Fee hikes for 2016 fell on Friday but by Saturday Wits students, who believe their demands have not been adequately addressed by President Jacob Zuma, decided to continue with their protests. That decision however could have far reaching consequences, particularly if students do not sit their exams. AAISHA DADI PATEL and PONTSHO PILANE consider the possibilities.
International students have leases up until the end of November and a prolonged protest could force the university to postpone examinations into November, and possibly even December. This could mean that many international students will not have a place to stay at year end, and they could also risk violating their visa conditions.
“Most of us international students don’t have family here in South Africa. Where will we stay? What about our visas?” asked a concerned second year law student, Sandra Mpanyira.
“I have been supporting the protest and joined in on few occasions. I did not mind the university being closed next week but the longer we protest the longer we would have to stay in South Africa to finish exams,” said Mpanyira.
Students living in residences and other off-campus accommodation
The accommodation issue does not only affect international students but also local students staying in residences and other off-campus accommodation. In many Wits University residences, students are expected to leave the day after the last examination date, which is currently scheduled for 27 November. In some residences, leases end on 30 November. The complication of extending examinations will mean the university has to allow students to stay past these dates.
Final year students with secured job offers
For final year students, job opportunities have been secured and scheduled. Some are required to begin work in December or the first week of January. Final year medical students begin their internships immediately after the new year.
From a specifically Wits context, the pool at Wits is green, buildings aren’t being maintained, and there are numerous broken bits of infrastructure. Wits is a large university, and it needs a lot of care and maintenance to function. If the protest continues, it’s likely this neglect will also continue. The same could be said for any of the universities around South Africa.
And if exams are not written at all:
If the protest continues, and exams are not written, first years will remain first years, and those who are doing the final year of their degree will not graduate. There will be an inevitable delay in when exams will be written, and this will affect when students will be able to pass and progress.
Matric students and other hopeful first years will have their entry into the tertiary education system delayed because of the change in the internal processes on campus as a result of the protest – there may simply be no space for them in the new year.
Paying to do the same thing again
For 2015, most students have already secured a space in the examination hall. By delaying the academic year, the money being spent on it is effectively wasted.
The revolution may be in full swing but the protestors will soon need to engage with the harsh practicalities involved in shutting down an institution for an extended period of time.