The university does not have an unlimited source of funds to help all the students in need. 

Wits University management says students who are squatting in laboratories and libraries are without accommodation because of “poor academic performance” and “repeatedly failing”.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Andrew Crouch told Wits Vuvuzela that, “I can comfortably say that many of these students are students that have been readmitted to the university after failing the year of study, went through an appeals process, and were then readmitted.

“The group that we are dealing with now, many of them have lost their funding because they have not been academically successful and the question I always ask is, must we reward failure?”

Crouch was responding to a protest on Wednesday, March 4, when a group of students led by the SRC occupied the Solomon Mahlangu House concourse in an attempt to shut down the university, to force management to provide accommodation for homeless students.

“Students are languishing in libraries, computer labs and the streets of Johannesburg,” said SRC president Thuto Gabaphethe.

Writing on Twitter, Wits head of communications, Shirona Patel, agreed with Crouch’s assessment, saying, “The real issue is that [this] group of 50 or so students have lost their funding and accommodation because they have failed repeatedly.

“Wits University made available R17-million to students this year for accommodation through the Hardship Fund. What more can we do?” Patel tweeted.

The secretary-general of the South African Students Congress (Sasco), Kabo Mosiane, agrees that some among the squatting students have repeatedly failed, but says that does not account for all of them.

“The majority are returning students that have failed, number one. Number two, [those] that have lost funding, maybe bursaries and NSFAS. Some are postgrad students and, remember, NSFAS doesn’t fund postgrad studies,” said Mosiane.

While acknowledging the safety risks associated with sleeping in labs and the university’s responsibility to its students, Crouch said, “We’ll try and get students out of laboratories and see if we can extend the emergency accommodation.”

However, funding is the issue, he said. “There’s a limited budget and if we give to one group, we have to take from another. We don’t have money just to allocate on request,” said Crouch.

According to a statement released on Twitter by the university, 50 more beds were secured on March 4 to assist homeless students, in addition to assisting over 800 students through the Hardship Fund.

The Wits Hardship Fund was established to help students who are in urgent need of assistance.

Crouch told Wits Vuvuzela that the shortage of student accommodation is a national crisis. “The university alone cannot solve the housing problem. It’s a national problem and we can see that all other universities are struggling with this.”

Accommodation Protest Album: Wits Vuvuzela:

FEATURED IMAGE: Deputy Vice-Chancellor Andrew Crouch addresses protesting students in the Solomon Mahlangu House concourse about accommodation and funding. Photo: Zainab Patel