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


Project Revolutionize works to end period poverty on campuses

The Wits student forum hosted the second part of the Project Revolutionize campaign which aims at tackling the lack of sanitary products and menstrual hygiene education within the university. 

In a two-day activation campaign, which took place at Wits’ Ampitheatre and education campus — Project Revolutionize empowered students with knowledge and tools to help them manage their menstrual flow.   

Project Revolutionize was formed by the Wits Business School student council to work towards eliminating period poverty at the institution; it has since been joined by different faculties within the institution. 

Day one of the activation was themed “Painting the campus red.”  The day consisted of engagements between the hosts of the event and the students, where they taught about feminine hygiene. Later, a pad drive was conducted where students were asked to donate if they had the means to. 

The campaign collaborated with the Mina Foundation – an organisation also working towards alleviating period poverty. The foundation assisted by handing out menstrual cups to students, while informing them how they worked. They managed to give close to 200 menstrual cups to students. 

Angel Shongwe the junior facilitator of the Mina Foundation demonstrating how to use menstrual cups. Photo: Aphelele Mbokotho

“Ending period poverty is one thing we are keen to do; and currently we are doing that very well, we have [since] given out about one thousand cups here at Wits and today we are giving out more”, said Angela Shongwe, a junior facilitator of the Mina Foundation. 

The second day of the activation was called “A REDvolutionary night” – and it only consisted of a panel discussion. The keynote speaker was former Witsie and one of the leaders of the 2015 Fees Must Fall movement, Nompendulo Mkhatshwa. She is currently the chairperson of the portfolio committee on higher education, science and innovation for the ANC in parliament. She said that pad drives should be paired with something like a developmental programme that equips the needy with skills. 

“I find it very cringey when people go to an area to donate a box of pads that’s going to last the people a month at most, not to say it’s not appreciated but those people need so much more than pads,” explained Mkhatshwa.  

Meanwhile, Tshifhiwa Manyage, the co-founder of Project Revolutionize, invited the attendees to share their experiences of what it was like when they first had their periods.  

“[When I got my period] I asked one of my teachers to get a pad and luckily she had one, but when I got home and explained what happened I was[not met with] conversations about what happens, that you going to experience period pains…Instead my mom said ‘I take you to school to get an education and this is partly what I’m expecting them to teach you’”, said Siyamthanda Mashicila, a Wits Honours in Arts theatre and performance student, sharing her experience.  

In her closing remarks Mkhatshwa advised the students who are in councils to go to the Gender Equity Office and advocate for menstrual leave; saying that its unfair for women to have to show up when they are going through a tough time because of their periods. “Other countries have it and if they can do it, we can also do it”, she added.  

A Witsie donating pads to Project Revolutionize.Photo:Aphelele Mbokotho

Yolisa Sphambo, co-founder of Project Revolutionize and the Transformation Officer of the Wits Business School student council reflected on the activation and said: “People know what Project Revolutionize is and that is what makes me happy because if they know about it then they are going to start talking about it”. She said this will help break away from the shame about periods and work towards combating institutional period poverty. 

On the last day of the campaign, Manyage told Wits Vuvuzela that although the outcome did not meet their expectations as they were hoping for a full house, Project Revolutionize had achieved its intended outcome for the day, “I’m grateful that at least we got a lot of engagement and a lot of discourse going”. 

The evening was wrapped up and the audience was given an opportunity to have one on ones with speakers if they wished to and were offered refreshments.  

FEATURE IMAGE: Yolisa Sphambo the co-founder of the project at day one of the activation.Photo:Aphelele Mbokotho


A mediation process between suspended students and Wits collapses    

Wits SRC has appointed an acting president to deal with the leadership vacuum; pending an arbitration process of their former student leader   

A mediation process between seven suspended students, including former Student Representative Counsil (SRC) president Aphiwe Mnyamana and the university has collapsed last week on May, 22,2023. This is after the two could not reach an agreement on a suitable way forward.  

The seven, which includes other members of the SRC were suspended in earlier March following violent protests over accommodation on campus.  

On April 20, the SRC and University released a joint statement stating that their suspension orders have been reformulated in terms of the University’s rules to allow them to continue with their academic programmes with immediate effect.  This recent collapse still means the seven are still allowed to continue with their studies. 

Following the collapse of the process, Wits university spokesperson Shirona Patel told Wits Vuvuzela that: “Please note that Mr Mnyamana is no longer the SRC President. His suspension terms were amended to allow him to attend class and to stay in residence, but not to hold any leadership position.” 

In order to deal with the leadership vacuum, the SRC has elected a new acting President Kabelo Phungwayo, who previously was Treasurer general of the SRC. Wits SRC compliance officer, Karabo Matloga said: “The  SRC  sits in important committees that take decisions which affects students, we therefore needed to ensure we have an individual who will be able to represent the students view in the delegated committees such as university council, Senate and forum where the SRC has an opportunity to express grievances and contribute to change that is in the student’s best interest,”  

After the mediation process collapsed, Mnyamana released a statement on his Twitter page saying: “We hung our heads in horror and terror as we walked out of their boardrooms because once again, we had fallen into the illusion that we were negotiating with people”.  

