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PRETORIA – Students are the worst affected when violent protests erupt leading a trail of destruction, Wits University Vice Chancellor Adam Habib said on Wednesday.

“You do know that there has been acts of violence and arson at our institutions. I think it doesn’t make sense to burn our universities,” Habib told African News Agency (ANA) after making submissions to the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training chaired by Justice Jonathan Arthur Heher in Pretoria.

“When institutions are burnt, the real people who suffer are the students and future generations of students. I think we need to recognise protest, and we will recognise protests but we need to be measured in how we engage in that. We cannot have a situation where people are threatened and arson happens in the universities environment.”

Habib said he was happy because the commission had kicked off it public hearings on Wednesday, allowing stakeholders to give input on the burning issues of escalating tertiary fees in South African universities.

“I’m hopeful that there is going to be a deep set of deliberations and they are going to make a set of recommendations that are required in this regard. I’m happy that this process has started, I would want this process to be concluded because frankly we cannot continue with the instability in the system,” said Habib.

On behalf of Wits, Habib accompanied by colleagues including associate associate professor Dr Hlonipha Mokoena, Professor David Hornsby and Professor Cathi Albertyn said fees have been going up because the government subsidy has been shrinking.

“What we are saying to the commission very clearly is that…the subsidy has been declining over the last 16 years. Precisely because the subsidy has been declining, fees have gone up. You can’t fix the problem if you don’t start at the subsidy, by fixing the subsidy,” said Habib.

Earlier on Wednesday, the South African Union of Students (Saus) hinted at another series of crippling mass protests after making its presentation to the Heher-led commission of inquiry.

“We are very disappointed by the slow pace of the commission and the arrogance portrayed by Judge Heher. We are very disappointed and we are putting it on record that we have the masses of our people behind us and we are going to meet in the streets,” Saus secretary-general Sthembiso Ndlovu told reporters.

“They have told us that for the past six months they have been dealing with logistics. As a union, we are now going to travel the length and breadth of this country, interacting with our students in mass meetings at institutions of higher learning. We will be reporting on what happened here today.”

– African News Agency (ANA)