Echoes of 1998 in the student protests

Time for a new economic policy

“The doors of learning and culture shall be opened.” So states the eighth clause of the ANC’s Freedom Charter, adopted in 1955 and still claimed to be the guiding programme of the governing party. It has again come to the forefront as university students embark on another series of protests about the cost of tertiary education.

They won one round last year when government backed down on increasing university fees. But now the demand has extended to registration fees — and to the whole question of whether fees should apply at all.

The media tends to portray this, and clashes with riot police, as a new development. Yet, for those of us with longer memories, it is largely a case of deja vu, of a repeat of 1998, with a few differences. The major difference is the absence now of obvious official trade union support for the protests, although students have given backing to outsourced campus workers seeking permanent employment, better pay and conditions.

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