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Wits student leaders go on hunger strike amid protests over registration, accommodation

Students from University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) play football after protesting during the third week of ongoing protests against the cost of higher education, Johannesburg, South Africa, 03 October 2016. EPA/CORNELL TUKIRI

About 40 security guards are monitoring a number of students taking part in a hunger strike at the University of Witwatersrand.

Members of the Wits student representative council embarked on the strike at 06:00 on Tuesday at Solomon Mahlangu House.

The strike follows a protest on Monday, where students disrupted classes and demonstrated on campus, calling on the university to listen to their demands relating to accommodation, registration fees and financial exclusion.

In a statement posted on Twitter, the body said it estimated that over 500 students would have no accommodation while 1 000 would be financially excluded and 3 000 would starve each month.

“It can’t be that we turn a blind eye to how institutions of higher learning respond to mass mobilisation of students and exercise of their right to protest. It can’t be that we keep silent when students are not registered and homeless. Something must happen,” the statement read.

Among other things, the SRC is demanding that all students who have been granted space by the institution, should be allowed to register, that returning students be assisted with accommodation and that an upfront fee be scrapped for students with household income of less than R600 000.

On Monday, SRC president Sisanda Aluta Mbolekwa said they were against the university’s position not to allow students who owed R100 000 or less to register for the 2019 academic year.

Mbolekwa vowed that they would shut down the institution should it not meet their demands.

She added that students participating in the strike were being intimidated by the private security guards.

In an email sent to students, the university said that, as per the council approved concessions for 2019, only students who owed the institution R10 000 or less would be allowed to roll over their debts to the 2019 academic year.

It also stated that there was no closing date for the university’s Hardship Fund, saying it remained committed to fundraising. DM

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