University rejects pleas of graduands with outstanding debt. 

Three Wits university students have asked the institution to allow their peers to attend graduation ceremonies despite outstanding debt. The students, Kamvalethu Spelman, Segopotso Gakeitumele and Mpumzi Bobo, argue that participating in the ceremonies are a crucial part of the celebrations for poor Black families and being denied this opportunity harms their dignity.

Gakeitumele and Bobo, third-year LLB and Spelman, third-year accounting sciences student are still a long way from graduation but have taken on the cause of students unable to attend graduation due to historical debt.

“Why must we deprive poor people of experiencing the same celebration of [graduation] because they are owing fees?” said Spelman, 23. The three wrote to the dean of students Jerome September on July 18, requesting that additional concessions be made for students with historical debt who would ordinarily not be allowed to graduate.

September told Wits Vuvuzela that the request was discussed at a senior executive team (SET) meeting on Tuesday, August 13, and “the university cannot grant the additional concession requested”. “The university council approved a concession allowing all students who owe the university less than R15 000 the opportunity to graduate, upon signing an acknowledgement of debt,” said September.

“We reject their (SET) decision because in our letter we stated clearly that we want students to attend the ceremony regardless of financial problems,” said Spelman.

“The University acknowledge[s] the importance of graduation and the need to assist as many students as possible to realize this important milestone,” said September adding that there are “mechanisms in place to assist students towards graduation”.

“The University also has 3 graduation sessions during any academic year, thus giving students multiple possible opportunities to graduate in any given academic year,” said September.

Spelman told Wits Vuvuzela “Wits has shown itself, several times that it does not care about black students in particular because look at the teaching method, the nature of system and look at how it was established – it was never meant for black people”.

A student who is unable to graduate because of historical debt, and who declined to be named, said, “It is very disheartening because you work hard and that’s the ultimate goal you look forward to”. “It has a very tough mental and emotional effect,” she added.

The student, a self-funded accounting sciences graduand, told Wits Vuvuzela, “I don’t think people shouldn’t be allowed to graduate because of fees”.

Spelman told Wits Vuvuzela that, “students must not be deprived of their right to celebrate their education because they are poor”.

“This is not our personal fight but for those who can’t voice this pain,” said Spelman, who hopes to gradauate in March 2020.

FEATURED IMAGE:  Segopotso Gakeitumele (left) with Kamvalethu Spelman (right) outside of the Great Hall at Wits University. Photo: Lwazi Maseko