Mass meeting mayhem 

Student organizations clash at meeting meant to discuss student accommodation and registration.  

Showing up to a crowded Wits Ampitheatre, students adorned in yellow and red regalia, members representing the EFF Student Command (EFFSC) and Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) joined forces to discuss registration and accommodation issues with new and returning students.  

The Wits Student Representative Council (SRC), made up of majority EFFSC members, and the PYA initially had separate meetings planned but decided to merge their efforts on the evening of February 22, 2024.  

Bukisa Boniswa, SRC president said protest action is on the cards but would need to be “sustainable and directed to the right people”, specifically Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande.  

“Wits University has been having protests since I got here, [every year] we find ourselves in the same predicament. At some point, a level of consciousness needs to come to all of us because we can’t keep on doing the very same thing and expecting different results, that’s the definition of insanity,” said Boniswa. 

Viewing this as a party political jab, Chairperson of the ANCYL, Peterson Radasi, grabbed at the megaphone and began chanting “the SRC must fall!” A scuffle broke out when EFFSC coordinator, Sibusiso Mafolo, grabbed the megaphone from Radasi. Wits campus control officers had to intervene to restore order.  

“The president of the SRC started telling us about Jacob Zuma and Blade Nzimande which we highly disagree with. If we’re saying the doors of higher education must be opened, we all know who is closing them, and that’s the institution,” said ANCYL secretary, Kabelo Phungwayo. 

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) introduced an accommodation cap in 2023, after discovering price fixing and corruption by university staff in some institutions. The R45 000 cap has left students with fewer affordable options.  

Since the beginning of the 2024 registration period, around 300 students from the Cape Town Peninsula University of Technology struggled to secure accommodation and slept in the university’s sports hall until they were evicted on February 14. Similarly, News24 reported that a group of 30 students from Stellenbosch University have been rendered homeless and sleeping on the university’s squash court and outside the main administration building.

“Wits accommodation prices start from R65 000, the NSFAS cap means that students must pay R20 000 before they register, where would they get that money?” said EFFSC coordinator, Sibusiso Mafolo.  

He added that around 500 individuals lack accommodation while there are approximately 1000 vacant on-campus rooms. “Wits should turn these into hardship accommodations and collaborate with private student accommodations to secure at least 20 beds for NSFAS-defunded students,” said Mafolo. 

Boniswa reassured the students that they were putting pressure on Wits management and that a way forward would be communicated on Monday, February 26, 2024.  

SASCO denounces corruption amidst NSFAS woes 

SASCO president Vezinhlanhla Simelane passionately declared that “SASCO does not endorse, support nor facilitate any form of corruption or misappropriation of public funds.” 

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) failed to pay 20 000 allowances in 2023, leaving students hungry and unable to focus on their studies, which saw and some dropping out of university. 

The student bursary scheme said all outstanding payments would be made by January 15, 2024. But so far, only 9 128 issues have been resolved, leaving 10 872 students in limbo. An issue that the South African Students Congress (SASCO) said needs to be dealt with urgently in a press briefing held on Friday, January 19. 

Simelane said all payment balances must be made before the closure of the registration period in February 2024, and failure to do so will result in the implementation of mass action or mobilizing students for a protest. 

Simelane also spoke to recent corruption allegations against the minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande. NSFAS board chairperson, Ernest Khoza and Nzimande were accused of defrauding the student bursary scheme according to a leaked audio recording and an investigation report by Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA). 

He said if true, this kind of self-enrichment by politicians is ‘disgusting’. “We call for the harshest form of consequence management to be meted against any NSFAS or Department of Higher Education representative found embezzling funds destined for destitute and poor students,” said Simelane. 

Second-year Bachelor of Arts student, Lindelwa Khanyile is a NSFAS recipient who went over the R45 000 accommodation cap imposed by NSFAS in 2023. This led to historical debt of R101 00, owed to Wits University. The institution has since demanded that she pay a minimum of R30 000 to register for her third year. “My question is, where will I get R30 000 as a NSFAS recipient – it doesn’t make sense,” she said.  

“This is such a depressing experience for me, student organisations such as EFF and SASCO need to meet with Wits management and plead with them to allow students to complete their studies,” said Khanyile, whose hopes of graduating and pursuing a postgraduate degree in journalism remain suspended.  

Similarly, postgraduate student Lesego Makinita owes Wits R50 000. Not being able to raise funds forced Makinita to return to their hometown, Rustenburg in the North West province. “I have made peace with the fact that I can’t go to school even if I want to. I’ve always wanted to go to Business School to study business administration, I’m very good at marketing and I know I would do a great job,” they said.  

On the question of free education in South Africa’s current landscape, Kamtshe told Wits Vuvuzela that it is indeed attainable, but there is a lack of political will to implement it. He criticized the current system which is a mix of bursaries, scholarships, and student loans, “that is not free education, free education must be entirely free,” he said.  

In closing, Simelane urged activists to take decisive action to ensure that “the doors of learning are forcefully opened in 2024.”