UCT students gathered for mass meeting. Picture- Sisonke mlamla
UCT students gathered for mass meeting. Picture- Sisonke mlamla

Student protests spread across SA after death at Wits University

By Sisonke Mlamla Time of article published Mar 12, 2021

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Cape Town - Student protests that started at Wits University over registration and financial exclusion earlier this week have spread to campuses across the country after the death of a bystander.

Thousands of students from UCT gathered at an open field yesterday, in solidarity with Wits, University of Free State, University of Pretoria and Nelson Mandela University to protest against the financial exclusion of some students with historical debt.

UCT student representative council (SRC) chairperson Declan Dyer said they were in solidarity with institutions currently demonstrating across the country, and demanded that all academically eligible students be cleared to register at UCT.

"There were approximately 2 500 academically eligible students facing financial exclusion," said Dyer, as he declared that students would start with protests this morning.

"We call on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to finalise the allowance policy immediately to ensure that students are not left to fend for themselves."

UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said the university was aware of the issues that have been raised by the student representatives, some of which were at national level while others were institutional.

Moholola said most of the issues, including those relating to NSFAS, were receiving attention at national level through the Department of Higher Education and Training.

"UCT has, as has been the case in preceding years, put measures in place to assist eligible students with historic debt. In February 2021, UCT put out an open call for any student with historic debt to apply through the annual financial aid appeals process. UCT has set aside around R30 million for this purpose," he said.

UCT SRC President, Declan Dyer talks to the students. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Moholola said the university had about 1 655 students with historic debt, amounting to R88m.

The Parliament's portfolio committee on higher education, science and technology chairperson Philly Mapulane said they has noted the Wits student protests and many others across the country in response to the challenges experienced by students during the registration process.

Mapulane said the reported funding shortfall for the NSFAS, which delayed funding decisions for first-year entering students at universities and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges, further exacerbated the situation.

SA Union of Students spokesperson Thabo Shingange said the union was demanding free registration for all students during the 2021 academic year, and had rejected the imposition of the minimum initial payment.

"We demand suspension of academic exclusion for the 2021 academic year because of the impact of Covid-19. We also demand 0% fee increase for the 2021 academic year. Student leaders were not consulted when this decision was taken," said Shingange.

Sihle Ngxabi, SRC deputy president for CPUT, said they had ensured that students who were academically progressing registered no matter how much they owed the institution upon signing an acknowledgement of debt form.

After the pressure from students, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande yesterday unpacked the decision taken by Cabinet on the NSFAS process. He said they had agreed that funding should be reprioritised from the budget of the Department of Higher Education and Training in order to ensure that all deserving NSFAS-qualifying students were able to receive funding for the 2021 academic year.

Nzimande said the decision had been taken in the context of funding cuts and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Following this decision, NSFAS will be able to release funding decisions, and the registration process at public universities can continue as planned," he said.

Nzimande said no NSFAS-qualifying students have been affected by the delays as universities had agreed to extend the registration period to ensure that students without funding decisions would not be prevented from accessing a place that they qualify for.

Cape Argus

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