Scores of Witsies are forced to eat little or nothing at all as they attempt to cross the finish line at Great Hall, where they will obtain their qualification.
Each year, students are burdened with the high costs of university fees, academic pressure and accommodation crisis. Added to this, some students with limited financial resources are forced to choose between studying on an empty stomach, or simply giving up on their dreams to obtain their degrees.
According to a statement released on August 14, 2023, by the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC), the university has an inherent severe food insecurity crisis, hindering the productivity of students. The communication was released as a response to NSFAS’ failure to provide allowances to some of its beneficiaries – which further deepened the crisis.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines food insecurity as when a person does not have regular access to safe and nutritious food for normal growth, development and a healthy lifestyle. It can be experienced at a mild, moderate or severe level.
What makes matters worse, most Witsies who are experiencing hunger are ashamed or reluctant to say that they are struggling. Wits Vuvuzela also discovered that hunger is not only a reality for financially aided students, but also for those who are self-funded.
Makopa Letsoalo, a postgraduate Bachelor of Education student had to self-fund her degree as efforts to get financial aid bore no fruit. Her parents could not assist her as they juggle odd jobs to stay financially afloat. She disclosed to Wits Vuvuzela that she had to spend days without eating or having very little to eat as she had no means to buy food. She also had to rely on collecting food packages from the Wits Citizenship and Community Outreach (WCCO) or charities and campaigns where food was given out. “We [students] don’t expect people to be dying of hunger at Wits, we have put [the institution] on a pedestal, and we’re forced to carry a false identity,” said Letsoalo.
Senior program advisor of the WCCO, Karuna Singh added that people feel stigmatized when they are poor or hungry because society expects them to be self-sufficient. “People will look at a student in the queue and say why does this person have a weave or long nails but can’t afford food,” said Singh.
South Africa is the most unequal country in the world with high unemployment rates, poverty and rising costs of living, which are the main causes of inaccessibility to good nutrition. According to a study conducted by Wits, one in five South African households are foodinsecure; this also impacts the university as some of these students come from those homes.
Wits has students from different backgrounds – but most of them come from suburbs and townships as opposed to those living in rural areas and farms. However, 70% of the students who come from some of these well-to-do backgrounds are still in need of financial assistance – which slightly impacts their access to food. While 30% come from underdeveloped backgrounds. Under-privileged students are evidently fewer; however, they make up for most of the food insecure population at the institution.
The role of student financial aid
Most students at Wits rely on bursaries, with NSFAS currently aiding 9 950 students according to the SRC treasurer general, Kabelo Phungwayo.
Phungwayo said that “2200 NSFAS beneficiaries did not receive their allowances in August 2023.” However, some students admitted to facing this dilemma since the introduction of Tenet, three months ago. Tenet is a direct payment method into students’ accounts, established to make receiving funds easier as opposed to waiting for the university to send the allowance.
However, the method has received much backlash than praise from students who took to social media to complain about it. In response to the outrage, Phungwayo said the SRC is working on giving out food parcels and toiletries for those in need.
Second year Bachelor of Education student, Nozipho Khumalo recently dropped out because of the inconsistency of the national aid. She explained that for three months, she did not receive her allowance from NSFAS: “I’ve had to eat once a day [and lived] without toiletries. I do not eat on weekends since we don’t get food [from the WCCO] on those days.” She further said she will probably continue with her studies next year “if the situation gets better.”
Another Wits student, Zeldah Merria said that the allowances are not enough because on average, a student receives R1 650, this is after the allocation went up by R150 in 2022. However, a study conducted by Wits (in consideration of essentials such as bread, potatoes, eggs, etc.) it indicated that monthly groceries/meals for one person cost approximately R2000 to R4000. The study was done when the rand was between R14 to R16 against the dollar-it is currently pivoting around the R19 mark, which means the money needed for meals is much higher now.
Attempts at curbing hunger?
The university has six dining halls, 41 food retailers, and the WCCO across its campuses as a way of ensuring that students have adequate access to food, however- the WCCO is the only place where students don’t have to pay for meals.
