South African President Engages in an Open Dialogue with Striking Students

The President of the Republic of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, met, in Cape Town, with striking university students on Friday, October 23, 2015. This meeting took place at the height of a strike action that has been going on for many days in the Union Building, which up until recently had housed the South African Parliament based in Cape Town. The protest has been peaceful for the most part, and in spite of some violence that students have engaged in, such as burning things down, no deaths have been recorded. The police have also exercised restraint and have managed violent actions with tear gas and firing rubber bullets in the air.

The university students have been on the street in protest of plans by the government to increase tuition fees in South African State Universities. Students believe that a tuition increase will limit the access of higher education to the rich, which is reminiscent of what used to take place during the days of the Apartheid.

Over the course of the meeting with the leaders of this strike action, President Zuma announced that the government is dropping plans to increase tuition fees in state-owned universities and that the students will be given more time to prepare for exams.

African universities have been suffering from student unrest, which has resulted in thousands of students choosing to pursue a higher education at schools outside of the continent. For example, Nigeria, which has one of the best universities on the continent has been a fertile ground for student strikes, especially during the 1980s and 1990s. This has also been the case in Cameroon, where strikes took placed in the 1980s, 1990s, and more recently in 2005, 2006, and 2013, which left many dead, scores of students wounded, and some were raped. In most of these cases, rather than communicating with protestors, excessive force is used by combat-ready officers. As such, the move by the President of South Africa to not move ahead with plans to increase tuition in state-owned universities is highly appreciated. His actions demonstrate that he has chosen to have an open dialogue with protestors, which is less costly and lengthy, as opposed to unleashing the full force of combat-ready officers that would likely lead to injuries and deaths.

Moreover, university students have often been a part of unrest around the world. In the particular case of students in Cape Town, university students should not be overlooked because they carry the future of their society in their hands and heads, especially as they are made up of people from all backgrounds, affiliations, and points of views. With that said, a country is not stable or at peace because it does not have problems, conflicts or differences. Instead, there will always be divergent points of views and incompatible goals. However, what makes the difference is how these problems are managed, and having an open dialogue about these issues is one of the best ways to manage such differences.