A number of shops in the Wits Matrix are currently closed or have reduced their staff numbers.
The 2021 tertiary academic year is well underway, but with the academic program mostly online, several stores and service providers in the Matrix at the Wits University’s east campus remain closed or are operating with reduced staff numbers due to the limited number of students on campus.
It has become too expensive for these shops to operate with students remaining at home while the academic programme is conducted mostly remotely. The result is a lack of variety in meal options and inconvenience for the students and staff who are on campus and who turn to these businesses for lunch.
“The fact that Kara Nichhas remains closed is highly inconvenient for me as a Muslim vegetarian as it was the only affordable halaal establishment in the Matrix. Most days I go without lunch,” said Amirah Lamidi, a third-year humanities student on campus.
Student Corner, one of the popular takeaways which provided a variety of foods from baked goods to stews and pap at reasonable prices, was named as one of the stores that students missed the most when Wits Vuvuzela spoke to them. Mlu Kuzwayo, a student at the institution, said he preferred Student Corner over the restaurants that are currently available because it was very convenient, and, “you could get a lot with a mere R20.”
Many of the lease owners whose shops are closed are either independent, or part of small franchises that cannot afford to operate at a loss. Their income and profits rely on the number of customers that they serve in a month. The decision whether to open or close is one that is not made by the University, but rather individual lease holders, which is why some shops in the Matrix continue to operate despite the reduced number of students on campus.
Currently, both the university, as well as the vendors whose shops are closed are unsure about the future of these stores. Both parties have indicated that it would be best to wait until face-to-face classes resume before giving a prospective date for the closed shops to reopen but it remains unclear when this will happen. Nicholas Matthes, the deputy director of the Wits services department said: “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many retailers have faced unprecedented challenges, and as a result of the lockdown restrictions, some outlets remain temporarily closed. It is expected that this would change with the staggered and safe return of students and staff to the University.” A shop owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said, “It does not make business sense to open until the university allows face to face lectures and the broader university community returning to pre-covid levels.”
This means that for now, for anyone planning to be on campus, it is best to pack a lunch bag to avoid disappointment if your favourite food vendor in the Matrix is closed.
FEATURED IMAGE: A near-empty Matrix at Wits University. Photo: Rebecca Kgabo.
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