Water bottles and chairs were used as missiles when opposing student formations clashed, forcing organisers to call off the Higher Education National Convention in Midrand, Johannesburg, yesterday.
The convention, scheduled to take place yesterday and today, was organised by the National Education Crisis Forum.
In what organisers described as a successful mediation process at various universities, the convention in Midrand was expected to take engagements further to produce blueprint resolutions on free education that would be submitted to government.
Student leadership from the Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFFSC) and those aligned to the ANC – the South African Student Congress, the Young Communist League and the ANC Youth League, also known as the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) – clashed over who was going to be allowed to speak.
Former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke was upset when he announced that a decision to cancel the convention was made by the co-conveners following the violent disruptions.
Moseneke said organisers would regroup at a later stage and plan a way forward.
“This convention is postponed to ensure everyone’s safety,” Moseneke said.
He decried an opportunity lost to engage with stakeholders, saying a lot of resources were injected to ensure that the convention was successful.
High-profile people, including higher education director-general Gwebinkundla Qonde, Statistician-General Pali Lehohla, co-convenors Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, Professor Pitika Ntuli, Professor Mary Metcalfe and former cabinet minister Jay Naidoo, were also in attendance.
From the onset, students from the #FeesMustFall movement protested over the inclusion of the AfriForum Youth in the programme.
They said that AfriForum was not involved in the heated #FeesMustFall protests.
AfriForum eventually left convention.
Later, another disruption ensued when a #FeesMustFall leader, Busisiwe Seabe, took to the podium.
PYA members questioned who Seabe was and the trouble began.
Members of the EFFSC and the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania questioned the struggle credentials of Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande.
Disruptions continued to mar the convention as Wits University vice-chancellor Professor Adam Habib, who was scheduled to deliver a speech on behalf of university vice-chancellors, was disrupted by the EFFSC.
The EFFSC complained that it was agreed that vice-chancellors would be excluded from having an input.
Habib subsequently exited the venue.
By the time Nzimande go to the podium, disruptions were almost constant. The EFFSC interrupted him and then the convention deteriorated into chaos.
One student leader from PYA told City Press: “The likelihood is that this fight will now go to campuses. It’s going to happen there.”
Earlier, Seabe warned that if the convention failed to come up with resolutions to ensure free education was implemented, students were ready to resume their protests.
“We will continue to be militant but not violent,” she said.