The start of a new academic year invariably means the beginning of new chapter for most of us, and for first years, the beginning of a totally different book. Thinking back (very far) to my first year, nothing could match the excitement of not wearing school uniform and being able to chew gum in class. And then when they told me lectures were not compulsory! It was the best of times.
However for many first years the excitement of making it into Wits is short-lived as the woes of trying to find accommodation set in. The sad reality is that Wits simply does not have the capacity to accommodate every student. The accommodation office has repeatedly said that they are doing the best they can with what they have. But is it enough?
Surely an institution as world class as Wits University should be able to deal with this recurring problem. Wits Vuvuzela has religiously reported on accommodation problems at the beginning of each year. Could the elusive solution be as simple as building more residences? But the university did build another residence: Wits Junction in Parktown.
Unfortunately, this newly erected residence fast became known as a place for the elite where few students could afford the residence’s high annual fees ranging from R45000- R50000. Is it any wonder that in its first year of operating Junction only managed to fill only 30% of the spaces available?
The queues outside the accommodations office every year are filled with desperate students and parents and this is testament that we are doing things wrong. Students are then forced into the private accommodation system in Braamfontein that has its own long arm of problems.
On Page 1 we report on students from Central Johannesburg College who were unceremoniously kicked out of their residence in an Aengus Property building in Braamfontein because their financial aid was too little to cover them for the year. The students’ beds were thrown out of the building, while the students sang resistance songs and scuffled with the muscled bouncers. The scene resembled something out of the forced removals of the 1950s.
The new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Adam Habib, has said while Wits is a world class institution it must service our country by becoming a symbol of hope for aspiring poor students. “We must be able to send a symbolic message that we believe in this country and we are prepared to address the challenges of all of our people, poor and rich,” said Habib.
It is a great sentiment, however, when we present Wits as the land of milk and honey, a place where you can change your life through quality education and still cannot provide our students with a roof over their heads, we do the country a great disservice. And as Professor Habib puts it, when the poor have no hope the society will burn.
Published in Wits Vuvuzela 1st edition, 6th February 2013