While some are attending online classes, protesting students still have their proverbial boots on the ground as the #WitsShutdown drags on.
Protesting students were joined by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union affiliated workers picketing in front of the heavily guarded Wits Great Hall on Monday, March 6.
The Great Hall piazza has been stage to increased tensions over the last few days, which saw projectiles including bricks and stones, flung from either side of the picket line. Most recently students trying to gain entry to the admin block were shoved and pepper sprayed by security officers.
SRC’s attempt to ‘fetch’ VC
A group of students protested outside the Wits VC, Zeblon Vilakazi’s house in Parktown at around 22:00 on March 6, 2023, to pressure the university to meet outstanding demands. The protesters accused the vice chancellor of being “arrogant” and not taking their plight seriously after he refused to meet them, he was on campus at the time and agreed to meet with the SRC at a time yet to be confirmed.
In a statement, the university said: “Following our engagement with the SRC, and further correspondence, the SRC has rejected the concessions presented today. Instead… about 200 students, led by the SRC, chose to march to the Vice-Chancellor’s home, and some threatened to burn it down.” The SRC denied the threat.
“We will not put our arms down until our students are registered,” said Kabelo Phungwayo, the Wits SRC Treasurer General who said that he was left bruised after security guards assaulted him while protesting on Monday morning.
Deadlock after concessions
Wits has made some concessions including the waiving the R10 000 first fee payment for students applying for accommodation, and the provision of free data for all students from April 1, 2023. Speaking at a mass meeting on Sunday evening SRC president, Aphiwe Mnyamana said that they “will remain resolute” until all their demands are met.
Remaining demands include the allocation of additional beds for homeless students, scrapping of the R45 000 National Student Financial Aid Scheme accommodation cap, allowing indebted students to graduate and the lifting of suspensions.
The university says many of these demands are simply unaffordable, the NSFAS shortfall for instance requires some R86 million.
In a statement issued over the weekend, the minister of higher education, science and technology, Blade Nzimande said urgent meetings over the cap would take place in the coming days. Along with this, “price collusion by landlords”, would be investigated.
Karabo Matloga, the Wits SRC compliance officer, told Wits Vuvuzela that, “We had a meeting on Saturday looked promising however, the letter that we received was simply a spit in our faces because it was not addressing the core issues we have.”
The university said it is committed to working with the SRC subject to availability of resources and the university’s long-term sustainability.
FEATURED IMAGE: Student holding up a placard which reads, “Wits is not for good…”. Photo: Mpho Hlakudi
The National Treasury has said that they have not budgeted for a zero percent fee increase for 2017, causing speculation that another series of #FeesMustFall protests could be possible.
The statement was made on Friday at the Fees Commission and coincided with a report by the Council of Higher Education (CHE) stating that another 0% increase in 2017 would not be possible as university fee increases should at least be on par with inflation. They recommended an increase of 6.3% for both tuition and registration fees. The CHE also cautioned that without an increase in fees, universities would be in a worse financial position.
The CHE also included in the report its recommendation to increase the state subsidy to universities by R5.7 billion in 2017/18 therefore allowing universities to recover some of their shortfall caused by the 0% increase in 2016. The CHE did, however, caution that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) would still have a shortfall of R300 million.
The CHE proposed a blanket increase for all universities that would essentially ensure that students see no fee increase between 2016 and 2017, possibly with the exemption of some residence fees.
But the National Treasury said on Friday that when the announcement for a 0% increase was made the budget had already been planned for the next few years, making it very difficult for the Treasury to reallocate funds to higher education. Michael Sachs, who presented on behalf of the National Treasury, said that they had budgeted on fee increases for the following years.
At a town hall meeting last week, Wits Vice Chancellor Adam Habib said that that Wits would need an 8% increase for 2017, if the university did not receive an increased subsidy from the government.
Mzwanele Ntshwanti, the projects, media and campaigns officer for the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) and member of the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) told Wits Vuvuzela that they opposed any fee increase.
“We still don’t want any increment, SAUS (South African Union of Students) doesn’t want any increment, SRC doesn’t want any increment, no one wants a fee increment and we are still trying to negotiate and see what can come out,” Ntshwanti said.
He also told Wits Vuvuzela that a statement regarding a possible national shutdown would be released shortly.
The ANC (African National Congress), its alliance members, Cosatu and the SACP (South African Communist Party), and pro-Palestinian organisations held a press conference at Cosatu House earlier today, denouncing the Israeli government for denying Minister Blade Nzimande and his delegation visas to enter Palestine.
