Church leaders stand by sons arrested in student fees protests

A live television news report from Wits University in Johannesburg showing Archbishop Thabo Magkoba with Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, as they join 40 other religious leaders supporting students in their #FeesMustFall campaign. (PHOTO: ENCA, Johannesburg,)
Churches speak out on university fee crisis

The Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba and ANC struggle veteran Rev Frank Chikane have both expressed solidarity with their sons, Nyakallo Makgoba and Kgotsi Chikane, who were among a group of students arrested yesterday (Wednesday, October 21) when they attempted to storm Parliament to protest university fees increases.

National church leaders and Cape Town church leaders today also expressed solidarity with the students’ opposition to fee increases (of up to 11%) and called on the Government to urgently resolve funding problems that make higher education unaffordable to many and keep them in poverty.

Archbishop Makgoba this morning joined about 40 other religious leaders in a solidarity protest at Wits University (Wits), Johannesburg, in support of the student-led #FeesMustFall campaign which began at Wits last week and quickly spread across the country. Incidents of violence, vandalism, blockades and disruption of classes were reported from a number of campuses and the scene at Parliament was chaotic yesterday as riot police fired teargas and stun grenades at hundreds of peacefully protesting students who entered the parliamentary precinct through an open gate in an attempt to  disrupt a budget speech by finance minister Nhlanhla Nene. Six of the students arrested at Parliament appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court today charged with trespassing and contravening the Illegal Gathering Act.

Speaking at the solidarity protest at Wits this morning, Archbishop Makgoba called on government to “bail out” students. He also called on government leaders to “refuse pay rises as a symbolic expression of their concern”.

He appealed to “bishops and parishioners in all our dioceses to support students and staff at tertiary institutions‚ and to pray for an amicable resolution to the crisis”.

“I also call on everyone involved in the protests to avoid the use of force‚ and on the police to take action which is strictly proportionate to any threats they may face‚” he said.

“Government leaders should refuse pay rises as a symbolic expression of their concern. And they have bailed out parastatals in trouble; could they not now bail out our students and institutions‚ at least for a year‚ while a lasting solution is sought.

“These are our children‚ as parents we need to act. Thank you for your prayers.”

Rev Chikane told TimesLIVE today that while Kgotsi wasn’t necessarily poor, the campaign was about the millions of poor black South Africans who couldn’t afford university fees.

“He is an extra ordinary thinker,” he said of his son, who is a Public Policy postgraduate student at the University of Cape Town. 

National Church Leaders’ Consultation
National church leaders who gathered in Johannesburg from October 21 to 22 for the annual National Church Leaders’ Consultation (NCLC), issued a special statement on the student fee crisis”.

The statement reads: “We lament that we have not discerned the signs of the times. We have failed our students and not heard their voices.

“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.  

“We further lament the exclusion of the poor from our spaces of higher education because of unaffordability. We recognise that the majority of these students are black and this entrenches inequality in our nation and denies educational opportunity. 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 around the nation. 

“Consequently church and faith leaders have resolved today to visit the WITS campus to symbolically express our solidarity. We are committing ourselves to creating courageous spaces where South Africans are able to listen to one another and to the voice of God. 

“We call on university authorities and government to join us in listening to students and avoiding violent behaviour that shuts down dialogue. Only through deep dialogue, listening and courageous action will we be able to find lasting long-term solutions. 

“We especially call on the government to provide adequate resources to redress the evils of the past and to allow the poor to access tertiary education. We further call on the minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, and the President of the Republic of South Africa to undertake immediate and appropriate measures to address the situation more than they have currently displayed.

“As Church and faith leaders we commit to engage and journey with all concerned with these issues and we will call on other church and faith leaders to do the same at campuses across the country.

“We also assure university executives of our prayers at this time of crisis.”

The signatories to the statement by church and religious leaders are: 

