South African Higher Education Minister says the protests and violence seen in the country’s universities recently — and still continuing in some cases — is largely functional caused by fringe elements and he believes they may be linked to a broader political agenda.

In an interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation in New York where he he is attending a series of meetings with North American universities and foundations, he urged law enforcement agencies, assisted by a majority of students and communities, to isolate and deal with those intent on creating chaos on campuses.

The Minister also rejected criticism of the timing of his US trip, saying it is a working visit aimed at forging partnerships with American institutions to develop South Africa’s University Capacity Development Programme.

“What is really exciting about the trip thus far is that, for instance, around Washington DC and the neighbouring states, we met with 15 universities in one room and they committed to form a consortium to actually have partnerships with us; and that we jointly go and look for resources. Some of the resources that were potentially identified would be US companies that have got operations in South Africa to be able to assist.”

The delegation is seeking student mentorships and exchanges that include Ivy League institutions, capacity development for existing academics who lack PhD degrees and curriculum transformation, for example around the green economy.

On the question of unrest on South African campuses, Nzimande condemned the destruction of property and violence. “As things stand now, our system largely is functioning; students are back in class, others will be starting examinations soon — the midyear exams — and all that. We are quite confident that the system is fairly stable at the moment.”

The minister was, however, unable to commit to whether university fees would go up next year.

On the possibility of political elements at play in student protests, he said: “We think also that there is a political agenda which is linked to the fact that there are local government elections (to be held on Aug 3, this year).

“We have information that these elements also want to use the 40th anniversary of the June 16 uprisings as another platform to try to campaign for the elections or there is a fringe that also wants to destabilize our country.”

He was referring to the Soweto Uprising, also known as 16 June Uprising, which were a series of protests led by high school students in South Africa which began on the morning of June 16, 1976.