PRO-PALESTINE ALLIANCE: Members of COSATU, SACP, BDSSA, YCL, and SAUS, amongst others at Cosatu House announcing their plans to boycott Israel earlier today. Photo: Zimasa Mpemnyama
Various African National Congress-aligned and pro-Palestinian organisations vowed today that they would force the South African government to expel the Israeli ambassador, amongst other demands.
The demands, in response to Israel’s refusal to grant a visa to Minister Blade Nzimande and his delegation to travel to Palestine, were announced at a press conference held this afternoon at Cosatu House.
Organisations present at the press conference included the South African Communist Party (SACP), Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), Young Communist League (YCL), South African Students Congress (SASCO), the South African Union of Students (SAUS), and members of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions South Africa (BDSSA), amongst others.
The organisations said they believed that Nzimande, the minister of Higher Education and Training, was denied access to Palestine because of Israel’s “apartheid” laws.
“The embassy of Israel must go.”
The acting National Spokesperson of Cosatu, Norman Mampane, said Blade Nzimande’s stance against Isreal should not be viewed as his individual views, but rather as ANC policy, adopted by the ANC National Executive Committee.
Government given an ultimatum
Mampane highlighted an action plan that included requesting the ANC government to impose bans on Israeli nationals travelling to South Africa, holding a national meeting with Student Representative Councils (SRCs), from universities around the country to discuss an academic boycott of Israel, and calling for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador, Arthur Lenk, from South Africa within 10 days.
“It’s clear that they [Israel] don’t want to talk … so in ten days if the embassy is not closed, we will go and close it ourselves,” said Matome Chiloane, Chairman of the Gauteng ANCYL.
Bheki Ntshalintshali, Cosatu Deputy General Secretary said that they are not surprised by the Israeli government’s decision to deny Minister Nzimande a visa, because the “Israeli government has been consistent in denying Palestinian people their freedom”.
“The embassy of Israel must go,” Ntshalintshali said.
Nzimande was invited to Palestine to discuss and participate in the launch of the Centre for African Studies at a Palestinian university. Nzimande did not attend the press conference.
PAINED: A PYA member calls for students to unite in solidarity with those unable to pay the upfront registration fee. Photo: Ilanit Chernick
Around 60 Witsies gathered at Senate House on Wednesday to protest the upfront fee expected from NSFAS students.
Students who are awaiting National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) approval have been asked to pay a registration fee of R4 670.
The protesters sang “My mother was a kitchen girl, my father was a garden boy” and chanted “NSFAS voetsek! NSFAS voetsek!” while dancing.
Members of the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC), Progressive Youth Alliance, the Wits Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and Project W attended the protest.
SRC president Mcebo Dlamini told protesters that Wits management was denying “poor students an education”. He called on Vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib and management to waive the upfront fee.
“This has never happened at Wits. Why now? Only rich students can study here. We the students demand that you do away with these fee,” Dlamini said.
SNAP THAT: A PYA member takes photos as students protest outside the Great Hall. Photo: Ilanit Chernick
Secretary of the Wits EFF Mbe Mbhele accused NSFAS of having a policy to exclude black students at Wits and around academic institutions.
“It is only black students who are affected. This exclusion is a reflection of what is happening around South Africa. If it is not resolved we will take radical action,” Mbhele said.
Deputy Vice-chancellor of Academics Prof Andrew Crouch told Wits Vuvuzela that the upfront fee for NSFAS beneficiaries would only affect about 400 students. However, it was not possible to waive their upfront fees.
“If we waiver the fee for 400 students, which is 12 percent of students, than we would have to waiver the complete registration fee [of R9 340] for all Wits Students. We have to be fair here. Bear in mind 88% of students pay full fees,” Crouch said.
Crouch also said that the university are doing their best to deal with the situation.
He said that NSFAS give Wits four types of allocations for funding. The university is trying to move money from three of the four allocations into the NSFAS general allocation to allow for at least 400 students whose applications are pending to receive funding.
“The process will be completed by February,” he said.
Following the protest a joint press conference was held between the SRC and university management.
Habib told reporters that the issue was out of Wits’ hands and that NSFAS had given strict instructions to Wits not to go over its NSFAS bursary allocation as the university had done in 2013 and 2014.
“If we had the money to hand out we would but we just can’t at the moment.”
