SSM: Protest For Free Education on 8 September 2008

SSM has supported every Abahlali march from the beginning. SSM has been beaten, tear-gassed and shot at with Abahlali. Abahlali fully supports the demand of SSM that education not be run as a business and that all education should be free. Education should be a right for every person and not the privilege of the rich. Abahlali will be supporting this protest by SSM. Abahlali salutes SSM, who are students inside the university, for supporting the right of people outside to education.


The Socialist Student Movement (SSM) is making a call to action for free education against the background of a year of protests at institutions of higher learning, culminating at the closure and beginning of the academic year. Financial exclusions, triggered by exorbitant annual fee increments, academic exclusions, shortages of accommodation, of resources necessary for learning and teaching and of qualified educators have pushed students into battles where they have been faced with brutal state repression, with shootings at for example Wits and the University of Johannesburg.

The wave of protests has highlighted the reality of exclusion that goes through the entire education system. At tertiary level, thousands of, mainly black, working class students every year face financial and academic exclusion. The Education Minister, Naledi Pandor, recently expressed concern at the number of students who drop out before they graduate. But in addition, the greatest exclusion is of those who never enter the universities’ gates: many of those who finish matric are denied entrance to higher education and fill the ranks of South Africa’s eight million-strong unemployed ‘reserve army’ of labour; for a number of reasons, including the unaffordability of fees and the pressing needs of mere survival but also the stringent entrance requirements – introduced by the now ‘corporatised’ higher education institutions as a ‘cost reduction’ measure. But moreover, less than half of school learners make it through to their matric year.

In spite of many promises by the government and the ruling party, including the unfulfilled promise to put an end to learning under trees by 2006 – many schools, not least the 14 000 so-called ‘no fee schools’ that are supposed to constitute 40 percent of the country’s schools, still lack the necessary material and human resources for meaningful learning. In KwaZulu-Natal alone, there is a shortage of 10 000 classrooms and about 700 schools are without water and proper sports facilities, amongst other things. To upgrade these basics R30 billion is required, while the department has a budget of just R1, 2 billion for the financial year 2008/2009.

While the Constitution guarantees everyone the right to education, the reality is that education has become a commodity. The best education available costs the most. In the backdrop of the problems, undermining the right to learn, faced by public institutions, those parents who can afford to opt for private education, an element of which exists also within the state’s schools as wealthier parents add school fees to fund extra teachers, equipment etc. The result is the steady deterioration of matric results, down to a 65.2% pass rate last year from 66.5% in 2006, to which the government’s main response is the conscious dilution of the quality of passes.

While not providing specifics, the Zuma-led ANC has also acknowledged the situation needs urgent intervention. In its traditional January 8 statement, the new NEC makes fresh promises regarding ‘free education’ – calling for 60 percent of schools to be declared ‘no fee schools’ by 2009. Some student and youth organisations aligned to the ruling ANC-led Tripartite Alliance have also called for ‘free education’. Again, no details as to how this will be achieved are given.

In the context outlined above, the ANC’s ‘no fee’-version of ‘free education’ (on which the government spends about R3 billion a year) amounts to mere consolidation of the class divide in education, with the children of the poor confined to impossible conditions of learning and a preparation more for unemployment, violence and humiliation than skilled participation in economy and society. The no fee schools experience huge problems of even worse poverty than before. This policy is part of the government’s attempts to dish out alms to the poor with the left hand to cushion the effects of the right hand’s facilitation of big business’ extraction of wealth. Real free education has to be for all, with the same high quality for all!

The Socialist Student Movement therefore reiterates its call for decent free education for all and proposes to all genuine, struggling, organisations of students, youth, our parents in workers- and community organisations, the mobilisation for a national Day of Action for Free Education on September 8, 2008 which is World Literacy Day. Trying to make links with workers, whose rights to decent working conditions and a living wage are also being eroded, will be crucial. The SSM is joined in this initiative by the Democratic Socialist Movement.

Contrary to what the government wants us to believe, the failure to provide decent, free education is not due to unavailability of resources, per se, but the misdirection of the available resources. The government itself is with religious zeal implementing market-orthodox policies while heavily subsidising business through for example special below-cost electricity prices, projects such as the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Gautrain, the corrupt arms deal and the environmentally destructive Coega Development Project. The funds poured onto such projects could go a long way in eradicating the problems in the education system as well as in wider society, not to mention the scandalous budget surpluses which Trevor Manuel aims to keep running until 2010 at the least.
But moreover, the vast majority of SA’s wealth is not even touched by government but pocketed by private individuals. For example, Anglo American, which is said to own about 70 percent of the SA economy, announced a profit of R59 billion for 2007, two thirds of which it claims to draw from its operations in this country. BHP Billiton made a R6 billion-profit. This is built on the exploitation and marginalisation of workers and working class people just as SA capital was historically built on the blood and sweat of mineworkers, the starvation of their families in ‘reserves’ and ‘homelands’ and the explicit racist and sexist structures permeating all of society. Apartheid may be gone, but the economic dictatorship of (still overwhelmingly white) capital is doing better than ever.
A mass-based campaign for free education is needed to take up the fight for these resources that could sustain free education and other basic services such as health care, housing, water and electricity. We hope that you will join us in this campaign. The picketing would be stage outside the City Hall Library upon Anton Lembede Street ( Smith Street) commencing at 12h00 ends at 14h00.

For more information contact:
Percy Ngonyama 084 4580184 (SRC Member Howard College UKZN)
Bongani Nzama 084 8047516 or e-mail