Wits bus system in a crisis

WITS’ new circuit bus system has come under heavy criticism following a stampede that happened at the Education campus on Sunday.

Wits students were involved in a stampede while trying to board a single bus, apparently serving students from several residences, on Sunday. The incident happened at Wits Education campus where students from various residences had converged to catch a bus to Rosebank as part of a new bus system implemented by Wits Services.

HIGH FOOT TRAFFIC: Witsies wait for the next possible bus at the Yale road bus stop.                                                                                                Photo: Valerie Robinson

HIGH FOOT TRAFFIC: Witsies wait for the next possible bus at the Yale road bus stop. Photo: Valerie Robinson

“The schedule is very inconvenient. What’s even more concerning is the rate at which management keeps making changes without finding out from students how they are affected.”

The new system which came in effect on March 1, requires all res students to travel to Education campus in order to catch a bus to Rosebank. The new arrangement has inconvenienced many commuters.

“On Sunday, the bus left the students who usually catch the bus outside Junction and fetched Junction Residence [students] who have their own bus,” said Nontobeko Nkosi, 2nd year LLB.

Previously, Wits students who stay in the surrounding student accommodations near Junction were picked up by buses on the street. But under the new system the buses now pick up students inside Junction, meaning students who stay in other residences cannot always access the bus.

Wits Vuvuzela has attempted to contact Wits Bus services spokesperson Nicki McGee but has not yet received a response.

House Committee chairperson for Knockando Hall, Ivhani Maselesele, said he’s found the new bus system “convenient” for him. “For the first time, the bus stops at Knockando, it takes us to JCE, where we then take the Rosebank bus. At first, we used to walk to EOH.”

However, Dankie Mokwena, chairperson from Jubilee Hall, said the new system was inconvenient for main campus students.

“The schedule is very inconvenient. What’s even more concerning is the rate at which management keeps making changes without finding out from students how they are affected.”

According to Mokwena, the House committees are trying to find a solution with management.

“We have suggested that there are better solutions and have highlighted the fact that management cannot complain about costs if our fees keep going up every year.”

Changes on new bus schedule became effective from the March 1. These include buses leaving every 30 minutes instead of every 15 under the previous schedule. The only stops for the Rosebank bus, are in Parktown (at Junction Residence and Education Campus). A reverse circuit bus has been on weekends, during the day.

Students ‘stampede’ over new bus system

 

MARCHING AHEAD: Witsies filling up the bus to secure their seats. Photo: Anelisa

MARCHING AHEAD: Witsies  line up quickly to fill a circuit bus. Photo: Anelisa Tuswa

By: Palesa Tshandu and Anelisa Tuswa  

Wits students were involved in a stampede while trying to board a single bus, apparently serving eighteen residences, on Sunday. The incident happened at Wits Education campus where students from various residences had converged to catch a bus to Rosebank as part of a new bus system implemented by Wits Services.

Wits Junction House Committee vice-chairpeson Nkululeko Tselane said the issue with the new system is that “all the res’es have to go to Education campus for a bus”. Tselane said the “chaos” started with Rosebank buses, where students from eighteen different residences had to use a single bus stop at Education campus.

“All these res’es come to one spot – and everybody has to get on the bus because there’s no standing in the buses … it’s a stampede hazard which is what we as the house committees we are worried about,” said Tselane.

Tselane who was at Wits Services earlier today to discuss the issue, said the change in the bus schedule was not communicated properly to his House Committee. “The House Committee has been opposed to it from the beginning … we said that we don’t agree with it, it’s not practical.”

“Siyahamba nomtwalo, bese sibuya ngomtwalo (we go with baggage and we come back with baggage)

Thivhulawi Ramukhuba, one of the drivers who was at the scene of the incident said the issue is with students who use the Rosebank route to get to main campus instead of waiting for a direct bus to the campus. “Siyahamba nomtwalo, bese sibuya ngomtwalo (we go with baggage and we come back with baggage),” he said referring to students who don’t climb off the bus at Education campus and instead remain until the bus reaches main campus.

Ramukhuba said this has been an on-going issue where students do not get off at their intended destination. “The situation is similar with those who get off at EOH (Ernest Oppenheimer) res – we tell them to get next bus but instead the students stay on the bus and we go with them to Rosebank and back.” He confirmed that he hasn’t raised the issue with students as he wants to avoid conflict. “I’d rather keep my mouth shut,” he said.

Tselane said the issue has to be addressed today because part of the changes that have been implemented was that the buses are leaving every 30 minutes instead of every 15. “That’s our issue now … people are late for lectures because they are not making it on time. It’s compromising academics.”

Wits Vuvuzela contacted Wits Services’ Operations Manager:Transport Timothy Mudau who said that he cannot respond because “we are still not sure of what happened.”

No vote flyers handed out at Wits voting stations

Students campaigning against the SRC (Student Representatives Council) elections today were seen handing out #WhyShouldWeVote flyers next to voting stations on the Wits Education campus.

A number of students from the campus have acted on their  promise to boycott the elections this week as they feel their grievances are not being satisfactorily addressed by the SRC.

