South Africa


It’s quietly bustling at Stellenbosch University, despite students raising a number of grievances

It’s quietly bustling at Stellenbosch University, despite students raising a number of grievances
Stellenbosch University Student Representative Council chairperson Xola Njengele informs students that all with student debt will be registered by 26 March. (Photo: Rebecca Pitt)

About 500 Stellenbosch University students gathered at the university library steps on Tuesday in the first sign of mobilisation on the campus around student issues at the start of the 2021 academic year.

Xola Njengele, Stellenbosch University (SU) Students Representative Council (SRC) chairperson, told the gathering that all students facing hurdles with student debt would be registered by 26 March.

However, this did not meet with universal approval.

One student asked: “Are you for the students or are you for management?”

Another said: “There are students not registered; students that are not recognised as SU students… why is it a challenge to lift the block [now]?”

Evidently, some were not pleased with the institution’s response or the SRC efforts to help alleviate financial anxiety.

About 543 Stellenbosch University students are unable to register because of debt, and some of their fees will be paid by the Action 4 Inclusion initiative.

Nomzamo Buthelezi, the SRC’s societies council chairperson and policy officer, said the remainder of the 543 students not covered by the initiative would be referred to the university’s Student Debt Task Team. However, all 543 students’ debt would be cleared by the close of registration.

In the meantime, all students would be given access to SUNLearn, the university’s online learning and resource platform, by 16 March.

Students raised a number of concerns, including:

  • How would unregistered students gain access to university wi-fi in the meantime while classes continued?
  • Will international students be included in this response?
  • Why couldn’t the university lift the block on students’ accounts now, so that students could register on 15 March when classes commenced?
  • Would students who the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) recently defunded also be covered by the university?
  • Would SUNLearn access also mean access to in-person lectures?

Zizo Vokwana, an unregistered Stellenbosch University student, told Daily Maverick:

“The SRC has been quiet; other universities took a stance on the situation and registered everyone. Now, we are at a point where we want to force the university to [register everyone]. If UWC [University of the Western Cape] can do it, why can’t our university do it?

“Our SRC has been silent, the university has been silent and we want answers. We want the block to be lifted so that everyone can be registered.”

Stellenbosch University student, Zizo Vokwana says that the university and the Students Representative Council have been quiet about student debt issues. (Photo: Rebecca Pitt)

Seemingly silent in Stellenbosch

Over the past week, students at campuses around South Africa have held fee protests, which have disrupted the start of the academic year at some universities.

In a number of cases (see here, here and here), protests have been volatile.

The situation at Stellenbosch University seems different.

Stellenbosch University students returned to campus on Monday to begin the academic year, which takes the form of a hybrid learning structure.

It is busy again at Stellenbosch University main campus since the hybrid academic semester officially began on 15 March. (Photo: Rebecca Pitt)

When Daily Maverick visited the campus on Monday, it was bustling, with students walking to their classes, while some queued for coffee and at stationery stores.

“Everything seems normal at Stellenbosch, but there are debt issues here,” said Njengele. However, only a minority of students at Stellenbosch University were dealing with “detrimental debt issues”.

By Tuesday, the Stellenbosch University SRC had managed to help 31 students with debt to register, through its yearly RegisterAll campaign.

The SRC used R22,000 from its own reserves to help these students.

Njengele said that if it weren’t for the SRC’s Student Financial Access portfolio, the university wouldn’t be in the “more comfortable position” that it is in now.

The SRC also works with different divisions within the university to help students register. These include RegisterAll, Action 4 Inclusion, Maties 2 Maties and the university’s Student Debt Task Team.


While campus life appeared normal, students who Daily Maverick spoke to said they were frustrated with a lack of urgency and communication from the university management.

But Dr Choice Makhetha, the senior director of Student Affairs at the university, said the university has been in constant communication with students, “providing information and channels to follow for specific services”.

She said that the registration process was going well and that the staff at Stellenbosch University were ready to provide support.

“All funding avenues of the university have been used to make sure that students can register; loans and bursaries, as well as NSFAS funding included.

“The SRC has rolled out its initiative to help students get registered. They are working in partnership with the SU finance office and several other offices, to make sure that students are assisted,” Makhetha said.

Stellenbosch University spokesperson Martin Viljoen said the university had worked hard to devise and implement a wide range of financial support initiatives for its student community.

“In 2020, the [Student Debt Task Team] secured R3-million in funding, which was used to settle outstanding study fees for students in need.  Currently, the task team is focused on assisting non-registered students with securing funding support for outstanding student fees,” he said.

Viljoen added that Stellenbosch University’s fees had increased below the 4.7% for tuition and 6.7% for accommodation proposed by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande.

Unlike some other campuses,  Stellenbosch University students have so far not followed the call for a shutdown by the SA Union of Students to protest against financial exclusion.

A Stellenbosch University master’s student, who wished to remain anonymous, told Daily Maverick that students don’t protest at the university because it is only a minority at the university who would stand together.

“It wouldn’t change anything,” she said. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    I have sympathy for a student that is doing well and really can’t afford it. The ones that failed last year despite the multiple rewrites, well maybe this is not for them right now.

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