Eateries such as Olives and Plate, Zesti Lemonz, Vida Café are incredibly expensive and attract students who can afford them, while dining halls cater to students who pay in advance for their meals.
The WCCO consists of the Masidleni daily meal project (which serves lunch), the Wits Food Bank (which distributes meal packs on 3 weekdays between 3 and 4pm) the meals can be taken home, and the food gardens, which has student volunteers who grow vegetables for those in need and for the food bank.
The food bank also relies on donations and therefore risks running out food -which happened in 2016 when former SRC member Thami Pooe encouraged students to find alternative sources of food while the bank waited on donations. In response to this, Singh told Wits Vuvuzela that there is always an anxiety of not having enough food because the demand is high, and they depend on the generosity of others.
Letsoalo has now started collecting her meals on Monday, September 4, at the dining hall after she managed to save up money. “I have been saving for quite some time from the money I made while sewing and altering clothes for students and from my teaching practical,” said Lestsoalo.
She explained that she noticed differences between the WCCO and dining halls. “I realized that you can never fear running out of food at the dining hall because they cater for everyone that paid.” She added that whilst one might feel “embarrassed and anxious” queuing for food at the WCCO, you feel proud collecting it from the dining hall, as it’s an “elite space.”
“Imagine if I lived like this all my academic years, I would do so well, having the WCCO was great, however the university needs to ensure that it’s dependable. I’m starting to enjoy varsity now knowing that someone is cooking for me,” she told Wits Vuvuzela. She added that the WCCO closes during recess “there’s no food and no lunch, what about the students who are still here and need it.”
Creating a food secure future
Although poverty largely contributes to food insecurity, climate change is contributing to the problem. To conscientize people about this, the WCCO held a workshop series from August 14 to September 6, 2023, focusing on climate justice and food sovereignty.
August 14 was an introductory seminar where Professor Vishwas Satgar spoke about the role of the WCCO and its partnership with organizations such as La via Campesina, The Climate Justice Charter Movement, South African Food Sovereignty Campaign and the Co-operative and Policy Alternative Centre.
Singh said the education program was aimed at teaching students about how weather patterns influence their access to food. “We’re hoping to get people to grow and control their own food, but also understand that the climate crisis doesn’t affect everyone equally, the poor will experience it at a larger scale.”
Students have been attending the program consistently, “I think what I took from this is that there’s nothing we can really do to prevent climate change because its already here, but we need to make sure that we don’t leave people behind when working towards food sovereignty,” said attendee, Leniese Kock who also volunteers at the community gardens.
Food insecurity is a crisis larger than expected at this institution, it is now a question of what can be done to ensure that students do not drop out because of hunger.
FEATURED IMAGE: A graphic showing a frustrated Wits University student that has to choose between eating or studying. Visualization: Sfundo Parakozov
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.
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.
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 #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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) has finally delivered on their promise of introducing free sanitary pad dispensers on campus.
If you headed to the unisex bathroom across the student enrolment centre at Solomon Mahlangu House sometime during the past week, a new addition to the bathroom’s wall might have caught your attention.
The blue and white sanitary pad dispensers are part of the SRC’s #EndPeriodPoverty campaign and were installed on Friday, July 21. Period poverty is the term used to describe the lack of adequate access to menstrual health products.
SRC Compliance officer, Karabo Matloga (20) told Wits Vuvuzela that they are not replacing access to condoms, nor do the pads use the same type of dispensers as the condoms do.
According to a member of the Compliance officer’s subcommittee, Blessing Olu (22), “[the SRC] managed to get the university to install [separate and unique] pad dispensers,” and the ones for the pads are bigger.
Unlike other pad drives and initiatives, this one has no administration process for accessing the pads and it hopes to promote dignity, health and well-being for all students in need.
As reported by Wits Vuvuzela, “[This initiative] was launched last year under the then Deputy President, Lesego Louw. [The current SRC] just had to sort out the logistics and making sure that there is enough supply for the rest of the year,” Matloga said.
Sponsorships from the Motsepe Foundation, African Fashion and Education School Council, will keep the dispensers stocked for the foreseeable future.
