South Africa: Church Backs Students as Zuma Caves in to Mass Protests

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma has frozen student tuition fees in response to widespread protests by students angry at the proposed rises of up to 12 per cent.

The surprise announcement followed talks between students and university vice-chancellors.

Zuma made the announcement in a televised address. He said: "Discussions will continue, looking at the broader issues than the fees." Among these, he said, were free education, institutional autonomy, racism, accountability and black debt.

He also said that the vice-chancellors had agreed to extend the time available for examinations to reflect time lost during student protests.

The protests had gained the support of Church leaders in South Africa including the Anglican Primate of Southern Africa, Most Rev Thabo Makgoba, who joined other faith leaders at the University of the Witwatersrand yesterday in a protest. The demonstrations began there before spreading to at least 10 other universities.

The faith leaders said later that the issue was a "national crisis".

"We lament that we have not discerned the signs of the times," they said. "We have failed our students and not heard their voices."

Some protests have involved violence. Police today fired stun grenades and used water cannons against demonstrators.

The faith leaders said: "We lament and strongly condemn the unnecessary use of violence and police brutality against our students and children. We call for the immediate release of all detained under these circumstances."

They continued with a call for equality, saying: "We further lament the exclusion of the poor from our spaces of higher education and learning because of unaffordability. We recognise that the majority of these students are black and this entrenches inequality in our nation and further disadvantages many students.

"Our sacred texts call us to identify with the poor and marginalised. The church and faith leaders therefore have an obligation to stand in solidarity with the students on campuses, their parents and university leadership in the country."

The statement was signed by 43 religious leaders including Dr Zandisile Magxwalisa, Archbishop of the Jerusalem Church in South Africa; Archbishop Jabulani Nxumalo, of the Roman Catholic Church; and the Revd Mukondeleli Ramulondi, of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa.

This article was originally published in Christian Today. 

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