The struggles of Wits student commuters 

Expensive public transport leaves some students having to choose between eating regularly or catching another bus or taxi to campus.  

It takes France Richia and Mfanelo Zandamela, two LLB students at Wits University over two hours and 90 kilometres to travel to campus daily.   

On average, a student traveling from the townships around the Gauteng province to   Braamfontein spends anything between R100 to R200 on public transport daily.  

Richia and Zandamela travel from Orange Farm to campus, they said, “It gets scary when it’s dark given that we must walk all the way passing Mandela Bridge to Bree Street to catch a bus.”  

Johannesburg is notorious for its crime, with the winter season around the corner, days are becoming shorter and darker, a concern for those with classes that end after 17:00. 

Richia emphasized the issue of time management: “It is only recently that it has become my biggest challenge, this is because I must keep up with my studies while also making sure that I get enough rest, I have accustomed myself to waking up at 04:00 so that I can catch a bus which leaves at 05:30.” 

Zandamela told Wits Vuvuzela that the long three hours spent traveling contribute heavily to his fatigue, his second biggest challenge is the financial constraints this has towards his parents. “In one week I spend an approximate amount of R500” on transport and other incidentals like food.

Both students have stopped buying lunch on campus to save money, they sometimes pack sandwiches or a cooked meal from the previous night. 

To tackle their shared accommodation issue, they have both applied for Wits Hardship funding which aims to assist Wits students who need financial support.

Zandamela said “This is honestly my last hope,” living just 10 or 20 minutes away from campus would change his life and university experience drastically.  

GALLERY: Tensions rise on third day of protests

From the early hours of Friday morning, the ongoing #WitsShutdown protests became physical.

Things came to a head between protesting students and private security officers and Campus Protection Services (CPS) on March 3, 2023. What started out as security using their shields to bar students from entering buildings or using certain entrances, quickly escalated into water, bricks and other projectiles being hurled by some protestors.

Members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) have now entered the fray, with multiple nyala’s standing at the ready in front of the Great Hall steps to provide reinforcements.

FEATURED IMAGE: A traffic cone about to be flung at security officers. Photo: Mpho Hlakudi

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Wits SRC: Students cannot be displaced on our watch

Some Wits University students have joined the countrywide protests over historical debt and unaffordable student accommodation.

Scores of students, staff and visitors were turned away at the Yale Road North and Empire Road entrances of Wits University on the morning of March 1, 2023, as a group of students led by the student representative council (SRC) used their bodies, plastic road barriers and rubbish to block entry.

Students blocking the Empire Road entrance to main campus, as protests over historic debt and accommodation reach Wits University after weeks of similar protest action across the country. Photo: Seth Thorne

The attempted shutdown is aimed at addressing a number of students who have been unable to register due to existing debt and those without accommodation. Many can not afford the rentals charged at some university residences and private off-campus residences alike, forcing them to take shelter in libraries, toilet stalls and other unsuitable spaces.

When approached by Wits Vuvuzela, some members of the SRC were reluctant to speak on the record but said their demands to management had not been met and the shutdown would be in place until they were. In an interview with eNCA, deputy secretary of the SRC, Vuyiswa Mochochoko said, “over 10 000 students” have been financially excluded and are in need of assistance to continue with their studies.

In a statement, the university said the protest came as a “surprise” as they had been working with the SRC up to a few hours before the protest to assist qualifying students with their registration. “Wits has matched the R6,2 million brought in by the SRC rand for rand. In effect, there is a pot of R12,4 million available in the SRC Fund for qualifying students,” the statement says.

The university added that 36 200 students (96% of the student population) have successfully registered for the academic year and R28 million raised through the Wits Hardship Fund has been used to assist with some of these registrations and to provide emergency accommodation.

While the SRC is demanding that all students with debt below R150 000 be allowed to register, these are the concessions the university has made so far:

  • allowing students who owe R10 000 or less to register, 
  • allowing students whose total household income is below R600 000 to apply for registration assistance by paying 50% of the outstanding debt due and by making an arrangement to pay the balance of the debt during the course of the academic year, and 
  • allowing students who owe R15 000 or less to graduate.
A group of protesting students block the Yale Road entrance onto main campus near the Origins Centre. The protest on March 1, 2023 saw some students being pulled out of lecture halls in an attempt to shut down all activities on campus. Photo: Mpho Hlakudi

The protesters disrupted lectures and assessments, which may prompt the need to move online if the situation on the ground continues.

“We were supposed to write a test today and we couldn’t write it and I studied for it and I planned and now like the whole week is like, was a waste, all my studying. I’m really mad that we didn’t get to write that test and now we have to do it next week but we have another test next week so you know, I was very upset about that. Yeah, no, its going to be so stressful,” said Isabella Pedra, a second-year Bsc occupational therapy student.

Shannon Henning, a second-year BSc student told Wits Vuvuzela that, “I feel like if it was more peaceful more people would join them but I feel like when there’s vandalism, like the whole Yale Road is covered in litter now and I’m like, if I was a student I don’t wanna be represented by that. I would rather join something that’s peaceful than something where you’re breaking things and you’re littering everywhere, I don’t wanna be associated with that type of protest action.”

As reported by Wits Vuvuzela earlier this year, several universities and technical vocational education and training colleges have seen protests over the same issues being raised by the Wits SRC.

FEATURED IMAGE: A protesting student holds up a placard which reads, “We must register” on March 1, 2023. Photo: Mpho Hlakudi

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