Matloga emphasised that every SRC cohort that assumes office in future, will take on the responsibility of keeping the initiative running. “We are activists at the end of the day. We understand that we are piloting a project that [has the potential] to spread all over South Africa,” he said.
An honours student in International Relations at Wits, Jamie Naidoo (21) said, “[This initiative] is great because pads are expensive, and people do not have them all the time. This is a need compared to condoms which one always has a choice to have or not have [safe sex].”
The installation of the dispensers is currently still during its first phase and only a total of five dispensers have been installed, namely at: Solomon Mahlangu house, the Matrix, Chamber of mines building, FNB building and an unspecified building at Education campus.
FEATURED IMAGE: A student collecting their free sanitary pad at one of the newly installed pad dispenser on the main campus of Wits. Photo: Supplied/@Wits_SRC
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.
What sets new party apart from other political parties is that ‘we actually do what we say’, says chairperson.
The Azanian Students Convention (Azasco) can finally set out its plan to “bring back the ideologies of black consciousness amongst students” after months of dealing with rejections and appeals.
This is according to the party’s chairperson, Matthew Clarke, who told Wits Vuvuzela that the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA)-led SRC had delayed their registration.
Azasco had its first executive committee election on May 15, where Clarke and seven other members were elected to the executive committee.
The 22-year-old BA law student added that when Azasco “first became active in early 2022”, they were told by the SRC that they could only campaign on campus once they had sent out an application to be considered as a club and society (CSO) at Wits. When applications opened in August 2022, they sent out their application but this was rejected in February.
When he enquired why their application had been rejected, Clarke says student governance officer Wiseman Khumalo told him it was because they were a political organisation, and that they first had “to do some groundwork and establish some sort of visibility before [they could be] an official CSO”.
The appeal process started two weeks later which delayed Azasco’s registration even further. “This was clearly an attempt [by the SRC] to push our appeal back until it [was] too late to register”, says Clarke.
Khumalo, however, says, “There were several abnormalities such as the March protests which caused delays in the appeals process.”
After taking the matter up with deputy dean of students Tshegofatso Mogaladi, Azasco was finally registered on April 4, thus overcoming the SRC’s said “attempts to prevent” them from registering.
Clarke says although they were given more time to campaign outside Umthombo Building and to hand out membership forms and sort out other admin documents, it was difficult as they had “missed out on the opportunity of campaigning during O-week” and had to settle for a time in which students were now preoccupied by “assignments and exam season”.
Azasco wasn’t the only political organisation whose application was rejected by the SRC. Wits Build One South Africa leader, Nikilitha Mxwina, told Wits Vuvuzela that their application was also rejected and one of the reasons given by the PYA was that their programme was “vague”.
The SRC told Wits Vuvuzela that, “The Wits SRC is committed to ‘providing democratic, transparent, effective, accountable and coherent student leadership’, as such we hold no bias against any CSO applicants.”
As the student wing of the Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo), Azasco aims to “produce a self-reliant and accountable student populace for black students” by reviving “the ideals and proxies of black consciousness, radical [and] revolutionary left-wing politics, and to decolonise and Africanise the education system …”, says Clarke.
Unlike other parties, they plan to “actually do what we say in our plan of action”, Clarke says. “Watch and see us on the ground, and you can say what makes us different.”
FEATURED IMAGE: Azasco chairperson Matthew Clarke makes up for lost time in recruiting students to join the party. Photo: Nonhlanhla Mathebula
Wits Vuvuzela, Young Builders move to break new ground at Wits, April 2023.
Audience members were lost in translation from time to time but the appreciation for art trumped any temporary confusion.
A rallying call to hold onto what you can be proud of, and a celebration of South African indigenous languages were central at the inaugural poetry concert – Uphethen’ Esandleni?
The Wits SRC in collaboration with 2019/2020 former SRC member Samantha Mungwe hosted the concert at the Chris Seabrooke Music Hall at Wits University on the evening of Thursday, May 18.
Samantha Mungwe is a two-time Wits Alumni, poet and actress. The concert was inspired by the reaction she received from a recital she posted on YouTube in 2021. Uphethen’ Esandleni? – meaning ‘what do you have in your hand?’ – was the question she was asked in her poem, as she held up a degree scroll in her hand.
