The South African Chamber of Mines agreed to table demands made by Wits University students of the Fees Must Fall campaign on Wednesday, to the Chamber’s council and all its members.
But the Chamber could only commit to moral support for the movement, saying it was unlikely the mining industry could afford to contribute more than it already did to training and education in the country.
Hundreds of students who had shut down the university last week – to protest government’s plan to allow fee increments for 2017 and to demand free education – took to the streets of downtown Johannesburg on Wednesday afternoon, to the Chamber of Mines offices where it handed over a memorandum of demands.
The students wanted the Chamber to lobby for government to increase its contribution towards the running costs of universities to 50%. Sending a message of hope to the students as he addressed the crowd assembled outside the offices on Marshal street, Senior executive at the Chamber , Vusi Mabena told students to give them two weeks to respond to the demands.
But later, speaking to The Citizen, Mabena painted a gloomy picture for the likelihood of free education this year.
“Look the country is in trouble generally in terms of the economy and I can imagine that there are many children out there from indigent families who are struggling to raise funds to pay university fees, he said, adding that students needed to be more realistic.
“I think to be practical and realist realistic. I don’t think we can have free education tomorrow as the students are demanding.”
He added that the private sector needed to continue to work hard to support education for students who ‘deserved’ to have access to free education.
Also addressing the crowd was Fees Must Fall leader and former Wits SRC leader Mcebo Dlamini who sent out a warning to the mining industry.
“If chamber is not taking our grievances we will lobby unions. We will lobby AMCU to shut down the mines. We will ask our comrades in the mines to join the protest for free education.”
Asked if the students had the Chamber’s moral support to continue fighting for free education, Mabena replied ‘Yes, definitely’.