FEATURE: SRC’s term is a mixed bag

The 2022/2023 Wits Student Representative Council assumed office with great ambitions and many promises for students, but did they deliver?  

During what was a special year for the University of the Witwatersrand as it turned 100-years-old, the 2021/2022 SRC celebrated a mini milestone of their own by serving a full term without any protest action taking place on campus. A rare occurrence as it has become the norm to expect the annual demonstrations brought on by issues linked to academic and financial exclusion.   

Their successors on the other hand – the 2022/2023 cohort – assumed office with a responsibility to maintain this peace on campus while acting on frustrations raised by students like the National Student Financial Aid Scheme’s accommodation cap and the registration of students with historical debt. These and the issues below are some of the stumbling blocks the SRC has had to face.   

The elections 

SRC elections take place annually over a space of two consecutive days. The polls open at nine in the morning and close at eight in the evening on both days, with the goal of achieving at least 25% voter turnout. Last year, this was not the case. 

The 2022/2023 SRC election failed to meet the 25% threshold by 8pm. Only 24,08% of the 41 794 students at Wits had cast their votes and the deadline had to be extended for an additional hour. An occurrence last seen during the 2020/2021 elections. To make matters worse, by the time the polls closed, the total number of voters had only increased by a percentage point. 

A pie chart representing the students that participated in the 2022/2023 SRC elections as compared to those that did not. Visualisation: Otsile Swaratlhe

What was introduced to the students as a council of 21 members, now only has 18 student representatives. Following the #WitsShutdown, elected President Aphiwe Mnyamana, support officer Lisa Sabaca together with clubs, societies, organisations (CSO) and student governance officer Solami Buthelezi were suspended and are currently still attending their respective disciplinary hearings. 

The 2022-2023 officially elected SRC members and their respective offices. Visualisation: Otsile Swaratlhe

The #WitsShutdown was a call by the SRC to mobilize students to bring all campus activities to a halt through protest action. With issues around financial and academic exclusion at the core of the protest.  However, some of the actions taken under this hashtag, like the destruction of public and institutional property were deemed reckless, illegal and lawless – resulting in the suspensions.

Kamogelo Mabe is now the acting President and has delegated the tasks of the CSO and student governance officer to the office of the deputy president. 

Promises, promises  

While there are no set goals for the SRC as a collective, it is important to hold them to the promises made while campaigning. Ten members of the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) – a SASCO (South African Students Congress) & ANCYL (African National Congress Youth League) alliance – ran for SRC with the same manifesto. All of them made it into the council. In it, they demanded a safe house on campus for victims of gender-based violence (GBV), reducing international students’ 75% upfront payment to 30% and called for allowances to be processed and paid by the first of each month. 

Bukisa Boniswa was the only member of the EFFSC (Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command) – that made it into the SRC. Their manifesto was longer and included demands like a 24-hour bus operating beyond Braamfontein, campus health operating 24 hours and a Visa facilitation service office on campus for students’ consultation. 

It is worth mentioning that Lesego Makinita and Solami Buthelezi ran as independent candidates, but Makinita was a former longstanding member of the PYA and Buthelezi is a SASCO member. 

Buthelezi’s campaign was women centred, demanding free sanitary pads, a GBV safe house like the PYA and the introduction of a rule that will exclude students with sexual offences from staying at Wits residences. Makinita’s campaign focused broadly on improved accommodation, transportation, health services and financial assistance for students. 

What was delivered on 

The 2022/2023 cohort introduced the century of inclusion fund. These were funds aimed at registering students with debt and bringing back students who faced  financial exclusion.  

An infographic of the contributions that made up the SRC’ R12.6 million Century of Inclusion Fund. Photo: Otsile Swaratlhe

The money for this was raised through several initiatives that brought in a total of R12.6 million. Falling short of the R33 million required to help students in need.  

Accommodation in and around campus has always been a challenge. However, NSFAS’s introduction of a R45 000 cap on accommodation, exacerbated the problem.  

Working together with the Wits Citizenship and Community Outreach (WCCO), the SRC was able to help students apply for a hardship fund that was dedicated to securing free accommodation for students. Moreover, this fund was also able to help students waiver the R10 000 needed upfront before moving into Wits residences.  

They also met with the COO of Dunwell Properties, Thando Cele for a donation of beds, and secured 300 beds for students that were sleeping in toilets, offices and libraries on campus. 

Lastly, the promise to address feminine hygiene was also fulfilled. Through the installation of sanitary pad dispensers, the SRC finally delivered on their #EndPeriodPoverty campaign, which was initially spearheaded by last term’s SRC deputy president, Lesego Louw. 

Issues NOT addressed 

In the presence of these achievements, are some dropped balls. The #WitsShutdown for instance saw several key SRC thrown out of office and delayed the start of the academic year for those who participated in particular. Most of the student population continued with classes in a blended mode when the protest threatened in-person attendance.

Moreover, 559 NSFAS beneficiaries have been defunded since the second semester began. According to a tweet by the SRC, of the 10 000 students that are covered by the financial aid scheme, only 1 425 of the students had received their allowances by July 11th and about 3 000 of them were yet to be onboarded to the new system.  

While having promised to demand a consistent payment system for allowances, National Research Ffoundation (NRF) and Gauteng City Region Academy (GCRA) beneficiaries have never received allowances on the same day for two consecutive months.  

A statistic of the students that are covered by NSFAS at Wits and how many have been defunded. Photo: Otsile Swaratlhe

Additionally, students allege that the SRC has been unable to assist with ongoing maintenance issues at residences such as rolling blackouts outside of loadshedding hours at the residences on west campus, water cuts and sometimes lack of hot water at Junction in Parktown. 

With this year’s elections around the corner – voting set to start on September 19 – there are many things to be considered before casting your vote.  

While one’s campaign will always contain promises, it is important to think about feasibility and the challenges that being in the SRC comes with.  

FEATURED: The officially announced members of the Wits 2022/2023 Student Representative Council (SRC). Photo: Supplied/@Wits_SRC

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