Students at the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) have been protesting over issues related to financial exclusions and accommodation. Several buildings including an HIV support centre have been set alight during the protests. Four out of the five UKZN campuses have been affected. Academic activists on all campuses were suspended until February 7.
Why are students protesting?
Speaking to The Daily Vox, student representative council (SRC) president-general Sifiso Simelane said students are protesting over the issues of financial clearances and accommodation. Simelane said the management is refusing the financial clearances for students for the start of the academic year. He said the university wants students to pay registration fees and 15% of their historic debt that they are owing to the university. This reportedly even applies to students who are part of the national student financial aid scheme (NSFAS)
Simelane said with the issue of accommodation, students were allocated residences last year. However, when they arrived for the 2020 academic year, those residences were not ready for students. “They are sleeping in our offices and outside campus,” he said. Simelane said this has safety risks for students especially women students.
The academic programme is set to resume on February 10.
Simelane said there have been consultations taking place with management but he said the executive management does not want to make decisions. “I would say it’s a decision-making crisis that we are facing where no one wants to account,” said Simelane.
UKZN spokesperson Ashton Bodrick has previously said: “For both financial and academic reasons, a realisation of some of the students’ demands would not be feasible for the long-term viability of the university.”
The burning of the buildings
Last week, a university building and a student’s car were torched. On Monday morning, the HIV support centre was set alight. The campus security control centre on the Westville campus was also set alight, the university spokesperson confirmed.
In response to the cases of arson, Simelane said the SRC opposed the burning of property. He said the issues they are fighting for are genuine and they don’t want the attention to be divided because of the burning of the buildings.
Last year, UKZN was also gripped by protests related to financial exclusions. Different leaders of the SRC have been calling for the current academic monitoring and exclusion policy which was implemented in 2009 to be scrapped.
The academic programme at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) has also been suspended. The SRC called for the shutdown following issues with registration and accommodation. The SRC’s demands include clearing of historic debt, accommodation to be provided for students and an extension of the registration period.
Last week, the South African Union of Students (Saus) embarked on a shutdown at several campuses. UKZN, North-West University (NWU), University of Venda (Univen), Central University of Technology (CUT), University of South Africa (Unisa), University of Fort Hare (UFH), University of Free State (UFS), and University of Mpumalanga were the universities that participated.
The shutdown was called off after a meeting between the union and the minister of higher education and training, science and technology, Dr. Blade Nzimande.
Author’s note: This story has been updated with the UWC shutdown.