By Nqobile Dludla and Lutho Mtongana
The SRC election was dominated this week by a controversial new res policy which brought together the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) and Wits Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in protests, marches and threats to boycott the vote.
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 its intention to “ensure a diverse and cosmopolitan residence environment in which everyone can feel at home and can succeed academically.”
The protests culminated in a four-hour meeting at the SRC offices between the PYA, Wits EFF, the SRC, house committee representatives, Res Life director Robert Sharman, Deputy Vice-chancellor: finance Tawana Kupe, Dean of students Pamela Dube and Vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib on Wednesday.
At the meeting, Habib agreed to “halt” the roll out of the revised residence admission policy pending further discussions to be held on Saturday.
Public protest about the policy began at the evening circus on Tuesday. The 2010/2011 SRC president, Mukovhe Morris Musatha, pleaded on behalf of Mens residence to the three organisations campaigning in the SRC election—PYA, Wits EFF and Project W—to come up with a resolution.
Initially, it appeared that all three organisations would oppose the policy following a meeting at the circus when SRC president Shafee Verachia said they would all march against it on Wednesday morning.
Verachia said the parties had agreed to boycott the SRC elections if their protests fell on deaf ears.
However, Project W said it had not agreed to the march or a potential election boycott. Project W candidate Jamie Mighti said they disagreed with the PYA and Wits EFF on “process”.
“There’s a process before we follow these things. We can’t make a hasty decision as an organisation,” Mighti told Wits Vuvuzela on Tuesday.
Although the Wits EFF joined the march against the new res policy they accused Verachia of a lack of transparency, saying he as SRC president had known about the new res policy for weeks.
“They [the PYA] knew this and they did not tell the students, they did not consult with the students when we asked him [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 on Wednesday.
Critics speak out
Critics of the policy said it would result in students already in res losing their rooms and called it racist, arguing that it was designed to bring more white students into residences.
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 majority of the residents who worried about losing their rooms next year.
“The resident 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.
“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: “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.”
Students also contested the policy on the basis that student bodies had not been consulted on the changes.
“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,” said Wits EFF candidate Vuyani Pambo.
Maziya said they wanted the decision-making structures around student issues to be more representative, including having non-SRC members a part of the process.
“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.
Wits Vuvuzela, Habib agrees to halt controversial res policy, August 2014
Wits Vuvuzela, UPDATE: Student organisations unite to challenge revised residence admission policy, August 2014