By Lutho Mtongana and Nqobile Dludla
A controversial revised residence admissions policy which critics said would leave disadvantaged students without housing has been halted for now.
Vice-Chancellor (VC) Prof Adam Habib agreed to postpone the policy following protests and meetings by the SRC, house committees and the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) and Wits Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
“This policy will not go forward until there has been talks between us and the VC later on Saturday,” said Sunnyside house committee chairperson Maame Boateng.
The highly contested policy states that, “[It has been revised] for new first-year undergraduates to make campus accommodation more accessible and appealing to all students, especially those who have a good academic record”.
In addition, the policy states that: “[It] will ensure a diverse and cosmopolitan residence environment in which everyone can feel at home and can succeed academically.”
Coming in effect in 2015, the policy will ensure that more single rooms will be available to new students in addition to already allocated double rooms.
This point outlined in the policy did not sit well with the majority of the residents who were worried about losing their rooms next year.
“The residence students who are currently here now might not have a place next year because they [management] want to open the residences to first years. What that means is that they want to give single rooms to first years and when that happens those who are currently staying here now will lose their rooms,” said All Residence Council chairperson, Mpho Maziya.
According to Maziya, the policy will also favour more affluent students who can pay their accommodation fees upfront, without the aid of NSFAS. She said the revised policy was devised to bring more white students into residences.
“They are to close off 30 percent space to try and accommodate white kids who can normally afford accommodation outside of university,” Maziya said.
Habib contested the racialization of the policy by critics and said, “What I don’t like is, people racialize the question as if because we are taking white students, we are going to bring out black students, I never said that.”
Habib said that students would not lose their places in residences because of the revised policy. He said the university intended to increase the overall number of beds in residences.
The highly contested policy was also challenged at the meeting because residents and student bodies said they were not consulted before it was drafted and rolled out.
“Consultation was the issue and the fact that students weren’t being consulted. We said we are not interested in the procedural issues we are more interested in the substantial [issues] for the purpose of that policy. What we have achieved is that, this document will not go further than it has”, said Wits EFF candidate Vuyani Pambo.
According to All Residence Council chairperson, Mpho Maziya, “the decision making structures need to be more representative”.
“We are requesting that the decision making structures need to be more representative because what you have now is certain members of the SRC sitting there making decisions for resident students without the knowledge of what’s going on in the residences and how these decisions will affect students,” said Maziya.
The revised residence policy issue was first raised at the evening circus that took place in the main dining hall on Tuesday. The 2010/2011 SRC president, Mukovhe Morris Masutha pleaded on behalf of Mens residence with the three organisations campaigning in the SRC elections—the PYA, Wits EFF and Project W—to come up with a solution.
Student organisations contest the policy
The three student organisations, SRC and house committee representatives had a meeting on Tuesday at Mens Residence about the policy.
Following the meeting, SRC president Shafee Verachia announced that all organisations agreed to reject the policy and would march to the International Office, where University Senate Council was meeting on Wednesday morning. He added that the three organisations would boycott the SRC elections if their voices fell on deaf ears.
However, Project W told Wits Vuvuzela they had not agreed to the march or proposed election boycott.
“We disagree with the protocol, we disagree with the process. There’s a process before we follow these things. We can’t make a hasty decision as an organisation,” Jamie Mighti told Wits Vuvuzela on Tuesday.
Although the Wits EFF joined the march, they were not pleased with what they said was a lack of transparency displayed by Verachia, who they said had known about the new policy since last month.
“They [PYA] knew this and they did not tell the students, they did not consult with the students when we asked [Verachia] … We found out last night, then we probed him as the EFF, he buckled under pressure and he said he knew in July,” said Wits EFF candidate Anele Nzimande during the lunch circus on Wednesday.
Wits Vuvuzela, UPDATE: Student Organisation unite to challenge new residence admissions policy, August 2014