons for concern.

Who will be our next prime minister/ leader of the ANC?

President Jacob Zuma openly said to the media, “Anything under the sun can be debated at this year’s African National Congress (ANC) national general council (NGC) but the succession debate is one the party will not be having.”

What a pity! This topic is foremost in the minds of party and non-party members alike. Mr Zuma’s former wife and chair of the African Union Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was being lobbied by some members of the party as its next leader when his term expires in 2017. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is the other possible candidate to succeed Mr Zuma, but the Marikana debacle has somewhat damaged that line of speculation.

Let us hope that democracy will continue and we shall be allowed the exercise of free choice in our land. In a country slightly north of here that hope has been in vain.



South Africa – good, bad and ugly

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South Africa in the news – the good, the bad and the ugly

So, the Springboks restored our national pride on the weekend, and men’s egos are pumping patriotism! Bafana Bafana has not exactly helped to boost the frail male self-esteem of South Africa’s collective manhood. The lack of self respect that leads to violence against those weaker than ourselves is an illness not confined to our country, but certainly sadly present if we look at our rape and abuse statistics. Although sport has many redemptive aspects, and naturally we are proud of our teams and individuals that excel, it becomes a minefield (instead of a soccer or rugby field) when identities are defined purely by our loyalties.

Misguided loyalty means murder

Former president Thabo Mbeki and the ruling party appointed ministers and officials on the basis of past ANC connections, some sort of protest-family nepotism. Some would say that loyalty is a good thing – but when it blinds us to the truth it is a monster, as the Jackie Selebi debacle (to name but one) bitterly proved.

Nobody held a gun to the heads of the ruling party when they signed the Rome Statute. It was a freely chosen commitment to being part of a democratic world view. Upholding human rights is the cornerstone of our constitution. The International Criminal Court implements ideals that South Africa agreed to, without any constraint upon the will of the signatories. ANC MPs on Parliament’s justice committee welcomed the accession to the Rome Statute. Crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes (recognized internationally) can be dealt with by the ICC if the instruments to deal with it in the countries where these crimes were committed, are lacking. (Rwanda and Bosnia are examples, as is the Pinochet regime.)

And yet …

President Jacob Zuma, in the full knowledge of his Cabinet, colluded to allow the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to escape from Waterkloof Air Force base. By no stretch of the imagination can this be read as an accidental arrangement. This occurred in defiance of agreed to international obligations as well as a domestic court order, after adopting a stance that expressly dealt with justice as regards genocide suspects. By law (not to mention moral code), Bashir was supposed to be arrested in South Africa. This is what a responsible government would have done.

An independent judiciary

The high court has found that the government is in breach of South Africa’s international obligations and a direct court order. Government is appealing the ruling, claiming that visiting heads of state are granted amnesty and that the property where the African Union summit to which Bashir was invited, is the territory of the AU. Ruling party officials argue that our accession to the ICC should be reconsidered, spreading the plebeian argument that the ICC is anti-African. (Most of the convictions made by the court are against Serbian war criminals.) One of the intentions of the international legislation is that criminals cannot find a haven in other countries when they have perpetrated heinous crimes against innocent populations. It is spelled out in the legislation that a “heads of state” defence cannot be used, and neither can officers who executed a manifestly illegal order be exonerated.

13 years later…

The notion of African solidarity has reached the blinker stage under Zuma. It was disturbing enough when Robert Mugabe was front row celebrity at state functions in South Africa, but now we protect an internationally acknowledged criminal, in fact a mass murderer. If this is the price of loyalty, we have utterly lost Nelson Mandela’s ideals of not only a domestic but also a foreign policy based on human rights.