Students march for affordable accommodation

STUDENTS disrupted academics at Wits and marched to the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) buildings to hand over a memorandum of demands to mayor Herman Mashaba, on Thursday, September 27, calling for affordable student accommodation.

The Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) and All Residence Council (ARC) called for an academic shutdown so that interested students could join the march to protest against a rumoured 10% increment in residence fees for 2019.

The protest was a joint action between Wits student political formations such as SASCO, PYA, EFF and PASMA, and students from the University of Johannesburg and the Central Johannesburg College, who all marched under the banner #AccommodationIsLand.

Their demands included: the scrapping of council rates for universities and TVET colleges; council rates for private student accommodation providers such as South Point to be capped in order to stabilise prices; some of the 71 hijacked buildings identified by the CoJ for expropriation to be handed to universities along with money for institutions to develop them into student accommodation; and for a satellite clinic and police station to be opened in Braamfontein.

According to ARC chair Mookameli Moeketsi, the ARC and SRC consolidated the list of demands in March and thereafter emailed it to Mashaba, who didn’t respond. “We want to show them that we are serious about accommodation and we are prepared to fight for it,” he said.

Protesters gathered at the Wits Theatre in the morning and began to march through campus, disrupting lectures by pulling the fire alarms in buildings and singing in lecture halls until students evacuated. A History 102 test was also disrupted by marchers.

“This is about student homelessness. The ‘Harvard of Africa’ can’t be having students sleeping in libraries and toilets,” said a third-year economics student who asked not to be named.

Private security was visible around campus and blocked students from entering Solomon Mahlangu House.

Wits dean of students Jerome September said the university had denied the SRC’s request for lectures to be cancelled after midday because the university is approaching final exams.

“The university’s academic programme will continue as scheduled and students who wish to participate in today’s march do so on a voluntary basis. The necessary security arrangements have been made to ensure that university activities continue without disruption,” he said.

By the time the crowd left campus, it had grown to about 500 students and proceeded to march through the streets of Braamfontein. As the protesters approached, businesses closed their shutters and workers affiliated with the EFF joined the protesters.

Protesters held placards with slogans such as: “accommodation is land”, “free healthcare facilities in Braam”, and “liberate the student, liberate the land”.

Throughout the march, students were addressed by Wits SRC president, Orediretse Masebe. “At the end of the day we are here because we are black and we are landless,” Masebe said.

Mayor Mashaba met the protesters outside the CoJ buildings. They demanded that Mashaba respond to the memorandum within seven days and that he arrange an emergency meeting with Wits vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib, and South Point executive director Ndumiso Davidson, at 9am on Friday, September 28.

Mashaba accepted the memorandum, stating that he would look at the demands and respond timeously. However, he could not commit to calling an emergency meeting. “I don’t want to lie to students. I don’t know what Habib’s diary looks like and I have commitments I cannot get out of,” he said.

Mashaba stated that the CoJ would send a comprehensive report in response to the demands within the next two weeks and that the demands were in line with the urban regeneration plan that the CoJ was currently working on.

“We’ve made it clear that 30% of the hijacked buildings that have been identified must go to student housing and be offered for rent between R800 – R1200 per month. We are engaging with private investors and offering them incentives such as reducing the cost of rates,” Mashaba told Wits Vuvuzela.

September told Wits Vuvuzela that the university was already engaged with the CoJ on matters such as reducing rates and increasing accommodation for students. “The lack of accommodation is an issue that requires a long-term solution. The university is working with student representatives and the public and private sectors at various levels to intensify efforts to seek medium and long-term challenges to resolve the accommodation crisis,” he said.

He also said that no decisions regarding 2019 fees or accommodation increases had been made yet.

The protesters have threatened to escalate the protests if they do not receive a response to their demands within seven days. They also demanded that Wits observe an academic shutdown on Friday, September 28, in solidarity with protesters.

FEATURED IMAGE: Protesters, led by SRC transformation officer Bonga Gebashe, marched through campus and Braamfontein under the banner #AccommodationIsLand.
Photo: Takalani Sioga


#FeesMustFall protests cost universities R800m

The #FeesMustFall protests have left institutions of higher learning with a hefty R800 million bill in damage to infrastructure and the hiring of extra security. Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor revealed this on Wednesday, August 8, in a written reply to a question posed by a Democratic Alliance (DA) member of parliament.

The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) arrived at the figure after requesting submissions from all institutions to cover damage caused by the protests from 2015-2017. DHET then compiled a detailed report of the figures it obtained from each university. The report further broke down the figures according to year and the details of the damage provided.

Wits University told Wits Vuvuzela that it reported an estimated R25 million worth of damage for 2015 – 2017, whereas, according to the DHET report, Wits reported R28 million worth of damage in 2015 but none for 2016 and 2017.

Wits Vuvuzela sought clarification from the university for these discrepancies, however, seemingly no-one can provide the answers.

Buhle Zuma, the university spokesperson, didn’t answer questions relating to: how the sum was calculated; the details of the damage and costs that were considered in the final figure; and how the university separated the cost of #FeesMustFall related damage from damage that was not related to protests.

She also couldn’t explain the absence of a 2016 figure when there is documented evidence of damage to Solomon Mahlangu House and a fire on the second floor of the Wartenweiler Library.

DHET spokesperson, Lunga Nqgengelele said that there were no standard criteria used to determine the cost and each university used its own criteria to determine the amount of damage created by #FeesMustFall protests.

“We assumed the universities would be the best positioned to determine which criteria to use when calculating the amount,” Nqgengelele told Wits Vuvuzela.
Some universities, such as North West University, included the cost of additional private security while others only included infrastructure damage.

NWU recorded the highest costs, which are estimated to have been R198 million. This was largely a result of two buildings being set alight on the Mafikeng campus in February 2016, resulting in the university being temporarily shut down. This damage amounted to R151 million in the 2015-2016 financial year.

NWU spokesperson Louis Jacobs said that the university compiled its final figure using incident reports they had sent to their insurers. “These are all student unrest related, distinguished from routine damage,” Jacobs told Wits Vuvuzela.

Nqgengelele added that the cost had severely set back the government’s programme to provide education. “Money is not freely available; we will have to take it from somewhere else. I won’t be surprised if students wake up tomorrow and protest not having a library meanwhile they burnt the library down,” he said.

FEATURED IMAGE: Graffiti from the #FeesMustFall protests, which reads ‘#Asinamali” can still be found around Wits campuses.
Photo: Naledi Mashishi