He furthermore went to say “To silence us[SRC] is not enough, to suspend us will never be enough. We the elected representatives of the students at Wits University are not shaken. We remain evermore resolute in ensuring the realization of the right to free education”. 

Despite this collapse, Mnyamana explained that he is currently waiting for a hearing that will be taking place on June 17, 2023; and a meeting will be held with students to update them on the intense months the SRC underwent and what this means as a way forward for the student community.

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits SRC members with Dali Mpofu after the mediation meeting. Photo: Supplied.  


Student politics marred by party differences 

The University of Johannesburg’s student leadership tried to bring campus leaders together to collaboratively build on a shared vision for students, but was divided along party lines 

UJ’s first student parliament after four years of the covid-19 pandemic, collapsed as students refused to continue in the absence of the treasurer general and the academic officer. 

The UJ Central Student Representative Council (SRC) hosted the two-day student parliament at the Auckland Park Kingsway (APK) Campus. The hope was that UJ students from the four campuses could hold their various representatives to account. However, the student parliament did not reach this objective as delegates found it difficult to come to agreements on basic parliamentary rules throughout the sitting. 

The system at UJ is such that each campus has its own SRC, and a ‘UJSRC’ that is comprised of two members from each campus. The APK and the Doornfontein campuses are affiliated with the Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFFSC) and the SRC members from the Banting (APB) and Soweto campuses, are affiliated with South African Students Congress (SASCO), which is the student chapter of the African National Congress (ANC). 

Missing delegates cause delays  

The first day of the student parliament came to a chaotic end because there were delegates missing, and according to student parliament secretary, Martin Huwa, suspicions were raised by the SASCO affiliated members of the APK SRC that the EFF affiliated members of APK SRC, may have removed names from the list of delegates, but these suspicions could not be proved.  

After the rules, duties and functions of the student parliament were adopted by the house, and the parliament speaker, deputy speaker and secretary were elected. The speaker of the house was Bonga Mshunqisi from the APK campus, deputy speaker was Karabo Kgobokwe from Soweto campus, and the secretary was Martin Huwa also from Soweto campus. 

Regalia relegation and no shows    

On day two political tensions flared when Lehlogonolo Mokwena came to the sitting dressed in EFF regalia. Student parliament rule number (I) states that “no member shall be allowed in the house with regalia of any political party”. Mokwena was asked to move to the gallery for contravening this rule.  

Mokwena refused, and this triggered a lengthy and chaotic back and forth between some members, the chair and deputy of the house. 

When calm was restored, new names for chief whips for each campus were brought forward for election.  

The treasurer general Zethu Mafuyeka and the academic officer Tshegofatso Molapo from the Central SRC were not present due to “academic commitments”. As such, they could not give their respective state of finances and state of academia addresses. 

Amotion was then raised to adjourn proceedings and call an emergency meeting at a later date, when all members of the APK SRC are available.  

The inter-political failures to set party politics aside and agree for the sake of the constituency, is something that has become increasingly problematic in South African politics. One need only think back to Johannesburg’s recent mayoral election, which was riddled with coalition failures and infighting. It is worrying that these political trends seem to be trickling down to student led organisations, sacrificing governance and efficiency to toe party lines.

FEATURED IMAGE: University of Johannesburg. Photo: Supplied


Wits SRC partners with Dunwell Properties to alleviate the accommodation crisis

Student leaders have secured at least 300 beds for scholar without a roof.

The Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) has managed to secure 300 beds for students who have been without accommodation since the beginning of the academic year.

This comes after the SRC’s meeting with Dunwell Properties’ COO Thando Cele on April 19, to try resolve the Wits accommodation crisis. A deal was then struck to provide beds for students that are without a roof.

In a written response to Wits Vuvuzela, Cele said that “the deal was initiated by Dunwell’s drive to participate in solutions to resolving student accommodation challenges.”

The SRC said in a tweet on Wednesday, May 17 that “the first 180 NSFAS appealing students have been successfully allocated beds and the remaining 120 beds will be issued as per the increase in demand from affected students.”

The deal comes after students protested at the beginning of the year over financial exclusion and accommodation. The student protests were fuelled by the NSFAS R45 000 accommodation cap as well as the lack of response to students that are appealing their funding status. The cap was instituted as a way to manage price fixing and profiteering by private providers, this is according to higher education minister Dr Blade Nzimande.

Karabo Matloga, SRC compliance officer, told Wits Vuvuzela that Dunwell Properties reached out to them and said they have beds. They then agreed in the meeting to accommodate all the NSFAS students, including those that are appealing.

Dunwell will offer accommodation to students who have appealed for NSFAS and are still awaiting their respective outcomes, students will be able to reside at our building without confirmation of funding”, emphasized Cele.