Some Wits Education Student Council (ESC) leaders have voiced their support for the campaign.

“We’re handing these flyers out to ensure people don’t vote carelessly, if they are not conscious of their vote, then why are they voting?” said third year student Bedney Morole.  He explained that it was more of an awareness campaign for conscious voting or no voting at all.

Morole said that he would not be voting in this year’s SRC elections.

The flyers read “future teachers’ united #WhyShouldWeVote, we are sick of empty promises. Can we be taken serious [sic]?”

“I believe these flyers are a result of grievances from the students”, said Mokolwane Masweneng, Wits ESC Academic officer.

He said the ESC received grievances from the students and took them to the head of school, but they are still waiting for a response from the dean of student’s office.

“We are not against the parties that are running, but just bringing awareness to students,” said third year student Philip Hlatshwayo, who was handing out the flyers and abstaining from voting.

WHY VOTE: A student on Education Campus passing on flyers to make others think twice before they vote.     Photo: Bongiwe Tutu

WHY VOTE: A student on Education Campus passing on flyers to make others think twice before they vote. Photo: Bongiwe Tutu

Numerous grievances

Manqoba Chungwane, second year Education student said: “We don’t even have options for food here, we can only buy from Olives and Plates which is very expensive, so we have to travel to main campus every day for lunch.

Third year Education student Themba Sibeko said ever since he was in first year, there has only been one Kudu terminal for printing.  “We have asked for it to be removed from inside the library so that we can access it when the library closes, as it closes so early, but nothing was done. They don’t care about us,” he said in reference to the SRC.

“How can you have one Kudu Bucks machine for about 2000 students? And one ATM that never works! How can we ever vote when our voices are not heard?” said Thabiso Dlamini, another third year Education student.

“The students have the right to state their grievances and I support this campaign,” said Masweneng.  “I am also not voting, I am representing the students” he said.

Wits ESC Grievances officer Xolani Khoza said the issue is about representation, “It doesn’t say we are not going to vote, but we want to know why we should,” he said.

Khoza would not say whether he would be voting or not, but said that he was in full support of the students.

“I am a student before I am a leader, and tomorrow we will go on for a full day of campaigning if our grievances have still not been answered,” he said.

Students from education campus have been voicing their concerns on the Wits Education Student Council (ESC) Facebook page.

 

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Boycott talks not backed by Education Students Council

Bongiwe Tutu and Rofhiwa Madzena

Calls for a boycott of the SRC elections by education students have not been endorsed by the student council.

Grievance officer, Xolani Khoza, said they want to separate themselves as the Education Student Council (ESC) from the boycott. “We feel that the boycott is being influenced by political parties.”

However, Khoza said as students of Education Campus they would not be voting unless the grievances they had tabled to management were considered. “We are not taken seriously, so why should we vote?”

Khoza said they wanted a “sufficient explanation” from management. “Maybe then we will vote,” he said.

The grievances that were tabled to university management last year include inconvenient library hours, as it closes at 9pm. The lack of frequent buses to education campus “when main campus is closed” is another issue that was brought up.

Khoza said they need “student development organisations” such as the Counselling and Careers’ Development Unit, Student Development and Leadership Unit and First Year Experience.

Khoza said he had heard of student suicides apparently due to the pressures of student life. “We need these facilities to prevent such instances,” he said.

Project W, leader Jamie Mighti commented on the planned boycott by students on Education Campus: “You boycott the SRC elections, how does that improve the SRC? If students want change they need to vote for the right party.”

The SRC’s liaison officer Jabulile Mabuza said: “Many of these issues are issues that are always raised in university meetings by the SRC but because of the bureaucratic system, we have to go through a number of departments before implementation, this is not an easy thing to explain to students.”

Mabuza said many of the issues on education campus “are not a matter of money but a matter of changing the university’s policy”. She said:  “I believe students have the right to voice out their concerns whichever peaceful way to get their voices heard.”

Responding to a request for more ATMs on Education Campus, deputy vice-chancellor Prof Tawana Kupe said there is a Nedbank machine that was placed there about two years ago on the students’ request. “At that stage Nedbank was the only bank interested,” he said.

The ATM is not used enough to warrant the installation of another one, Kupe said. The cashless campus project should relieve the pressure on ATMs and Kudu Bucks’ machines.

He said there is a budget for the cashless campus project and added that implementation will take place “hopefully by latest April 2015”.

Delayed bursary payments leave education students hungry

HARD TIMES: Education students on the Funza Lushaka bursary have been struggling to make ends meet this past semester. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

HARD TIMES: Education students on the Funza Lushaka bursary have been struggling to make ends meet this past semester. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

Wits students in the education faculty have been going hungry as their allowance for the semester quickly ran out.

The students are recipients of the Funza Lushaka bursary,  but have only been given R7000 for the entire semester, due to delays in discharging the bursary funds.

“It’s bad, I don’t have any food.  I’ve become a nuisance to people, it’s really bad,” said Thando Sibiya, 2nd year BEd. I don’t know what I’m going to eat.  How do they expect you to live?  How am I supposed to write exams?”