Habib said the reason behind the high upfront registration fee is because the government subsidy only comes into play from April each year.
“We have to make up the deficits of the first three months of the year and part of the money used to pay staff salaries and fund the university through this period is through the registration fee.”
Dlamini accused Habib of being “politically correct”.
“Our VC is playing politics,” he said. “It’s a sad moment, the university wants to eat its own like a pig.”
CALL TO ORDER: A member of the EFF calls for management to explain themselves to students. Photo: Ilanit Chernick
Dlamini also blamed Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande for not taking the NSFAS issue and the Wits SRC seriously.
“When we met with the minister he kept joking and talking about Nkandla,” Dlamini said. “We just hope he listened to us. He must start taking education seriously and allocate more money for higher education before students end up on the streets.”
Some students on Twitter had also threatened violence if students were excluded over a lack of NSFAS funding. Habib warned that violence on campus would be taken “seriously by the law”. Students found to be involved “in such actions will be expelled” with no chance to reapply to the university in the future.
Four of the 27 University of Johannesburg students arrested for protesting over financial aid have been prevented from registering for classes this year.
Last month, the students, dubbed the “UJ27” were arrested for protesting against a shortage of funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NFSAS).
[pullquote align=”right”] “The university would not let the four unregistered students onto the campus without an official escort.”[/pullquote]
The students were arrested and released with a warning after they appeared in the Newlands Magistrate’s Court in Johannesburg. Twenty of the students were then suspended by UJ. Among the 20 students were the chairperson and secretary of the UJ SA Students Congress (Sasco).
Prevented from registering
Last Friday, the suspended students won a court order forcing the university to allow them to register. However, four were still prevented from registering on Monday.
Shira’h Jeenah, chairperson of UJ Sasco and one of the four students prevented from registering told Wits Vuvuzela the university would not let the four unregistered students onto the campus without an official escort.
However, on Monday when the students came to register the security escort had not been provided by UJ Campus Protection and so the students could not register.
“The university has said that we are not allowed on campus if we do not have classes,” said Jeenah. He added that the students have had to submit their timetables into campus protection so they may be escorted to their classes and off campus.
“We’re only allowed to be on campus 15 minutes before class and 15 minutes after,” said Jeenah.
However, according to Jeenah, the university has also accused UJ Sasco of violating the court order because the students were picketing when the court order was presented to the university administration.
The verdict awaits
On Monday afternoon the unregistered students were outside the Kingsway campus in Auckland Park waiting to hear if their attorney was able to reach an agreement with the university to allow them to register.
[pullquote] “They [UJ] should be celebrating that their students are raising critical matters”[/pullquote]
Wits Vuvuzela contacted the university for comment but has not yet received a response.
Tebogo Thotela, deputy-secretary of Sasco Gauteng, criticised the suspension of the students and the charges they are facing.
“They [UJ] should be celebrating that their students are raising critical matters”, said Thotela.
Students left financially desperate
The suspension of the UJ students was part of a spate of nationwide protests against the lack of funds from NSFAS that had left many students financially desperate and unable to continue with their studies.
In addition to UJ, the government fund had come under fire from the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), the Durban University of Technology (DUT), and UJ for being unable to meet the financial requirements of the universities.
Thotela said that NSFAS was in arrears of R200-million with UJ and a national shortage of R 2-billion. While Higher Education minister Blade Nzimande subsequently committed R1-billion to the fund, this may not be enough to cover the financial shortages between the universities and NSFAS.
[pullquote align=”right”]”The fund is struggling of keeping up with the needs of South African students.”[/pullquote]
Wits NFSAS continues to fund students
Amidst all the protests at other universities, Wits’ NSFAS office has continued to provide students with their financial grants. Thotela said that unlike TUT and UJ, only 15% of registered Wits students rely on the government fund.
Although NSFAS received an extra R 100-million to their fund which increased it from the previous year’s total of R 8. 2-billion, the fund is struggling of keeping up with the needs of South African students.
Thotela said that the issue lies in the inevitable increase in the intake of students each year. “We’re seeing kids from a working class background coming to university and the fees are increasing as well.”
Today we’re taking a look at the #WitsShutdown protests which are over historical debt and unaffordable accommodation, which have seen several students suspended, physical clashes between protestors and security and disruptions to the academic programme for many. In this bonus episode of We Should Be Writing, we let students unpack their views on what has […]