Protests mar first day of classes at Wits

Classes at Wits University were disrupted on the first day of the academic year.

Members of the Wits SRC lead a protest on the Wits main campus in Braamfontein. Photo: Onke Ngcuka.

A GROUP of about 200 students, led by the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC), disrupted lectures on Monday morning, February 4, in an attempt to shut down the Wits main campus.

The SRC said the protest was in response to a statement released by the university on Sunday, saying only students with debts of R10 000 and less would be allowed to register for 2019.

“As per the Council-approved concessions for 2019 below, only students who owe the university R10 000 or less will be allowed to roll over their debt and to register this year. These students will also be required to sign an Acknowledgement of Debt form and make arrangements with the university to pay off the debt,” read the statement, signed by vice principal Andrew Crouch.

It said the university could not afford “to allow student debt to accumulate as this will result in the university not remaining financially sustainable”.

The statement contradicted what was agreed at a meeting held on Thursday, January 31, according to the SRC, which says the figure agreed to was R100 000.

SRC president Sisanda Mbolekwa told Wits Vuvuzela that, “We met with the dean (of students, Jerome September) on Thursday, we tabled our demands to the vice principal as well. He (Crouch) agreed to these concessions, come Sunday night he releases a counter-statement telling students they can’t register anymore.”

However, according to Crouch, agreements reached at Thursday’s meeting only applied to the Hardship Fund.

The protesting students congregated inside Solomon Mahlangu House before storming lecture halls across East Campus.

One lecturer, Nompumelelo Seme, showed solidarity with the protesting students who entered her property law lecture in Umthombo building, by adjourning her class.

“I think that as property law students and law students in general, we should be concerned more about justice,” Seme told her class.

“These are causes we cannot turn a blind eye to. I apologise to those of you who feel a sense of discomfort but these are real issues,” she added.

The protesters then proceeded to West Campus where they clashed with private security and disrupted lectures at the Science Stadium before returning to Solomon Mahlangu to debrief.

The SRC has vowed to continue with the protests until the university reverses its decision.

“We’re saying that no students should be in class while other students are excluded and not registered, that’s why we are going around classes. No classes must happen until our demands are met,” Mbolekwa said.

Wits has no emergency accommodation – Dean of Students

Students without res accommodation have to look elsewhere.

By Onke Ngcuka

Wits students that did not get into res cannot count on
emergency accommodation from the university.

Esselen and Witwaters residence which were made available as
emergency accommodation in 2018 are not available in 2019.

Dean of Students Jerome September told Wits Vuvuzela that Esselen was no longer a Wits residence as of 2019.

“In 2018, the repurposing of Esselen was put on hold to
assist the university with emergency accommodation on a temporary basis. All
students initially allocated to Esselen were moved out in June 2018, and the
repurposing project continued,” September said.

The dean said that Esselen now belonged to the Wits
Reproductive Health Institute and functioned as a research centre. The
Witwaters residence belongs to the Gauteng provincial government and houses nursing
students.

Student Representative Council (SRC) president Sisanda
Mbolekwa told Wits Vuvuzela that as
the SRC, they were told by the university that the opening of the emergency
residences in 2018 was a once-off deal.

“Wits does not have infrastructure. A way forward would be
to raise funds to pay for a building or pay someone that has beds. Braamfontein
is surrounded by so many buildings,” Mbolekwa said.

First-year BEd student, Morongwa Rankoane, who is from
Lesifo, Limpopo, told Wits Vuvuzela
that she had applied for accommodation in a student residence in June 2018 but
was told that there was no space.

“I tried applying for emergency accommodation on Wednesday,
January 23. There were people assisting us that took my details and said they
would get back to me by Thursday, January 24. I didn’t receive a response so
that is why I came in today (January 25),” she said.

Rankoane said that she had tried looking for the accommodation
in Braamfontein but was told that she needed to present a letter of approval.

“I applied for the Funza Lushaka Bursary Scheme and was told
by the bursar that I would only receive the letter of approval in February/March.
I was able to register by waivering the registration fee,” she said.  

September said that the Wits Hardship Fund assisted students with funding towards accommodation. Applications for the Wits Hardship Fund closed on January 24.

FEATURED PHOTO: Esselen Residence will be used as a research centre by the
Wits Reproductive Health Institute and will no longer be available as emergency accomodation. Photo: File.