Shutdown rocks UCT on first day of study as students fume over fee blocks, housing
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 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was forced to sleep at UCT’s Kramer building on the Middle Campus with 13 other students whose accommodation had been withdrawn and had nowhere else to go.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.
“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.