The Presidency and all parties involved needs to help respond to calls for free higher education, as universities cannot do so alone, former public protector Thuli Madonsela said on Wednesday.

The starting point for negotiations about free education would be for all affected parties to listen to students, she told a gathering at Solomon Mahlangu House (Senate House) on Wits University’s East campus.

“While some of us were enjoying life, some of you were left behind. There is no time for pointing fingers. Your call for fees to fall is a legitimate one,” she said to cheers.

The meeting between students and Madonsela, Max Sisulu, Sello Hatang, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana and former Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi was billed as a “peace accord meeting”.

It was intended to discuss how to end the protests on campuses and discuss free higher education. No Wits University management representatives were present.

Wits Vice Chancellor Adam Habib was in the meeting, but was forced to leave when students said they did not want him there. They said he should have been arrested, instead of former Wits SRC leader Mcebo Dlamini, who was denied bail by the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court earlier on Wednesday.

Students sang and ululated to welcome Madonsela. Some shouted that they loved her and wished she would take charge of the country.

Madonsela thanked students for reminding the country’s elders of why liberation struggle heroes fought for democracy.