Four of the 27 University of Johannesburg students arrested for protesting over financial aid have been prevented from registering for classes this year.
Last month, the students, dubbed the “UJ27” were arrested for protesting against a shortage of funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NFSAS).[pullquote align=”right”] “The university would not let the four unregistered students onto the campus without an official escort.”[/pullquote]
The students were arrested and released with a warning after they appeared in the Newlands Magistrate’s Court in Johannesburg. Twenty of the students were then suspended by UJ. Among the 20 students were the chairperson and secretary of the UJ SA Students Congress (Sasco).
Prevented from registering
Last Friday, the suspended students won a court order forcing the university to allow them to register. However, four were still prevented from registering on Monday.
Shira’h Jeenah, chairperson of UJ Sasco and one of the four students prevented from registering told Wits Vuvuzela the university would not let the four unregistered students onto the campus without an official escort.
However, on Monday when the students came to register the security escort had not been provided by UJ Campus Protection and so the students could not register.
“The university has said that we are not allowed on campus if we do not have classes,” said Jeenah. He added that the students have had to submit their timetables into campus protection so they may be escorted to their classes and off campus.
“We’re only allowed to be on campus 15 minutes before class and 15 minutes after,” said Jeenah.
However, according to Jeenah, the university has also accused UJ Sasco of violating the court order because the students were picketing when the court order was presented to the university administration.
The verdict awaits
On Monday afternoon the unregistered students were outside the Kingsway campus in Auckland Park waiting to hear if their attorney was able to reach an agreement with the university to allow them to register.[pullquote] “They [UJ] should be celebrating that their students are raising critical matters”[/pullquote]
Wits Vuvuzela contacted the university for comment but has not yet received a response.
Tebogo Thotela, deputy-secretary of Sasco Gauteng, criticised the suspension of the students and the charges they are facing.
“They [UJ] should be celebrating that their students are raising critical matters”, said Thotela.
Students left financially desperate
The suspension of the UJ students was part of a spate of nationwide protests against the lack of funds from NSFAS that had left many students financially desperate and unable to continue with their studies.
In addition to UJ, the government fund had come under fire from the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), the Durban University of Technology (DUT), and UJ for being unable to meet the financial requirements of the universities.
Thotela said that NSFAS was in arrears of R200-million with UJ and a national shortage of R 2-billion. While Higher Education minister Blade Nzimande subsequently committed R1-billion to the fund, this may not be enough to cover the financial shortages between the universities and NSFAS.[pullquote align=”right”]”The fund is struggling of keeping up with the needs of South African students.”[/pullquote]
Wits NFSAS continues to fund students
Amidst all the protests at other universities, Wits’ NSFAS office has continued to provide students with their financial grants. Thotela said that unlike TUT and UJ, only 15% of registered Wits students rely on the government fund.
Although NSFAS received an extra R 100-million to their fund which increased it from the previous year’s total of R 8. 2-billion, the fund is struggling of keeping up with the needs of South African students.
Thotela said that the issue lies in the inevitable increase in the intake of students each year. “We’re seeing kids from a working class background coming to university and the fees are increasing as well.”