In January, Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education made several promises to students of a smooth and delay-free start to the 2023 academic year. However, this has not been the case at a number of universities as student protests continue to ramp up across the country.
Student protests at institutions including Wits, UCT, UJ, the University of the Western Cape, the University of Pretoria, and NMU have erupted since the start of the academic year.
In an effort to resolve their grievances, Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) leadership met with university management over the weekend.
This comes amid days of intense protests over several issues, including accommodation and outstanding debt.
Following the meeting, the SRC addressed hundreds of students at the university’s main campus in Braamfontein on Sunday night on the outcomes of a meeting they held with the institution’s management.
SRC member Karabo Asala said, “following a meeting that took place yesterday we understand they did not reach an agreement but there were promises that were made…how the protest will go tomorrow as to whether it would take to the ground or not that depends on the feedback we get from the senior executive management team today.”
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The SRC President Aphiwe Mnyamana explained that two of their main demands are that all students with historic debt be allowed to register and that no student must be asked to top up on the R45,00 capped National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) accommodation fee.
In response to this, Wits management said: “Wits can’t change NSFAS policies but accredited private accommodation service providers have agreed to accommodate students within the R45,000 cap. Wits have challenged NSFAS on this cap and will continue to address this matter with NSFAS.”
Mnyamana affirmed that Wits management has agreed to waive the R10,000 upfront payment for accommodation and to provide data for all students.
He adds: “Our primary goal for this protest is that all students must register but Wits says no. And we are saying to Wits University, we remain committed to our students, [and] we won’t exclude any student up until all students register. We will continue the fight.”
Furthermore, a group of students spent the night camped outside Wits Vice-Chancellor Zeblon Vilakazi’s private home. They have vowed to continue protesting until their demands are met.
According to reports, Wits University spokesperson Shirona Patel said that students marching to Vilakazi’s residence was “unacceptable”.
Patel expressed that Wits University responded in detail to thirteen major demands made by the SRC related to historic debt, accommodation, data provision, suspension, and late registrations.
”Where we could make concessions, we have, and this follows the concessions we’ve already made in January and February. But there are some we cannot meet if we are to remain sustainable and a growing entity”.
He stressed that it was important and necessary for the academic programme to continue and that the institution will continue with teaching and learning in a blended learning mode.
“All student services are expected to continue and staff members who serve students are expected to be at work,” he concluded.
The SRC further noted that they are still open to further negotiations with management about their demands.
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