The Transcontinental PhD seminar for Theology and Religion support student protests in South Africa

This fall, South African students mounted large protests after the government proposed an increase in tuition fees. "This is a struggle for the right to equal education", says professor Trygve Wyller. He collaborates with South African researchers directly affected by the protests.

The delegates of the 4th Transcontinental seminar urges university leadership and political leaders to bring an end to the brutality at South African university campuses.

"Not much attention has so far been paid to this conflict in the Norwegian public and media", professor Wyller says. Last week, he participated at a phd-seminar in Sao Leopoldo, Brazil, together with participants from Union Theological Seminary, New York, USA, Escola Superior de Teologia, Sao Leopoldo, Brazil and our own Faculty in Oslo. Participants from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, were supposed to attend as well, but due to the situation in South Africa all but one had to cancel.

According to BBC News, this is "the biggest student protests to hit the country since apartheid ended in 1994." The scale of the protests has left higher education in South-Africa at a halt this semester. BBC News says that the South-African president has warned that the protests "could threaten to sabotage the country's entire higher education system." So far, the damages to properties amounts to about $44m as the protests turned violent.

Although president Zuma promised to halt the planned rise in fees for 2016 a few days ago, the protests are still going on as broader issues relating to social inequality and corruption now sets the agenda, according to The Telegraph.

Professor Wyller tells us that there still are tensions at the campus of the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in Pietermaritzburg. There is now a permanent police base on campus, and armed police officers and several armed vehicles patrols the campus.

"Staff and students have a feeling of being under siege", Wyller says. "It is near impossible to conduct teaching and research under such conditions, which are far from normal." He also tells us that two teachers have been arrested recently in connection with the protests.

While in Brazil, the participants at PhD-seminar made the following statement:

Statement of solidarity

Students and professors gathered at the 4th Transcontinental PhD seminar for Theology and Religion in Sao Leopoldo, Brazil express solidarity with all students at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (UKZN), South Africa. Due to the violent situation at many South African campuses, the UKZN-delegation found it difficult to participate in this prestigious annual PhD Seminar, which this year was hosted in Brazil.

Their inability to participate due to the ongoing security situation at UKZN campuses represents and is a great loss for the research quality and academic exchange, which are the fundamental building blocks of this seminar. Students and professors from Union Theological Seminary, New York, USA, Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo, Norway and Escola Superior de Teologia, Sao Leopoldo, Brazil are deeply troubled by what is going on in South Africa pertaining to the lack of dialogue with students about their right to education.

Tuition fees reduce students’ access to education, increases the wealth-gap between rich and poor, and responding with increased security represents a threat to democracy and human rights. We have received reports that increasing numbers of students are imprisoned, possibilities for dialogue is denied and that one of our theology colleagues, Dr Clint Le Bruyns was arrested briefly for engaging with students about their concerns.

The delegates of the 4th Transcontinental seminar urges university leadership and political leaders to bring an end to the brutality at South African university campuses.

Oslo/New York/Sao Leopoldo, Oct 27, 2016

On behalf of all seminar participants,

Trygve Wyller  (sign.)

Chair of the group of coordinators

Professor at the Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo, Norway

 

Published Oct. 28, 2016 02:32 PM - Last modified Oct. 28, 2016 02:41 PM