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.

The high cost of a dream: ‘R9340 is a lot of money’

By Thabiso Modiba

My name is Thabiso Modiba and I grew up with my two sisters, mother and father in rural Limpopo, Mabopane district. And I’m the only guy, the first-born. It was tough, with no electricity and running water, life is tough. The only truck that brings water is the one from the municipality that comes once a week. You have to take a bucket and go queue for water.

Since I was young, I have always wanted to be a doctor. When I was young, my mother got sick. We were living in a rural village and whenever we’d go to the clinic they’d say, “The doctors not here”, sometimes for days. I would get angry because my mom would be very sick and there was no doctor to help her. But when you come here, to the city, there are many. But that side where I’m living they are scarce.

HIGH HOPES: If he can find the money to pay for his tuition Thabiso Modiba hopes to become a medical doctor one day. Photo: Michelle Gumede

HIGH HOPES: If he can find the money to pay for his tuition Thabiso Modiba hopes to become a medical doctor one day. Photo: Michelle Gumede


My father earns about R5900 and sometimes is working at a construction company that deals with tenders. They build schools and those sort of things.

I don’t wanna lie, I never slept that day before matric results came out. I was watching TV on the fifth and they were announcing the results officially. There’s no electricity in the area but we take chances and connect cables, just so we can get an update on what’s happening with the matric results.

Through the post office, I applied in 2015 to five universities UP, UL, UJ, SMU and Wits. I got the application form to come to Wits from my father. He knows one of the security guards from Wits. I posted applications and the money required for each too. Costs differ from tertiary to tertiary, at Wits it was about the R100 and other universities it was R200 or R300. It’s like betting for the lotto, you don’t know when or where you’re going to win.

I was stressed on January 6 because Wits had said they’d send me an sms as soon as the matric results came out. I was anxious about how my results were gonna be. I was praying the whole day and night.

In the morning I got my results from my school, but still no sms from Wits. I preferred Wits because the communication was good. They communicated with me throughout the year through email. The other universities just sent me sms’s saying they acknowledge my application and will await my matric results. They also said that I have to submit my results face to face, whereas Wits just got them through the system.

So I was panicking. It was only on January 7 when I received an email from Wits with an offer to study chemical engineering and medicine. I accepted medicine so they said I must come and pay the registration fees of about R9340 before the day of enrolment.

Immediately, I called some of my relatives, for money. They were happy because my matric results were good, so they managed to put the money together for registration plus R400 for a bus.

I arrived in Johannesburg for the very first time in my life on Thursday January 8. My father who was in Soweto at the time had no idea where Wits was, so I had to ask people for directions at Park Station. They told me to walk to Bree then I would find the campus after crossing Nelson Mandela Bridge. I walked this by foot with my R9340 registration fee in my bag. That’s when I found myself in Wits. The big buildings were intimidating, I was afraid. I’m a rural boy and it’s the first time that I saw so many different people in such a busy place.

HALF WAY THERE: Modiba has registered at Wits but is yet to come up with the money for tuition. Photo: Michelle Gumede

HALF WAY THERE: Modiba has registered at Wits but is yet to come up with the money for tuition. Photo: Michelle Gumede


When I got here I was directed to the enrolment center where I was shown to the financial office. I paid registration and made my four-hour trip home. When I left Wits I was a little bit happy because it was promising that I’m in. I got home and my parents were panicking that I’d just paid and only been told to come back to Wits on Monday. You know when parents pay money they want to see proof that something is happening. R9340 is a lot of money, they’ve never had that kind of money in their hands before.

On Monday I had to wake up early in the morning to catch the 4am bus so I could be here by seven. When I got to Hall 29, students had blocked the way saying #FeesMustFall. We were told to go back home or do it online. Eish, I felt like the world was turning against me because I came from so far. I didn’t understand what was going on and neither did my parents when I called them to tell them. I went back home again coz there was no place to stay so I had to spend more money.

At home my parents didn’t trust what I said about the strike, they thought I was deliberately wasting money.

MONEY WOES: At home my parents didn’t trust what I said about the strike, they thought I was deliberately wasting money. Photo: Michelle Gumede

MONEY WOES: His parents didn’t trust what he said about the #FMF2016 strike, they thought he was deliberately wasting money. Photo: Michelle Gumede


On Tuesday, January 12, I got an email saying I could come and fetch my student card anytime and I heard from the news that registration was happening on Wednesday. I was there preparing money to travel again. It was only because I did so well at school that even my high school teachers and neighbors helped to put together money. They just want to see me at Wits doing medicine.

I arrived in Joburg at 8am on January 14, collected my student card and registration bag. I’m happy but worried at the same time.

Although I applied for funding from NSFAS they said I don’t qualify. I also applied for funds at the Limpopo Department of Health last year and the Motsepe Foundation this year but I still don’t have funds for my tuition and accommodation. I’m gonna be contacting the department telling them that I got accepted at Wits, maybe they can help me and speed up my application. I have until February 8. If fees had fallen maybe it would be better.

