LESSONS REGARDING NATION BUILDING AND SOCIAL COHESION GOVERNMENT LEARNT FROM THE TERTIARY INSTITUTIONS PROTEST ACTIONS
Recent protests at universities have challenged us to not only grapple with the funding of higher education, but have also provided lessons for our efforts to promote social cohesion and nation building.
The right to peaceful protest and to freedom of expression and association are fundamental Constitutional principles that contribute to the promotion of social cohesion.
We will not be able to build a united nation unless all our people have the opportunity to freely express themselves and unless we develop mechanisms to resolve differences.
The struggle for access to higher education for the poor is fundamental to the transformation of our society.
It is for this reason that government has prioritised its achievement, through the establishment by President Jacob Zuma of a judicial commission of inquiry into the feasibility of free higher education and through the massive expansion of state funding for poor students.
Genuine social cohesion is premised on social justice, economic inclusion and equity.
Unless poor people have equal access to educational and other opportunities, then we will never be able to build a cohesive society.
The Fees Must Fall movement therefore has a significant contribution to make to the promotion of social cohesion.
It has the potential to contribute to a fairer society in which the vast economic and social disparities in our country are progressively reduced and eradicated.
There are other lessons that we need to draw from these protests.
The inability of some of the role players to find common ground and resolve their differences demonstrates that we need as a society to improve our capacity to mediate conflict.
We need to ensure that legitimate protest does not degenerate into violence, destruction of property and the disruption of the academic programme.
It is clear that most stakeholders in our universities are committed to the resolution of these issues and to work together with government to address the funding of higher education in a sustainable manner.
We must do everything we can to support the efforts of those who are genuinely and constructively demanding free higher education for the poor.
As government, we are committed to work with all stakeholders to ensure that this objective is achieved and that social cohesion is thereby advanced and deepened.
As Issued by the Presidency, 2nd November 2016