A duo of energetic MCs in SRC Legal Officer, Lesego Makinita and Wits student Simon waBatho kept the mood in the room jovial. The first round of individual performances saw rapper Cashflow (stage name) and the singer Mercy illicit much head bobbing and foot tapping from the audience.
Cultural clubs and societies took centre stage after those performances. Khomanani Vatsonga Student Society kicked things off with their traditional Xibelani dance, then followed by uThingo Lwamakhosazana aseWits with their isiZulu reed dance before the Wits Zulu Society closed the group performances with a combination of isiZulu reed dances.
The group rounded off their performance with a rendition of Gqom producer, Dladla Mshunqisi’s hit Upheten’ Esandleni. This was met with much screaming and clapping from the visibly impressed crowd.
The latter part of the programme ushered in the poets, the main act of the night. They walked onto stage in an orderly fashion and sat next to one another. After each recitation, poets ended off with the line “upheten’ esandleni?’ before passing the microphone to the next poet, a symbolic passing of the baton.
Attendee, Njabulo Nxumalo (21) said that she found the concert spectacular. “I think the diversity of it all: the different cultures, the different [use of] language and the mixture of poetry with music [lyrics]…I have to give it a ten out of ten,” Nxumalo said.
Poet of the night and AFDA student, Tiisetso Maeane (21) told Wits Vuvuzela, “[In poetry] the main thing is to be relatable,” and apart from doing the poem in Sesotho, he achieved this by making his poem about abortion. He titled the poem, Pray after death and according to Maeane, “This poem is a resurrection of a baby that was aborted. I am the voice of the baby that was aborted.” This is where he called on to the youth to practise safe sex.
Event organiser and main act, Samantha Mungwe (24) said that she just wanted to create something that would inspire other people and create a platform like this at Wits. “[My aims for this concert were] for students to be inspired, for concerts like these to continue happening and for people to love art.”
FEATURED IMAGE: Members of the Wits Zulu Society dance on stage during their performance. Photo: Otsile Swaratlhe
To mark mental health awareness month, the student support office is visiting residences and student accommodations to educate students about how to manage stress.
Forty students turned up for the Wits SRC student support office’s first event to kick off mental health awareness month, on April 25, at Apex Studios Accommodation in Braamfontein.
The mental health drive is a student wellbeing initiative that will see SRC student support officer, Lisa Sibaca and a team of various panellists going to different student accommodations and residences to discuss mental health.
At Apex Studios, each of the five panellists tackled a different topic relating to mental health in an interactive discussion that saw students asking questions and engaging in conversation with the panellists.
First was SRC student support member, Thato Lebitso, who addressed a topic that most students in the audience felt strongly about as it received a lot of interaction and feedback from the audience – “burnout syndrome”. He described it as “unsuccessfully managed chronic stress”.
Lebitso explained that, although all students deal with stress, not all students deal with burnout syndrome. The key factor which distinguishes the two is the way stress is managed. He said stress was a natural part of life and of being a student as there were always deadlines to meet or exams and tests to plan for.
However, when students do not manage their stress in a healthy way and plan their activities and obligations in detail, this leads to chronic stress which could possibly lead to burnout, Lebitso said. He identified six steps that students could implement to manage stress and avoid burnout.
Thato Lebitso’s six steps to manage stress and to avoid burnout. Infographic: Terri-Ann Brouwers
This resonated with one of the students in attendance, Lebogang Sekhitlu (23) who said, “Once you can identify [burnout], I think you can limit the harm it does.”
The drive will continue till Tuesday, May 16, and staff from the Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU) would take part, so that students could be aware of the resources available to them.
“It is very easy to blame a student for not working or performing academically, but they’re suffering in terms of their mental health, so, we’re here to offer solutions,” said Sibaca. Omphile Seqhee (19), Apex Studios’ well-being and outreach student life intern, told Wits Vuvuzela that she was more than happy to collaborate with the SRC student support office by bringing the drive to their accommodation. She was happy that students got tips on how to deal with academic stress as that is what causes students to have the most mental health struggles.