As told to Michelle Gumede



Anxiety and confusion at Wits registration

New and returning students still uneasy as registration at Wits University goes ahead amidst protest action and a heavy security presence. 

THE SHOW GOES ON: Students register at Hall 29 for 2016 despite challenges. Photo: Michelle Gumede

THE SHOW GOES ON: Students register at Hall 29 for 2016 despite heavy security presence and FeesMustFall protests. Photo: Michelle Gumede


While sporadic protest action continues at Wits University main campus, some students have braved the demonstrations and heavily armed security guards to come and register for the 2016 academic year.  Some students were nervous about registering while others were just happy to have completed their registration.

Returning BSc student, Alexis Shumba, said her registration process has not gone smooth at all but because of university bureaucracy, not the protests.

“I have been going up and down since Monday from enrolment centre to CNS,” said Shumba.

Shumba has been coming in everyday since Monday from Crown Gardens, arriving at 7am and leaving at around 3pm. The self-funded student said she is frustrated and only saw today that the protest was actually needed. “But I hate that its interfering but its needed coz my thing was blocked because of fees.”

Newly-registered BSc student Sonwabiso Manty from Mdantsane in the Eastern Cape said when he heard about the FeesMustFall protests continuing on Monday, he became quite anxious about registering. News of extra security and calm on campus made him more “relaxed”. Registration at the university resumed today.

“Everything was smooth and the staff were so excellent,” Manty said.

Manty was able to pay the registration with money he received from his high APS scores. However he is still looking for a bursary to pay for his tuition.  “My documents are still outstanding for financial aid,” he said.

Students who are part of the FeesMustFall movement are still protesting while security presence is high and police vehicles can be spotted all over campus.


Budget speech brings good news for students

The annual budget speech has brought good news for students and academic institutions. Delivered by finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in Parliament earlier today, the speech has included an increase in the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

In 2017/2018 the NSFAS budget will increase to R11,9  billion from R9,2 billion in 2014/2015 helping to ease the funding crisis currently facing students across the country.

“We are mindful of the pressures on student financing at our higher education institutions… This will support a further increase in university enrolments and in technical and vocational colleges,” Nene said.


In addition, the finance minister has proposed an infrastructure budget of R10,5 billion for all universities, “including R3,2 billion for the new universities of Mpumalanga and Sol Plaatje”. The subsidies universities receive from government will amount to R72,4 billion overall.

Relief for students needing funding

Earlier this year 2788 Wits University students were unable to register after they were denied NSFAS funding.

At the time the vice-chancellor Prof Habib admitted in a statement: “Despite this [increase in NSFAS funding], the demand for financial aid still outstrips the availability of funds dedicated to higher education study.”

The Wits Student Representatives Council (SRC) campaigned to raise R1-million in one month for the students and last week succeeded in surpassing this goal in just 14 days reaching R1,7 million.


TUT and UKZN back to business

Classes have resumed at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal campuses after protests at both institutions last week.

TUT evicted students from a number of its campuses during the first week of lectures following violent protests over the financial aid crisis.

All academic activities were suspended until last Friday when an agreement was reached with the university’s student representative council (SRC). A formal agreement is expected to be reached by the end of today according to university spokesperson, Willa de Ruyter.

For the time being, she said, central management and the SRC have agreed that “students cannot lose more time with their studies”.

The university has extended the registration deadline until March 3 to allow students more time, according to de Ruyter.

The first week of lectures at UKZN had also been suspended, but according to the university’s communications department, “everything was back to normal and it is all very peaceful”. It remains unclear as to why students were protesting at the institution although the issue of financial exclusion was raised by the SRC.

Returning students: Don’t YOLO too much

Students cancel your pool parties and unbook your hotel reservations, registration fees in 2014 will dig deep into your pockets.

Students returning to Wits next year will have to make an upfront payment of R 9 340 before they register in January.  Should students fail to make this payment they will be denied access to the university. On the last day of March the total tuition fee must be paid. For res students the situation becomes more expensive. These students will be expected to pay 20% of their total residence fees and a further 40% of their total residence fees by the end of March. The remaining 60% must be paid by the end of July.

[pullquote]Wits next year will have to make an upfront payment of R 9 340 before they register in January[/pullquote]SRC President, Shafee Verachia said the registration fees were exorbitant and that the SRC was not happy with the current amount.  “The amount is ridiculously high and we are not happy at all. We encourage students who cannot afford this fee to apply for the upfront payment plan,” he said. A payment plan introduced by the 2011/2012 SRC is one of the ways the SRC has tried to lessen the burden on students who are unable to afford the fees.

According to the university, “students who are academically deserving but financially needy” will be given an opportunity to apply for a payment plan that will allow students to pay only 50% of the compulsory registration fee. Verachia said the plan reduced the pressure on working class families and made it easier for students to return to school in the financially stressful month of January.

According to Verachia international students will be expected to pay an upfront payment of 70% of their total tution fees. The remaining 30% can be paid in installments. Students are advised to collect an application form for the payment plan from the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office before the end of November. The payment plan is not connected to the NSAFS and students who do not qualify for NSAFS will still be considered.