1. Archbishop Dr. Thabo Makgoba – Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Chairperson of the NCLC
2. Archbishop Dr. Zandisile Magxwalisa – Jerusalem Church in South Africa
3. Archbishop Jabulani Nxumalo – Roman Catholic Church
4. Rev. Mukondeleli Ramulondi – Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa
5. The Most Revd Bishop Lunga ka Siboto – Ethiopian Episcopal Church
6. Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa – Methodist Church of Southern Africa / SACC
7. Bishop Nkosekhaya Dikana – Word of Life
8. Bishop Sonwabo Dlula – Reformed Apostolic Mission of South Africa 
9. Prof. Jerry Pillay – World Communion of Reformed Churches
10. Bishop Melumzi Norhushu – Ebenezer Christian Church
11. Dr. Emmanuel Tshilenga – International Church of Pretoria
12. Prof Mary-Anne Plaatjies Van Huffel – Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa 
13. Dr. David Phaladi Tswaedi – Lutheran Communion in Southern Africa
14. Dr. Abraham Hanekom – Commission For Witness
15. Dr. Kobus Gerber – Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa
16. Rev. Lulama Sibeko – Reformed Apostolic Mission of South Africa 
17. Rev. Garrett Möller – Volkskerk van Afrika
18. Dr. Frank Chikane – AFM International / SACC
19. Dr. Renier Koegelenberg – NRASD
20. Dr. Welile Mazamisa – NRASD
21. Rev. Lungile Mpetsheni – Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa
22. Rev. Bonisile Moses Ngcayisa – Presbyterian Church of Africa
23. Dr. Gustav Claassen – Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa
24. Dr. William Van Der Merwe – Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa 
25. Rev. Charmaine Morgan – Methodist Church of Southern Africa
26. Rev. Moss Ntlha – The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa 
27. Rev. Canon Desmond Lambrechts – Anglican Church of Southern Africa
28. Pastor. Hermy Damons – International Federation of Christian Churches 
29. Rev. Senamo Molisiwa – Council of African Instituted Churches
30. Bishop. Horst Muller – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (N-T)
31. Bishop. Isaiah Canny Mpofu – Council of African Instituted Churches
32. Pastor Xola Skosana – Way of Life
33. Mr. Marcus Van Wyk – SACLI
34. Mr. Miles Giljam – SACLI
35. Mr. Henry Jeffreys – Journalist and analyst 
36. Rev. Loyiso Jonga – Baptist Church
37. Rev. Edwin Arrison – Kairos Southern Africa
38. Rev. Miranda Magxwalisa – Jerusalem Church in South Africa
39. Rev. Cornelis Janse van Rensburg – Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa
40. Rev. Cornelis Du Toit – Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa
41. Dr. Sipho Mahokoto – NRASD
42. Dr. Garth Japhet – Heartlines
43. Sheikh Achmat Sedick – Muslim Judicial Council.

Consultation of Christian Churches (Cape Town)
In Cape Town today Consultation of Christian Churches (CCC), a network of some 43 Christian churches, mission organisations and local fraternals in Cape Town added its voice to the growing call for government to re-consider its funding model for tertiary institutions.

The statement says: “The CCC notes as the background to these protests the calls for transformation of the tertiary institutions. This was demonstrated, among others, in the “Rhodes must Fall” Campaign at the University of Cape Town, the language issue at the University of Stellenbosch and the call for the transformation of Rhodes University in Grahamstown.

“The CCC supports the calls for greater access to higher education and supports the students who are currently protesting against the increase of fees at the Universities of Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Fort Hare, Rhodes and Witwatersrand, among others.

“The CCC condemns outright the acts of violence and intimidation that have taken place and supports the right of those students who do not wish to protest the right not to do so. The CCC also condemns the acts of violence that have been perpetrated by certain sectors of the SAPS against students who were protesting peacefully and calls on all parties to act in accordance with the relevant laws.

“The CCC notes that the Freedom Charter, in demanding that “The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall be Opened” states,

  • Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children;
  • Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit

“The CCC echoes the rights enshrined in the Bill Of Rights in the Constitution:


  1. (1) Everyone has the right—

(a)        to a basic education, including adult basic education; and

(b)        to further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.

The CCC hopes that the efforts of the South African Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, who has called a meeting of the representatives of the universities, will yield positive results. It is also hoped that the management of the universities will act swiftly to bring about the desired settlement and stability.

“The CCC expresses its concern at the timing of the protest, as it is close to the time of final examinations and hopes that these actions will not disrupt exams at higher education institutions.”

The CCC statement is signed by its General Secretary, Barry Isaacs.

The African Christian Democratic Party President (ACDP) and Member of Parliament, Rev Kenneth Meshoe, yesterday addressed the fee crisis.

He said that, “Tertiary education in South Africa has become expensive and unaffordable for many students across diverse communities.

“Rather than increasing financial aid for tertiary education, government has been reducing it which is unwise.

“The ACDP therefore calls on government to revise this negative trend and start prioritising the educational needs of future leaders of our country.

“There are other areas in which government can reduce expenses and make more funds available to address the shortcoming of financial aid to university students.

“It is unacceptable that up to R30bn of the state procurement budget is misappropriated annually. Had this wasteful expenditure been addressed, fee increases to university students would not be required.

“The ACDP believes that with the difficult financial situation facing most South African’s, student fees must not be increased and government must find money to meet the shortfall.

“What happened today at Parliament is regrettable. However, we call on students nationwide to be patient and not resort to violent protest, while we appeal to government to make more funding available.”

Compiled from reports in IOL News, Sunday Times Live, ACNS, and press releases.

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