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Church in South Africa Expresses Support for “FeesMustFall” Campaign, Extends Sympathy to Wounded Priest

CANAA || By Father Don Bosco Onyalla, Nairobi || 13 October 2016

church in safrica supports student protestsThe Catholic Church in South Africa has, through her leadership, expressed support for the university students’ protest dubbed “#FeesMustFall,” which seeks to address the seeming “inequality of opportunity for poor and competent students to access third level education.”

Students in South African have been protesting in recent weeks demanding free education. This followed the government move to increase university tuition by eight percent in 2017.

“The Catholic Church agrees that the student protest has foundation,” reads the opening sentence of the Bishops’ statement availed to CANAA Wednesday, October 12, signed by Archbishop William Slattery of Pretoria.

In the statement, the Bishops extend sympathy to Jesuit Father Graham Pugin, Parish Priest of Braamfontein, who “was wounded by a direct strike from a rubber bullet to the face while engaged in offering refuge to frightened students.”

The superior of the Jesuits in South Africa, Fr. David Rowan said in a statement that Father Graham has been one of the facilitators, along with other clergy and former student leaders, as a peace broker between students and other stakeholders.

The full statement from Fr. Rowan is available further below

“What the students desire is more equality in access to good education at university level,” the Bishops go on to say but decry the violence nature of the protests saying, “we don’t condone the violence, looting, and vandalizing of property by students and the use of force by police army.”

The Bishops advocate for an amicable solution to the standoff through an open dialogue between students and the government.

“A compromise must be considered as the huge financial demands of university free education cannot be found instantaneously,” the Bishops state.

Here is the full text of the Bishops’ statement

SACBC Statement On #FeesMustFall Campaign

The Catholic Church agrees that the student protest has foundation.  We are aware as a Church, of the inequality of opportunity for poor and competent students to access third level education. 

As Bishops spread throughout the country, we have assisted students with our limited resources. But the majority of the deserving students we have not been able to help. 

What the students desire is more equality in access to good education at university level. We support this request. But we don’t condone the violence, looting, and vandalizing of property by students and the use of force by police army.  

By now we feel that the students have made their protest.  The whole society, other students, universities, and the government are very aware of the student's protest.  It is time now for the disturbances to end and for the academic year to continue and for exams to be written. 

We feel that at this stage there is little more university authorities can do.  In fact, they have generally shown themselves sympathetic to the students’ demands. 

But the solution suggested by the students at the moment is beyond the financial and organizational capabilities of university authorities.  However, it must remain on our agenda as the priority for the future.

What is to be done is for the government to ensure that this academic year is completed in peace. The government and students must now iron out their difficulties.  A compromise must be considered as the huge financial demands of university free education cannot be found instantaneously.

As Bishops we extent our sincere sympathy and prayers for a speedy recovery to Fr Graham Pugin, the Jesuit Parish Priest of Braamfontein.

Fr Graham was wounded by a direct strike from a rubber bullet to the face while engaged in offering refuge to frightened students.  

The Bishops wish to express their appreciation to our Catholic Chaplains who have been close to our students at this anxious time. We encourage university authorities to do all in their power to complete this academic year.

+William Slattery OFM

Archbishop of Pretoria

STATEMENT FROM FR. DAVID ROWAN, S.J., REGIONAL SUPERIOR, JESUITS OF SOUTH AFRICA: 

Fr. Graham Pugin S.J., who was shot in the face by a rubber bullet at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, has received medical treatment and is recovering. The Society of Jesus (Jesuits), the order of priests to which Fr. Graham belongs, and Fr. Graham himself, are grateful for the concern that has been shown after the incident. We have received many prayers, well wishes and offers for assistance from across society. We have also received support from the Jesuit General Congregation meeting in Rome at present and the Vatican Ambassador to South Africa, His Excellency Archbishop Peter Wells.

Fr. Graham has been one of the facilitators, along with other clergy and former student leaders, working towards an agreement between the students, management and other stakeholders at the University of the Witwatersrand. All the facilitators have worked hard to create an atmosphere of trust. Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Braamfontein has served as a safe and sacred space for negotiations, and we hope that it will continue to do so.

Unfortunately, the negotiation process has been stalled and we are concerned by the sense of distrust between all the role players. The high-security presence and clashes between police and students have also heightened tensions, making negotiations, at this stage, much more difficult. The shooting of Fr. Graham has shocked and distressed many people, including students. He, along with the Society of Jesus, remain hopeful that a solution can be achieved.

We believe there needs to be a national mediation effort to resolve the fees issue and stabilise the situation on campuses. We note the establishment of a national government task team on the fees crisis but believe that this alone will not deal with the problem. We believe there needs to be a concerted effort, involving all sectors of society, to deal with the historical context and systemic problems which make higher education inaccessible and unaffordable for millions of poor South Africans.

We stand ready to participate in this mediation effort so that a national solution can be found to the crisis in the higher education sector. We are concerned by the levels of violence and urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint so that an atmosphere conducive to negotiations may return.

We appeal to all involved to pledge themselves to restore peace on and around our campuses.

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