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Shutdown rocks UCT on first day of study as students fume over fee blocks, housing

Shutdown rocks UCT on first day of study as students fume over fee blocks, housing
UCT students gather at Graca lawn on campus to picket for accommodation. They later marched to the Bremner Building to air their demands. (Photo: Xabiso Mkhabela)

Day one of the new academic year at UCT kicked off with an SRC announcement that it would be shutting down all campus activities in protest against fee blocks and access to student housing.

The very first day of the academic year at the University of Cape Town (UCT) has already been marked by protests and a campus shutdown. 

On Monday, the EFF-led student representative council (SRC) announced a campus shutdown and suspension of academic activity, citing UCT’s housing crisis and the financial exclusion of students with fee blocks.

“The SRC has shut down campus and classes will not be proceeding; this is until Council lifts fee blocks and students without accommodation are accommodated permanently,” the SRC announced on Monday morning.

Entrances to UCT’s campuses were blocked as people tried to get in, with students standing at the entrances and instructing cars to turn away from the university in protest. Many cars were parked on the sides of roads, or on lawns close to the university since they were barred from driving inside. 

UCT students call for accommodation on the first day of study on Monday. (Photo: Xabiso Mkhabela)

UCT campuses were quieter than they would usually be on a first day, owing to the SRC encouraging the suspension of academic activity, although, since some departments refused to suspend lectures, some students arrived to attend class. Many other lectures were promptly moved online.

Read in Daily Maverick:South African students still battling ballooning debt despite protests and promises

In the weeks leading up to the beginning of the academic year, the SRC has been dealing with what it refers to as a “housing crisis” at the university. It began when the Department of Student Housing withdrew residence offers from students who owed fees to the university – a move the SRC rejected and saw as exclusionary. Because of this, many students have been left unhoused and without meaningful solutions from the university. 

On 28 January, the SRC was forced to sleep at UCT’s Kramer building on the Middle Campus with 13 other students whose accommodation had been withdrawn and had nowhere else to go.


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The SRC has been in active negotiations with the university about this, announcing:

“Since our last update the UCT SRC has assisted an additional 150+ students with interim accommodation pending their hindrances being cleared. We are currently engaging executive management on more sustainable and permanent arrangements and hope that these engagements will be as fruitful and beneficial for students as the last.”

Its other demands are:

  • The registration period to be reopened for at least five working days following the lift of fee blocks, with no late penalty;
  • Students who have been excluded from residence who are academically eligible to continue to be provided with student accommodation/residence;
  • Policy review in which fee blocks and financial exclusion are eradicated indefinitely;
  • Academic activity must be suspended until fee blocks are lifted and the extended registrations have closed.

Daily Maverick asked Esai Reddy, a master’s student at UCT, what she thought about fee blocks and the decision to protest:

“I think the SRC’s stance is very good, it needs to be done. There are so many students that deserve a space. I definitely stand in solidarity with the SRC. I’m not sure what the long-term plan would look like in terms of lifting fee blocks permanently and how that would impact incoming students. However, currently, I think fee blocks should be lifted.”

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Students gathered on UCT’s Lower Campus in the afternoon for a mass meeting held by the SRC, were addressed by council vice-president Swazi Hlope, who said the university’s exorbitant fees and decision to go ahead with fee blocks was preventing students from exercising their right to education. 

SRC president Hlengiwe Dube told Daily Maverick the fee blocks situation at UCT reflects larger structural issues facing universities nationally. She referred specifically to how the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is aggravating the financial burden of students. 

Some UCT students say they do not have a place to stay at the start of the academic year. (Photo: Xabiso Mkhabela)

Protesting UCT students on campus on Monday. (Photo: Xabiso Mkhabela)

“The bigger problem we’re facing at institutions across this country is NSFAS. NSFAS has capped their allowances and funding. They have removed funding from specific courses or degrees such as law degrees. So everything is a domino effect and a result of NSFAS deciding to not only cap but take away funding.”

After congregating on Lower Campus, students moved to the Bremner Building to hand over their demands to management. Campus security stood outside the building while the SRC announced the demands.

Earlier this year, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande announced that student accommodation allowance will be capped at R61,500 and for students living off-campus, their allowance will be capped at R45,000. Both Dube and Hlope noted that these allowance limits are not feasible due to the high cost of student accommodation. 

Daily Maverick asked UCT for comment and awaits a response. DM 

This article may be updated throughout the day with developments.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • R S says:

    We should just everything down in this country till everything is fixed. That’s bound to solve the problems affecting our society.

  • mob says:

    get more free stuff…I wonder if the entrance levels are high enough

  • Caroline Rich says:

    This entitlement is ruing the country and society at large. Everyone has a right to primary education, but not to tertiary education. It is a privilege. So, this behavior is unacceptable. Clearly, the focus is not on education, but wreaking havoc.

  • Mark Neville says:

    I can’t comment on affordability, but there’s not problem with availability. There has been a huge investment in student accomodation in the last few years. In Observatory and Mowbray there are some blocks standing almost empty.

  • Geoff Krige says:

    Crazy. The protesting students may have a grievance but that does not give them the right to deprive others of a good education. An EFF student representative council comes complete with the communist philosophy to reduce everyone to the lowest common level – uneducated. We all know where that got the USSR!!

  • Johan Buys says:

    for heavens’ sake : a long time ago we went off and sorted our own lives out even if it meant “squatting” a month until some mommy’s dearest fled home and vacated a spot. Everybody is so entitled to getting everything handed to them nowadays. And if everybody isn’t then nobody goes to classes. It will be interesting to see what these children do in 2026 when they have to sort their car, apartment, medical aid, electricity, water, food for themselves. Maybe just go on strike because they have RIGHTS and no obligations

  • Pet Bug says:

    So I dragged my privileged white behind and worked on construction sites for two years after school to be able to afford the engineering degree I wanted to study at varsity.
    Being a bit older and less party- focused, I knew I needed to get straight A’s to get a scholarship for the last two undergraduate years. Which I was awarded.
    Repeat above for honors and masters.

    Wasn’t easy but certainly not a train smash.
    Is that path out of the question these days?

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    I remember the good old days when UCT was a respectable place of learning with an International reputation of excellence….but that was in the good old days!

  • Kevin Jacobs says:

    I’m so thankful my children have completed their studies and did not have to go through this. Suspend academic activity nogal. I hope UCT has the balls to tell them to go to hell.

  • Chris Taylor says:

    I understood that student accommodation was being used by people who were housed during the end of year vacant period and by others who are not entitled to accommodation. Is this true? Are all the facts reported here?

  • David Walker says:

    The headline should read… ‘Fee-paying parents fume as tiny minority shuts down UCT and violently denies young people access to precious educational opportunities’.

  • Chris 123 says:

    How do half of these students qualify in the first place, 30% to pass matric.
    It’s not UCTs job to house or fund students they are there to teach.

  • Robert Morrell says:

    “On 28 January, the SRC was forced to sleep at UCT’s Kramer building on the Middle Campus with 13 other students whose accommodation had been withdrawn and had nowhere else to go.”
    This is not good journalism. “the SRC was forced to sleep …”. Who is doing the forcing? All reports suggest that this was a voluntary action taken for very specific political purposes with little consideration for the interests of the majority of students and the institution as a whole and no respect for the process of negotiation. I expect more from Daily Maverick.

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