As Wits centenary celebrations wrapped up, the SRC reunion showed that council members still hold dear the principles of justice from their student activism days.

Generations of the Wits SRC gathered at a reunion event at the Wits Club on Sunday, September 4, 2022 have called for an end to financial exclusion and for an improvement of research processes.

Reflecting on how far the council has come in the university’s 100 years of existence, members of different councils noted that there were still outstanding issues, that include financial and academic exclusion, gender inequality and inadequate access to tertiary education.

Gauteng deputy judge president Roland Sutherland, a 1975/76 SRC member, said, “We need, as a country, to get a proper grip on the need for proper funding of education and to make sure that every child gets through as much education as [she or he] wants.”

The university needs to adopt a policy that permits free registration for postgraduate students to preserve research enthusiasm and to avoid the high number of dropouts, said former chairperson of the postgraduate association under the 2007/8 council, Charles Nyuykonge. According to the international peacebuilding and mediation specialist, postgraduate students spend up to six years refining their research proposals to fit their supervisors’ framework, and losing their own voices in research.

Among the attendees were former UCT vice-chancellor Max Price who served as Wits SRC president in 1977/8 and the first woman to serve in the SRC in 1957, Joan Joffe, the founder of Joffe Associates, an IT company.

Since its inception, the Wits SRC has challenged the status quo. Sutherland said that “The SRC saw itself as a site of struggle, demonstrating that we were against apartheid.” This was inherited 40 years later when the council played a role in what 2014/15 SRC president Shaeera Kalla calls “shifting people’s mindsets” with the #FeesMustFall protests. Kalla said that “It’s [still] going to take massive fights outside and inside the university for people of conscience to come together and create a more just, equitable world.”

The different councils claimed some victories by the university’s student leadership. Acknowledging this, dean of student affairs Jerome September said student leaders’ fights may have a common thread of challenging financial exclusion and demanding free education, but they have evolved over time with contextual changes.

“In 1976, the fight may have been for free education… today [there] are layers of free education but now the challenge is the missing middle,” September said, pointing to the fact that every year during the registration period, students who cannot afford fees but do not qualify for NSFAS funding are always at risk of being excluded.

As the reunion drew to a close, student governance officer, Tshepo Ndlovu told Wits Vuvuzela that it was important to celebrate the SRC’s contribution to making the university what it is in its centenary year.

FEATURED IMAGE: Bafana Nhlapho, the Wits SRC president who led a council that established the student humanitarian fund in 2010, delivers his reflection address. Photo: Keamogetswe Matlala