Students told Wits Vuvuzela that the problem was not that there was no money; but that the payments were irregular.  Unlike the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), Funza Lushaka monies are not made available on a monthly basis.

Delayed payments

Bursary officer at Education Campus, Mfundo Mbatha said payments were delayed because Funza Lushaka funds were not ready at the beginning of the year.

“Funza Lushaka is a government initiative.  We have to wait for monies to be moved from National Treasury to Financial Aid,” she said.  The allowances given to students at the beginning of the year were borrowed from Wits Financial Aid because the government financial year only starts in March.

Mbatha said students received R5000 at the beginning of the year for their books. He added that students were asked by email and posters “to spend the money mindfully.”

Some time after, the bursars were given R2000 for “teaching experience”, where students go out to schools for practical training, under the supervision of a qualified teacher.

Sibiya said he spent his allowance of R2000 buy formal clothing and on transport costs for the teaching experience.  “Coming back here is like coming back to poverty.”

Mbatha said they tried to pay students monthly in the past but it did not work because Funza Lushaka is not like NSFAS.  “Funza Lushaka has been operating this way for years,” she said.  Every year at the end of June or July, students receive the first lump sum and a second one in September.

Bursars overspending

Mbatha said the students experience difficulties when they spend more than the allocated bursary amount of R75000 per year.  “Students are to use money at their own discretion,” she said.  When students spend more than the allocated bursary amount, at the end of the year they end up owing close to R10000.

In response to allegations that students were not given warnings in advance, Mbatha said, “We put up posters and they [students] don’t even bother to read them.”

Nonhlanhla Moholane, 3rd year BEd said, “We were warned well in advance to sort ourselves out, but not everyone has the means to sustain themselves from January to July.”

Ayshah Essop, 1st year BEd said she was awarded the Funza Lushaka bursary but because payments were late she decided to accept  a bursary from  the South African National Zakah Fund (SANZAF) instead.  “I took the SANZAF fund because Funza [Lushaka] pays late, they only pay when the first semester is over.”

Sihle Nsibande, 2nd year BEd said, “I was on Funza Lushaka last year.  Previous people who were on Funza [Lushaka] told me you first get R5000.  Then after two or three months you get R18000.”  The remaining monies are paid out over a number of months, according to Nsibande.

“Coming back here is like coming back to poverty.”

The delayed payments were not a problem for Nsibande because he lives at home and can depend on his parents.

“I was expecting it, but it’s different for people in different circumstances.  I’m at home, I’m provided for.  Other people live at res.  Maybe if I was at res I would also be complaining because I’d have to take care of myself.”  He also said that new students on the bursary do not know how processes work

In the meantime, Wits education lecturer Bheki Zungu, who is involved with student affairs in conjunction with the Transformation Office, has been collecting food donations and distributing them among needy students. Education Students Council (ESC) chairperson Lebang Nong has confirmed that students will receive a lump sum payment by June 30.

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The wheels on the bus (don’t) go round…

esselen

Education and medical students were not told about the bus schedule changes and have missed lectures as a result. Photo: Tracey Ruff

It has been a confusing and frustrating start to the week for the many Witsies who use the campus bus services.

Changes have been made to the bus timetable due to the midterm study break, but Wits Education Campus (WEC) and medical school students still have normal classes.

According to Wits Services, there are supposedly four circuit buses running every 15 minute intervals and two buses running every 30 minute intervals. However, direct bus services between Esselen and WEC have been canceled despite education students still being in lectures.

Florence Moloi, 2nd year BEd, said the “services have been really bad”. She said that on Monday there were no buses, especially in the morning and in the afternoon at 4pm.

Moloi said that many students were late for class on Monday morning and “people were pushing each other to get on the [circuit] buses to go home” at the end of the day.

Moloi, who stays on Main campus, feels that there is no consideration for education students.

Makaziwe Tshona, 2nd year BEd, said that although the situation was “a bit better today,” there have been no direct buses to WEC and she “has to wait for circuit buses which are full”.

[pullquote]“A lot of people are sick and tired of this. I’ve been waiting 35 minutes for a bus.”[/pullquote]

On Monday, Tshona had a geography lecture at the Planetarium that she was late for due to the lack of  bus services.

According to a first-year student, who asked to remain anonymous, “A lot of people are sick and tired of this. I’ve been waiting 35 minutes for a bus.” She said she wants to complain but “doesn’t know who to complain to”.

According to a tweet from the account of @moreki_m, “the situation at Amic Deck [on Main campus] and Esselen is so bad. Some students are even walking to Education campus”.

“Funny thing is, we are the ones who use the bus more than any other students since our campus is in Parktown,” tweeted Moreki.

When asked if he knew there were going to be changes to the timetable, Moreki replied, “we knew about the main campus break but weren’t formally notified that it was gonna affect the bus timetable”.

The latest tweet from Wits services on the bus situation, posted at 9:15pm on Monday, read: “We do apologise – there will be a direct @WitsSln [Esselen] and WEC bus  tomorrow [Tuesday].”

However, students have continued to complain on Twitter that no direct bus service has resumed as of Tuesday afternoon.