FEATURED IMAGE: SRC student support officer, Lisa Sibaca, and her team of panellists engage with the audience at a mental health drive event at Apex Studio Accommodation, Braamfontein. Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers
The financial aid scheme missed its own deadline, March 31, to resolve all appeals.
As many as 450 Wits students remain unclear about the status of their NSfas funding appeals.
This was revealed after an April 17 meeting that the SRC had called to deal with an increasing number of students who are being evicted by private residences because it is not clear if they will be funded, according to treasurer general, Kabelo Phungwayo.
The meeting, which took place in the SRC boardroom at the Wits Matrix, was attended by more than 80 students who spilled into the hallway for lack of space.
A second-year bachelor of health sciences student, Isikelele Mpoto, told Wits Vuvuzela that she was facing eviction from her accommodation. She said she was funded by NSfas for a year-and-a-half, until she was academically excluded.
This year she had travelled from the Eastern Cape to attend a Wits Readmission Committee hearing on January 17, and could not afford to go back home. Her mother, who is the sole wage earner in the family, and is supporting five children, then took on the burden of paying for her accommodation, hoping that NSfas would take over.
“My mother had to take out loans [for my accommodation]. She cannot always send money, so sometimes I eat once a day, and I still have to cross-night and study,” said Mpoto, who, like many students, does not have a book allowance or stipend to get essentials.
Phungwayo said that during the fee protests in February, the SRC had met with NSfas and brought up the issue of students who were sleeping in libraries and toilets, because of the financial uncertainty created by the slow pace with which NSFAS was communicating the statuses of their appeals. NSfas had then promised to resolve all appeals by the end of March and established an appeals tribunal to fast-track the processing of the 70 000 appeals they had received nationally, for 2023. This did not happen, according to Phungwayo.
He added that since 2020, students have had to use a centralised portal to lodge appeals, and the SRC recommends that appeals be relocated to individual universities, to avoid this kind of breakdown in progress.
Samora Mbomba, the regional coordinator of the South African Students Congress who has been working with the SRC on the matter, says that the problem is that once on the NSfas portal, “students were asked to upload certain documents, but when they go to upload those documents, the portal says no documents required.”
She says she has recently been in contact with the National Assembly chairperson of the portfolio committee on higher education, science and innovation, Nompendulo Mkhatshwa, a former SRC president, who had requested the names and identity numbers of the affected students. Mbomba says she believes that things will move a bit quicker now.
The SRC announced on its Twitter page that any students who had missed the April 17 meeting were welcome to come to the office every day between 3pm and 7pm, so they could be added to the list.
Wits Vuvuzela contacted the Wits NSfas office on April 18, and was told to write an email to the office of the Wits CFO. Executive secretary to the CFO, Marelize van Niekerk then forwarded the email to the financial aid and scholarships office manager, Charlene Timmerman, who did not respond. Wits Vuvuzela followed up with further emails to Timmerman on April 20 and 24 but has yet to receive a response.
FEATURED IMAGE: Wits students who have yet to receive outcomes of NSfas their funding appeals, met in the SRC boardroom on April 17. Photo: Morongoa Masebe
A brief reprieve at Wits University, as protesting students momentarily call off protest action.
The deputy president of the Wits student representative council (SRC), Kamogelo Mabe declared a 24-hour ceasefire on March 8, as the group prepares to finally meet with Vice Chancellor, Zeblon Vilakazi.
The ceasefire is conditional, Mabe called for all ‘bouncers’ (security officers) to be removed from campuses and for no further suspensions to be enacted by the university.
“This is a stance that we are taking as student leaders. We are not intimidated, we are not pressured into any position, but we are simply saying that we are, for the last time, revisiting this conversation,” said Mabe at a press briefing.
Several student protesters including the Wits SRC president, Aphiwe Mnyamana remain suspended from the university. The suspensions bar the students from entering the university premises including residences, making them effectively homeless and unable to continue with their studies.
