Protests At Fort Hare, TUT And Wits

Protests continue at campuses around South Africa. At Wits University students raised the issue of Wits students having no accommodation as the academic year began. The University of Fort Hare students have been protesting two issues: safety and financial exclusion due to historic debt.  

Wits University

Students at Wits University on March 4 marched around campus raising concerns about accommodation issues. 

This followed a video that went around on social media showing students sleeping in libraries. In a statement, the management said the Student Representative Council (SRC) “broke the agreement signed on 10 Feb.” 

Students from Wits University marched to the Gauteng provincial legislature on February 27. The students gathered outside the legislature as the MPLs got ready for the state of the province (SOPA) debate. Led by the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC), the students raised the issue of a lack of accommodation. Gauteng MEC for basic education, Panyaza Lesufi accepted the memorandum of demands. Students said government-owned buildings should be made available for students. They have called on the provincial government to engage with private accommodation service providers to provide affordable accommodation for students. 

Recurring issue

Earlier this year, the SRC held a small protest on campus outside the accommodation office at Wits. A number of Wits students were without accommodation at the beginning of the academic year. Speaking to The Daily Vox, SRC president Thuto Gabapathe said they managed to assist some of those students through the Hardship Fund. This is a donor-fund that helps students with their tuition fees. Gabapathe said the SRC has used their entire budget to assist students as well. 

In a statement released by the university it was announced that R2 million would be allocated towards sourcing additional beds, with the SRC contributing R500,000 and the university R1.5 million.

Gabapathe said they have tried to do what they can from their side but they have decided to go to the people who have jurisdiction over the private property companies which is the provincial government. 

Addressing students after receiving the memorandum, Lesufi promised that the provincial government would respond to the students within 12 hours. Lesufi said he knew the difficulties of being a student without accommodation. He sought to emphasise that the provincial government would help the students. 

During the SOPA delivered by Gauteng premier David Makhura, the premier announced that the Gauteng government would be working to develop housing and accommodation. Lesufi told students that there are two distinct programs to try and find a way to use government buildings for educational purposes. 

Fort Hare University 

On March 5, the management of the university of Fort Hare announced the suspension of the teaching programme on all campuses. All students have been instructed to leave the campus and vacate the residences. Students have until 18:00 on March 5 to leave their residences. 

There was a suspension of the academic programme at the University of Fort Hare after protests last Tuesday. The university said the issue is students with historic debt wanting to register. There were arrests of 11 students during the protests. On February 27, a couple hundred students protested outside the Alice magistrate’s court for their release reported the Daily Dispatch. 

Speaking to The Daily Vox, a student from Fort Hare said students were protesting over financial exclusion of students due to historic debt. The student said the university told students they would need to reduce their debt to below R10 000. The university wants students with debt of R10 000 or less remaining to sign an Acknowledgement of Debt form.”

The student said the university has reportedly not given Nsfas the registration template which shows that it is the university’s fault. 

Through a Facebook statement the UFH SRC set out their demands. Several issues have raised amongst them the issue of safety and security, financial exclusion, allowances, and mental illnesses. These issues were reportedly laid out by students in a mass meeting convened by the SRC. 

The SRC has called on the university to take stricter measures when it comes to safety. They want ensurances that all students are given the chance to register regardless of historic debt and financial exclusion. 

There was a suspension of the academic programme at the Alice Campus due to protests related to safety. In the month of February two students Yonela Boli and Olwethu Tshefu were stabbed to death. Boli was reportedly stabbed by a student while Tsehfu was reportedly stabbed by a contracted UFH staff member. 

Tshwane University of Technology

There was a suspension of the academic programme at TUT amidst student protests. Speaking to the Sowetan, TUT SRC said they have begun protesting because the management did not resolve the issues they had raised. The issues relate to academic exclusions, accommodation and students who have not yet received their allowances.

This is a developing story and will be updated. 

Featured image by Fatima Moosa