First-year students told that even at Wits students experience problems to do with finances, accommodation and racism.

The Wits SRC president painted a grim picture of university life in his welcome address to first-year students at the Welcome Day Event on Sunday, January 26.

“It is our responsibility as the SRC to express the unfortunate circumstances that we welcome you into this year. The university has tendencies of gross victimisation of the poor and working class. Outstanding debt is a reality and students get victimised for being poor and not being able to clear outstanding debt,” said Thuto Gabaphethe.

The third-year law student also warned first-years that, “We do not condone or take lightly acts of racism, sexism, gender-based harm and intolerance of freedom of speech. We must unreservedly punish all those found guilty of such violent acts. Rape culture must not be tolerated in the university … One rape is too many.”

However, the SRC president did point out that it was an achievement to be admitted to the university, and encouraged the audience to stand and applaud the new students, saying, “You are the crème de la crème of the country and the African continent.”

Turning his attention to Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib, Gabaphethe called on the university to allow qualifying students to register and continue with their studies despite historical debt. “The real difficulty is finances,” he said, adding that accommodation was “one of the most difficult things” that the SRC had to deal with.

Afterwards, Gabaphethe told Wits Vuvuzela that, “There is this glorious picture of Wits as the best institution in Africa, but it is important as students to highlight these issues and it is not as glorious as everyone thinks it is. There are issues of accommodation, finances, racism, which need to be addressed and we want to get the first years to get involved and help us in addressing these issues.”

He said that the SRC would continue to support the insourcing of workers. “It is very unfortunate that in 2020 our mothers and fathers who are supposed Wits employees, walk at 03:00 after their night shifts, to empty taxi ranks. We will not rest or cease to be in solidarity with our parents of [the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union], until a Wits cleaner and campus control official who are black are seen as the same as a lecturer or academic staff.

“There is a deliberate attempt from the university to silence and kill the little breath student activism has. It is very unfortunate, Professor Habib, that as a student activist yourself there are continuous strides from the university under your leadership to target and victimise vocal individuals who are not willing to accept the status quo,” Gabaphethe said, adding that, “Student activism is being deliberately murdered and silenced by the management of the university.”

The SRC president invited first years to join clubs and societies on campus to engage and deliberate on current issues faced by students.

FEATURED IMAGE: SRC president, Thuto Gabaphethe, challenges Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib and university management to address ongoing difficulties students face at Wits. Photo: Tumelo Modiba