Around 60 Witsies gathered at Senate House on Wednesday to protest the upfront fee expected from NSFAS students.
Students who are awaiting National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) approval have been asked to pay a registration fee of R4 670.
The protesters sang “My mother was a kitchen girl, my father was a garden boy” and chanted “NSFAS voetsek! NSFAS voetsek!” while dancing.
Members of the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC), Progressive Youth Alliance, the Wits Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and Project W attended the protest.
SRC president Mcebo Dlamini told protesters that Wits management was denying “poor students an education”. He called on Vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib and management to waive the upfront fee.
“This has never happened at Wits. Why now? Only rich students can study here. We the students demand that you do away with these fee,” Dlamini said.
Secretary of the Wits EFF Mbe Mbhele accused NSFAS of having a policy to exclude black students at Wits and around academic institutions.
“It is only black students who are affected. This exclusion is a reflection of what is happening around South Africa. If it is not resolved we will take radical action,” Mbhele said.
Deputy Vice-chancellor of Academics Prof Andrew Crouch told Wits Vuvuzela that the upfront fee for NSFAS beneficiaries would only affect about 400 students. However, it was not possible to waive their upfront fees.
“If we waiver the fee for 400 students, which is 12 percent of students, than we would have to waiver the complete registration fee [of R9 340] for all Wits Students. We have to be fair here. Bear in mind 88% of students pay full fees,” Crouch said.
Crouch also said that the university are doing their best to deal with the situation.
He said that NSFAS give Wits four types of allocations for funding. The university is trying to move money from three of the four allocations into the NSFAS general allocation to allow for at least 400 students whose applications are pending to receive funding.
“The process will be completed by February,” he said.
Following the protest a joint press conference was held between the SRC and university management.
Habib told reporters that the issue was out of Wits’ hands and that NSFAS had given strict instructions to Wits not to go over its NSFAS bursary allocation as the university had done in 2013 and 2014.
“If we had the money to hand out we would but we just can’t at the moment.”
Habib said the reason behind the high upfront registration fee is because the government subsidy only comes into play from April each year.
“We have to make up the deficits of the first three months of the year and part of the money used to pay staff salaries and fund the university through this period is through the registration fee.”
Dlamini accused Habib of being “politically correct”.
“Our VC is playing politics,” he said. “It’s a sad moment, the university wants to eat its own like a pig.”
Dlamini also blamed Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande for not taking the NSFAS issue and the Wits SRC seriously.
“When we met with the minister he kept joking and talking about Nkandla,” Dlamini said. “We just hope he listened to us. He must start taking education seriously and allocate more money for higher education before students end up on the streets.”
Some students on Twitter had also threatened violence if students were excluded over a lack of NSFAS funding. Habib warned that violence on campus would be taken “seriously by the law”. Students found to be involved “in such actions will be expelled” with no chance to reapply to the university in the future.