Matloga, added that “this mechanism is mainly to reduce the pressure from the ‘hardship fund’ so that the university can focus on students that are not NSFAS funded and are not funded by bursaries.” The hardship fund is established by the university to assist students with financial assistance and accommodation based on their socio-economic circumstances.

Students were seen sleeping in libraries and in labs while waiting for NSFAS’ decision on the appeal process.

A third-year accounting science student, who did not want to be named said, “I was struggling a lot, it was affecting me bad mentally and I felt isolated because I was sleeping in a lab.” “I was also struggling academically”, he added.

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits students walking into Dunwell offices to sign their leases after receiving communication from the SRC. Photo: Sbongile Molambo


Tackling period poverty one dispenser at a time

The Wits School of Business Sciences Students Council are making plans to install free pad dispensers throughout the University. 

Feminine hygiene and access to sanitary products were the topic of conversation, as members of Project Revolutionize engaged strangers in an awareness drive on May 8, 2023.  

Period Poverty refers to the lack of access to menstrual products, and this is what the project is aiming to eradicate by installing free pad dispensers across campuses.  

Transformation officer of Project Revolutionize, Yolisa Sphambo said that they identified the need for the project while in a bathroom. She said “where are the pads” had been scribbled next to a free condom dispenser. 

 Sphambo said that Project revolutionize is different to similar past projects as they are focusing on sustainability and making the provision of pads a norm. 

She said their project was aiming to revolutionize a women’s whole period, “Revolutionary [to us] means to feel comfortable to be soft within your period cycle”. 

A business sciences student, Babongile Tshabalala said that “I think it is something we truly need within the Wits society, because pads are more of a need than a want compared to the condoms that are readily available in the bathrooms.” 

Sarah Eram, the chairperson of the project said to Wits Vuvuzela, “The quality of pads students use is important as using unsafe menstrual products can lead to health issues and these are some things students don’t know.”  

“We have started speaking with people that are going to install the dispensers, we have found some people who are going to fund pads for the dispensers and some of lectures have committed themselves to donating” said Sphambo. 

Melissa Zulu, senior lecturer of marketing told Wits Vuvuzela “I decided to support this project because… girls and women should be able to go through it with respect and dignity.” 

This is a three-part launch, and the awareness week is the first step, the next steps involve having a workshop around the education of feminine hygiene and the installation of the dispensers. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Babongile Tshabalala shares her opinion on the importance of free pads. Photo: Aphelele Mbokotho


GALLERY: Tensions rise on third day of protests

From the early hours of Friday morning, the ongoing #WitsShutdown protests became physical.

Things came to a head between protesting students and private security officers and Campus Protection Services (CPS) on March 3, 2023. What started out as security using their shields to bar students from entering buildings or using certain entrances, quickly escalated into water, bricks and other projectiles being hurled by some protestors.

Members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) have now entered the fray, with multiple nyala’s standing at the ready in front of the Great Hall steps to provide reinforcements.

FEATURED IMAGE: A traffic cone about to be flung at security officers. Photo: Mpho Hlakudi


Suspensions loom as #WitsShutdown continues

Protests on campus spilled out onto the streets of Braamfontein as students continued with their call to “leave no student behind”.

Campus Protection Services (CPS) beefed up their presence to include private security on Wits University’s main campus, which saw men and women dressed in orange and black act as the only barrier between protesting students and those continuing with the academic programme on March 2, 2023. Police officers were also stationed at some university entrances at various points in the day.

Following a mass meeting on the evening of March 1, 2023, protesting students ramped up efforts to have activities on campus grind to a halt. At different points in the day groups of students took the protest off campus and onto Empire Road, Smit Street and Jorissen Streets, blocking traffic with their bodies and burning tyres.

In video footage taken by TimesLive journalist, Thabo Tshabalala, some protestors could be seen vandalising property and threatening shop-owners to close up shop.

Along with this, classes taking place in various venues were disrupted. The university has condemned these acts and said this is no longer a peaceful protest. In a statement, Wits head of communications, Shirona Patel said: “We cannot be held to ransom by a small group of disruptors, and we now have no choice but to act firmly against those who contravene the University’s rules.”

The university’s Legal Office is now studying video footage, photographs and statements given to CPS, “with a view to suspending the disruptors in line with the University’s policies and procedures and taking appropriate legal action to ensure that the rights of others are not infringed,” Patel added.

Protesting students took their fight to the streets of Braamfontein on March 2, 2023. Photo: Mpho Hlakudi

Members of the Wits SRC told Wits Vuvuzela that they will not stop protesting until all their demands are met and students are able to register, as such their demands now include an extension of the first block by one week.

In a statement, the Wits SRC said that talks with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and the department of higher education failed. Now, the SRC has called for the immediate removal of Blade Nzimande and his deputy Buti Manamela for poor performance. Along with this demand they are calling for the withdrawal of the R45 000 NSFAS accommodation cap, and the increase of the NSFAS allowance to R2000 to address the high cost of living.

FEATURED IMAGE: A burning tyre pictured on the middle of Empire Road in Braamfontein on March 2, 2023. Photo: Mpho Hlakudi