A fire at a Wits residence left students out in the cold.
The students are up in arms over the alleged lack of service delivery in the new residence that opened at the beginning of the year.
By Nqobile Dludla and Lutho Mtongana
The SRC election was dominated this week by a controversial new res policy which brought together the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) and Wits Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in protests, marches and threats to boycott the vote.
The highly contested policy states that “[it has been revised] for new first-year undergraduates to make campus accommodation more accessible and appealing to all students, especially those who have a good academic record”.
In addition, the policy states its intention to “ensure a diverse and cosmopolitan residence environment in which everyone can feel at home and can succeed academically.”
The protests culminated in a four-hour meeting at the SRC offices between the PYA, Wits EFF, the SRC, house committee representatives, Res Life director Robert Sharman, Deputy Vice-chancellor: finance Tawana Kupe, Dean of students Pamela Dube and Vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib on Wednesday.
At the meeting, Habib agreed to “halt” the roll out of the revised residence admission policy pending further discussions to be held on Saturday.
Public protest about the policy began at the evening circus on Tuesday. The 2010/2011 SRC president, Mukovhe Morris Musatha, pleaded on behalf of Mens residence to the three organisations campaigning in the SRC election—PYA, Wits EFF and Project W—to come up with a resolution.
Initially, it appeared that all three organisations would oppose the policy following a meeting at the circus when SRC president Shafee Verachia said they would all march against it on Wednesday morning.
Verachia said the parties had agreed to boycott the SRC elections if their protests fell on deaf ears.
However, Project W said it had not agreed to the march or a potential election boycott. Project W candidate Jamie Mighti said they disagreed with the PYA and Wits EFF on “process”.
“There’s a process before we follow these things. We can’t make a hasty decision as an organisation,” Mighti told Wits Vuvuzela on Tuesday.
Although the Wits EFF joined the march against the new res policy they accused Verachia of a lack of transparency, saying he as SRC president had known about the new res policy for weeks.
“They [the PYA] knew this and they did not tell the students, they did not consult with the students when we asked him [Verachia] … We found out last night, then we probed him as the EFF, he buckled under pressure and he said he knew in July,” said Wits EFF candidate Anele Nzimande on Wednesday.
Critics speak out
Critics of the policy said it would result in students already in res losing their rooms and called it racist, arguing that it was designed to bring more white students into residences.
Coming in effect in 2015, the policy will ensure that more single rooms will be available to new students in addition to already allocated double rooms.
This point outlined in the policy did not sit well with majority of the residents who worried about losing their rooms next year.
“The resident students who are currently here now might not have a place next year because they [management] want to open the residences to first-years. What that means is that they want to give single rooms to first-years and when that happens those who are currently staying here now will lose their rooms,” said All Residence Council chairperson Mpho Maziya.
“They are to close off 30 percent space to try and accommodate white kids who can normally afford accommodation outside of university,” Maziya said.
Habib contested the racialization of the policy by critics: “What I don’t like is, people racialize the question as if because we are taking white students, we are going to bring out black students, I never said that.”
Students also contested the policy on the basis that student bodies had not been consulted on the changes.
“Consultation was the issue and the fact that students weren’t being consulted. We said we are not interested in the procedural issues we are more interested in the substantial [issues] for the purpose of that policy,” said Wits EFF candidate Vuyani Pambo.
Maziya said they wanted the decision-making structures around student issues to be more representative, including having non-SRC members a part of the process.
“We are requesting that the decision making structures need to be more representative because what you have now is certain members of the SRC sitting there making decisions for resident students without the knowledge of what’s going on in the residences and how these decisions will affect students,” said Maziya.
Wits Vuvuzela, Habib agrees to halt controversial res policy, August 2014
Wits Vuvuzela, UPDATE: Student organisations unite to challenge revised residence admission policy, August 2014
Students who moved into a new Wits residence had a nasty surprise when they learned they would have to pay for their own electricity.
Noswal Hall, located on Stiemens street in Braamfontein, opened as a student residence this year on February 1.
Students who expected to be offered the same services as other residences were left disappointed when they found out, upon moving in, that they would have to pay for their own electricity.
Tshepisang Mkhize, 3rd year BSc, told Wits Vuvuzela that if she had known she would have to pay for her electricity, she would not have moved into Noswal.
“They’re giving us 150 units every month, and when that runs out we have to pay for it ourselves,” she said.
Mkhize said it would be difficult for bursary students to get money for electricity from their sponsors.
“Now we have to ask our parents for money and we’re already self-catering,” she said.
Wits Vuvuzela contacted the office of Wits Residence Life head Rob Sharman for comment but he did not reply.
That was not the only surprise Mkhize had when she moved in. On Saturday evening, Mkhize’s bachelor suite was flooded for four hours, after water came up through her shower drain.
“I heard a funny noise from the drain after my shower but I didn’t think anything of it because it always happened,” she said.
The dirty water, which had a “pungent smell that reeked through the bathroom”, soon spilled into her living space and around her bed.
According to Mkhize, plumbers had frequented the residence throughout the week as a lot of students in her wing had had problems with their toilets or showers.
In addition to the plumbing and electricity problems, Mkhize said she was unhappy with the size of her room and its layout.
“You have more space for your dishes than for your clothes, and there is a fridge in the cupboard,” she said.
Another resident, 3rd year LLB Gugu Khoza, shared Mkhize’s sentiments and had believed that Noswal would be a cushier residence like Wits Junction.
“It was quite underwhelming,” Khoza said.
[pullquote]”I heard a funny noise from the drain after my shower but I didn’t think anything of it because it always happened”[/pullquote]
Despite Noswal not meeting her expectations, Khoza still said that it was an improvement from her previous residence which was run by a private company.
She particularly liked the view of northern Johannesburg from her room on the 15th floor.
“It’s really beautiful especially at night,” she said.
Khoza’s roommate, third-year BSc Busi Mncube, said that she was content with the residence.
“Considering the fact that they worked as fast as they could so that we could move in now, they did a good job even though there’s a lot of stuff that still needs to be fixed,” Mncube said.
The gym facilities are still under construction, and students do not have access to the basement parking as yet, as ICAM is still processing student access to the res and the parking.
In the meantime, Mncube is parking her car at Men’s Res. Though she has to walk to Noswal at night, she feels safe because it is close to main campus and there is security.
“It’s the closest to campus and the security guards are quite strict,” she said.
New RES complex for Witsies, September 23, 2013
Parktown residence to open doors, May 19, 2011
Let it burn, September 19, 2013