The African National Congress (ANC) encouraged its members to join a march to the Union Buildings on Friday in solidarity with students fighting for a moratorium on tertiary education fee increases.
The march comes as President Jacob Zuma was due to meet students and vice-chancellors after more than a week of protests at universities countrywide.
A meeting on Thursday between the ANC and student leaders included only organisations aligned to the party — the ANC Youth League, the Congress of South African Students, the Young Communist League and the South African Students Organisation.
The aligned organisations tabled their demands to the party including a moratorium on fee hikes for next year, a cap on the salaries of vice-chancellors at universities and a call on the ANC to implement its own resolution from its Polokwane conference for free education for all.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said after the meeting the imperative for free education could not be met overnight; it would be phased in gradually.
The demands of students aligned to the party would be communicated to Mr Zuma and the government, he said.
The meeting at the Union Buildings is set to coincide with a march to the seat of government by students, whom Mr Mantashe encouraged ANC members to join, emphasising that the countrywide protests were not hostile to the party and should be supported.
“It should not be seen as a march that is against the ANC,” Mr Mantashe said.
The protests had affected 17 of the country’s 26 universities, Mr Mantashe said.
Earlier in the day Mr Mantashe accepted a memorandum from University of Witwatersrand and University of Johannesburg (UJ) students at Luthuli House whose numbers had brought the Johannesburg city centre to a standstill.
Earlier, conflict erupted between security guards and students at UJ as they joined dozens nationally in rolling mass action over tuition costs.
As students continue protests across the country, the University of Cape Town (UCT) cancelled exams scheduled for next week, while Wits said it was awaiting feedback from its student leaders regarding a meeting between management and students.
Reports suggested student violence and vandalism at the University of the North West, while matters were calm at UCT.
Protesting students received a groundswell of support from their vice-chancellors, who have vowed to ask tough questions and demand decisive action when they meet with Mr Zuma at the Union Buildings today.
UCT vice-chancellor Max Price and Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib came out in support of their students’ cause ahead of the meeting today with Mr Zuma and student leaders.
The protest movement in the Western Cape scored a major court victory on Thursday when it secured an order restraining police from using “unreasonable force” when handling demonstrating students.
The leader of the Democratic Alliance, Mmusi Maimane, said on Thursday he had written to Mr Zuma asking that the president appear before Parliament to address students’ concerns.
Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande is scheduled to appear before Parliament next week, where he is expected to explain his department’s handling of the university fee hikes debacle. The National Assembly programming committee confirmed on Thursday that the House would be debating the state of higher education funding next week.
Portfolio committee on higher education chairwoman Yvonne Phosa said: “Last time it was the statues must fall, now it’s fees .… We want the minister to tell us what the next move will be to bring harmony in education. We want university environments that are conducive to learning ….”
She said the committee also wanted Mr Nzimande to explain how he had arrived at the 6% cap on fee increases compromise.