Speaking to eNCA, the university’s spokesperson Shirona Patel welcomed the ceasefire and said that they were willing to meet the SRC’s demands to facilitate dialogue. Patel added that the university has already acceded to the SRC’s demand to remove the police presence in and around the university and will reduce the number of private security guards as the situation deescalates.
“I’ve been here before the pandemic, and I’ve seen like protests like in 2019 and I’m a bit unfazed by it because it’s something that like we almost expect now so it’s a bit disheartening to me that like we’re still having these conversations even though I’ve been here since 2019 this is 2023 and it’s still the same conversation,” said Owethu Tema, a third-year architecture student
Similar protests are taking place at the Tshwane University of Technology, the University of Pretoria, and the University of Cape Town, among others. The same issues persist at these institutions, students simply cannot afford both the high cost of education and the living expenses that come with being a student.
FEATURED IMAGE: Left to right: Wits SRC members Karabo Matloga, deputy president Kamogelo Mabe and secretary general Tshiamo Chuma at the press briefing on March 8, 2023. Photo: Mpho Hlakudi
While some are attending online classes, protesting students still have their proverbial boots on the ground as the #WitsShutdown drags on.
Protesting students were joined by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union affiliated workers picketing in front of the heavily guarded Wits Great Hall on Monday, March 6.
The Great Hall piazza has been stage to increased tensions over the last few days, which saw projectiles including bricks and stones, flung from either side of the picket line. Most recently students trying to gain entry to the admin block were shoved and pepper sprayed by security officers.
SRC’s attempt to ‘fetch’ VC
A group of students protested outside the Wits VC, Zeblon Vilakazi’s house in Parktown at around 22:00 on March 6, 2023, to pressure the university to meet outstanding demands. The protesters accused the vice chancellor of being “arrogant” and not taking their plight seriously after he refused to meet them, he was on campus at the time and agreed to meet with the SRC at a time yet to be confirmed.
In a statement, the university said: “Following our engagement with the SRC, and further correspondence, the SRC has rejected the concessions presented today. Instead… about 200 students, led by the SRC, chose to march to the Vice-Chancellor’s home, and some threatened to burn it down.” The SRC denied the threat.
“We will not put our arms down until our students are registered,” said Kabelo Phungwayo, the Wits SRC Treasurer General who said that he was left bruised after security guards assaulted him while protesting on Monday morning.
Deadlock after concessions
Wits has made some concessions including the waiving the R10 000 first fee payment for students applying for accommodation, and the provision of free data for all students from April 1, 2023. Speaking at a mass meeting on Sunday evening SRC president, Aphiwe Mnyamana said that they “will remain resolute” until all their demands are met.
Remaining demands include the allocation of additional beds for homeless students, scrapping of the R45 000 National Student Financial Aid Scheme accommodation cap, allowing indebted students to graduate and the lifting of suspensions.
The university says many of these demands are simply unaffordable, the NSFAS shortfall for instance requires some R86 million.
In a statement issued over the weekend, the minister of higher education, science and technology, Blade Nzimande said urgent meetings over the cap would take place in the coming days. Along with this, “price collusion by landlords”, would be investigated.
Karabo Matloga, the Wits SRC compliance officer, told Wits Vuvuzela that, “We had a meeting on Saturday looked promising however, the letter that we received was simply a spit in our faces because it was not addressing the core issues we have.”
The university said it is committed to working with the SRC subject to availability of resources and the university’s long-term sustainability.
FEATURED IMAGE: Student holding up a placard which reads, “Wits is not for good…”. Photo: Mpho Hlakudi
The Wits SRC organised a clean-up campaign around the streets of Johannesburg to clear students’ historic debt.
Members of Wits University’s student representative council (SRC) hung up their white blazers on Tuesday, February 14, 2023 in a symbolic effort to sweep away outstanding student debt. The clean-up drive is one of many activities planned to reach the R20-million target set by the SRC to assist returning students who have been unable to register for the academic year due to financial constraints.
In this episode we take a look at the work of Joburg Theatre, through the eyes of the people that work at there. Justine, who has been at the theatre for more than 20 years, walks us through its history, and Mbongeni, a ballet dancer, tells us how he came to make this beautiful theatre […]