Are fee protests politically motivated?

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Windhoek

Fear of retribution is said to have gripped the country’s various youth organisations amidst speculation that the current protests over student registration fees at the country’s two State-owned universities are linked to a clandestine political campaign within the governing Swapo Party.

Active youth organisations, such as the Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL) and the National Youth Council, have been notable absentees at student-led protests at the University of Namibia (Unam) and the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST).

Unam and NUST could lose a combined N$250 million in registration fees this year if government caves in to demands by the Namibian National Students Organisation (Nanso) – supported by some members of student representative councils of the two universities.

Students currently owe both universities over N$100 million in outstanding fees.
Youth leagues of different opposition parties have shown solidarity with student protests, but not organisations affiliated to Swapo and the government.

New Era has learnt that SPYL and NYC decided to distance themselves from the student protests, because they are deemed “anti-government” and because they are spearheaded by SPYL antagonists.

Nanso secretary general Dimbulukeni Nauyoma, who has been the cheerleader of the protests, was expelled from Swapo last year. He, together with Job Amupanda and George Kambala, are founders of the Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement, which advocates for increased access to urban land.

The three men, together with then SPYL secretary Elijah Ngurare, were booted out of the Swapo Party in June last year. The quartet is now challenging their expulsion in the courts, with proceedings expected to start in the High Court next week.

The push for the abolition of student fees is seen by some as an attempt to frustrate the current Swapo leadership – or even to discredit it.

NYC, the country’s biggest youth organisation, has not publicly supported the fee protests championed by one of its biggest affiliates: Nanso. Many in the current Nanso leadership – a group of radical students – are deemed outcasts in the ruling party, because of their perceived populist views.

SPYL acting secretary Veikko Nekundi and NYC representative council chairperson Neville Andre were present at the protests at NUST last week, but were said to support the university’s position instead of the plight of the students. NUST students shouted angrily at the two youth leaders last week, labelling them “traitors”.

Nauyoma yesterday laughed off claims that the protests he is leading are a covert political plot. “Politicians must concern themselves with political issues. Some of us do not even belong to political parties,” he said.

“Students have their own rights and needs and that is what we are fighting for. Our stance is on education. It has nothing to do with internal Swapo squabbles.”

Nekundi, however, believes there are politics at play in these protests.
He said the fact that government is willing to engage the aggrieved students is a clear sign that it is willing to listen; hence there is no need for protests.

“If government and the universities were not willing to listen, then perhaps one could understand why they are protesting. There is no need for the students to take the law into their own hands,” said the youthful parliamentarian.

Nekundi took some shine away from Nanso, saying it was the SPYL and NYC that brokered the NUST deal last week, which led to a compromise on the payment of registration fees.

“Problems cannot be solved in front of the gate. Proper meetings must be convened to find solutions to problems. After our meeting with the minister (of higher education) and NUST, [Vice Chancellor Tjama] Tjivikua presented the outcome of what we (NYC and SPYL) have brokered,” Nekundi said.

He also said it is SPYL’s stance that students should not be stopped from accessing education because they cannot afford the fees.

Swapo is set to hold its elective congress next year and political analysts predict intense maneuvering ahead of that event, where the party’s leadership will be elected for five years. Party cadres are of the opinion that any type of action in the period leading up to the congress will be closely monitored to dispel any destructive forces.

“One does not really know whether it is students fighting for a genuine cause, or whether someone with a political agenda is pushing them?” a party insider said yesterday.

Nekundi

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