Financial exclusion remains a running theme as students fight against fee blocks and high accommodation costs.  

Several tertiary institutions experienced a tumultuous start to the academic year with student representative councils citing funding and accommodation as the reasons for protest action. 

Court ordered peace at UCT 

University of Cape Town (UCT) recommenced in-person lectures on Friday, February 17, 2023 after a week of protests led by its SRC. UCT students blocked access to the university to protest fee blocks, which prevent students with outstanding debt from registering, as well as the lack of adequate, affordable accommodation. 

First-year bachelor of business science in finance with accounting student, Ryan Fallon, told Wits Vuvuzela that on his first day of lectures, he was blocked from entering campus by protestors. Once he managed to access campus and get into his first lecture venue, his lecturer was absent. “[Students] were subsequently told to go home as our lectures would now be online indefinity”, he said.  

On February 17, 2023, UCT obtained an interim order from the Western Cape High Court, prohibiting further protest. This includes disrupting academic activities, erecting barricades and preventing any student or staff member from accessing university property. 

The university implemented a grace period for students to continue with their studies while settling their debts, if what they owe is between R1 000 and R10 000.  

NSFAS meets students halfway 

At the University of Pretoria (UP) students slept outside campus gates due to the lack of housing as a result of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) cap of R45 000, read a UP SRC Twitter post. Most students funded by NSFAS cannot afford to top up their monthly rent, which often exceeds the amount allocated.  

The SRC halted their protest as a temporary solution had been made available by the bursary scheme. In addition, a R1,1 million donation from the Motshepe Foundation was received and will be redirected to the SRC Study Aid Fund.

The Stellenbosch University (SU) SRC also demonstrated over the NSFAS cap. A peaceful protest was held on February 10, 2023. After meeting with Nthuseng Mphalele, NSFAS chief operations officer, an urgent meeting was arranged with university management and accommodation stakeholders. At this meeting on February 13, the SRC raised concerns over food insecurity of NSFAS-funded students in residences after a reduction in food allowances and the delay in a NSFAS funding list being provided to SU.  

Keeping calm and carrying on 

Also on the west coast, at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) the university’s SRC participated in protest action over registration and accommodation. The university does not, however, have a financial exclusion policy and students with historical debt are able to register “without paying if they have a valid letter from the donor, grantor or NSFAS”, said Gasant Abarder, marketing and media manager at UWC. To address accommodation, the university has launched its 2 700-sleeper Uni Dell residence. 

On the east coast, the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) witnessed the petrol bombing of two administrative offices and the stoning of a residence guard house on Monday, February 13, 2023.  UKZN’s academic operations continued as planned despite the destruction, read a press statement issued by Normah Zondo, the university’s executive director of corporate relations. “[UKZN] has not received any formal memorandum of demands and is therefore unable to comment on what could have prompted these actions,” read the latest statement issued by the university on February 20, 2023. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Archive photo of students queued up at the Fees Office during the registration period. Photo: Patricia Aruo