South Africa

CAMPUS PROTEST

Wits SRC demands accommodation for 300 unplaced students

Wits University. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Wits University’s Student Representative Council says almost 300 students are without accommodation, with some resorting to squatting at the university library and computer labs. Students protested in and around the university campuses demanding urgent action from management. 

A small group of Wits University students embarked on a protest on Wednesday to plead with the university’s management to help students who are still without accommodation. 

Led by the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC), students marched from the university’s medical school campus to Solomon Mahlangu house to take their grievances to vice-chancellor Adam Habib.

“One student one bed, one bed one student,” they chanted. 

While addressing his peers, student leader Freedom Tsotetsi said there were a number of homeless students who had to sleep at the university library and computer labs. 

“We are protesting to say they must at least take these students and accommodate and then we will raise funds for them as the year goes on,” he said. 

On the morning of the protest, a video was posted on Twitter on the SRC’s page in which students can be seen sleeping on the floor at a campus computer lab. 

Wits SRC president Thato Gabaphethe said university operations could not continue as normal when students were still struggling with accommodation at this point in the academic year. 

“We have told the university there are buildings at your disposal, there are beds at your disposal, open rooms, so that students can occupy them,” he said. 

Nomonde Foli told Daily Maverick that she had been sleeping at the university library since registration week. 

“I have been using the campus bathrooms to bath. I have escalated this matter to the school management system and the dean of student affairs, but they said they cannot assist me. 

“I am not going to go back home to the Eastern Cape. I will finish this degree,” she said. 

Usaamah Obaidullah, an international student from Botswana, said student accommodation had been a long-standing challenge even during #FeesMustFall protests. 

“This is a problem the university causes (for) students. I don’t think students are put on a high-enough priority. We are going to be here again next year, protesting about the same problems,” he said. 

Obaidullah told Daily Maverick that he also had to squat with friends after he was rejected by a campus resident. 

“Fortunately, because of my privilege, I was able to get a loan and find a place elsewhere. But what about those students who cannot afford that luxury?” he said. 

Addressing the students, deputy vice-chancellor Andrew Crouch said the university did not have enough resources to provide accommodation for all students. 

According to Crouch, the university had made efforts to help students struggling financially by releasing R17-million to the Wits Hardship fund. A total of 800 students had already been assisted and 50 more beds were made available on Wednesday. 

“It’s a national problem, and it has to be addressed nationally. We’re not the only university that has this problem, we have limited space,” Crouch said. 

Crouch told students that SRC members should submit the names of students who did not have accommodation and the university would try to find accommodation for them wherever it could.

However, questions were raised when the university’s head of communications Shirona Patel made a claim on Twitter that the protesting students had failed repeatedly and, as a result, lost their funding.

The real issue is that these group of 50 or so students have lost their funding and accommodation because they have failed repeatedly,” the tweet read.

Eyewitness News quoted Adam Habib repeating the same claim.

The vast majority of students who have problems with accommodation are people who have lost their NSFAS bursary. They’ve lost the bursary because they failed more than two times, so NSFAS is no longer giving them a bursary and they are now demanding that the university makes up,” EWN reported.

Crouch told Daily Maverick there are some students who did not meet the required academic requirements in 2019 but through an appeals process were readmitted to the university, but lost their NSFAS funding.

There are some students that did not meet the required academic criteria, but I cannot say all of these students are in that category. And I can verify who the students are that have been readmitted, and those that do not fall in this category,” he said. DM

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