Cape Town - Classes were disrupted at the University of Western Cape (UWC) on Monday as students embarked on a strike demanding accommodation, debt clearance and course registration.
Members of the Student Representative Council (SRC) and other student-affiliated political organisations marched to classes calling on students to gather for a meeting.
UWC SRC chairperson Sasha Douglas said clearance and registration for 2020 has been delayed by Student Credit Management's (SCM) insistence to refuse bulk clearance of students, and their refusal to use acknowledgement of debt "in an attempt to protect the financial interests of the institution".
"The SRC rejects the SCM process of clearance, which requires that students pay 30% of their debt, pay registration and enter into a monthly debit order agreement with the university in order for them to be cleared for registration," Douglas said.
Updating students under the tree next to student centre, Douglas said the most recent update they received stated that "registration is at a mere 17 000, which means at least 9000 students were not yet registered".
"It is for this reason that we have called for the academic program to be delayed by 1 week as to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to be cleared and registered," she said.
Douglas said that an injury to one is an injury to all, and they were therefore asking all UWC students to rally behind that call.
She said in terms of accommodation, the situation on campus was nothing short of painful. "We are not only disappointed but also infuriated by the blatant disregard for students, displayed by UWC management."
Douglas lashed out at the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Student Development and Support desk for having "the audacity" to release a statement saying that there is general happiness when South Point residence students were still not placed.
Douglas said that students were instead being subjected to sleeping in the student centre and in TV rooms "due to UWC's continuous failure to provide accommodation for them".
The SRC then ordered students to march to the residence office to hand over their demands.
UWC spokesperson, Gasant Abarder said: "This morning a group of protesting students disrupted classes as the first lectures of the academic year got underway. The University is attempting to make contact with the student leadership to understand the specific reasons behind the protests.
"As far as the University Executive is concerned, these protests came as a complete surprise, considering there are well established processes that the student leadership (The SRC and Central Housing Committee) are aware of."
Abarder said the academic programme has already been scheduled and delays would complicate practicals, placements and general university processes.
"Postponing the beginning of the academic year will compromise the completion of the academic programme for the year," he said.
He said after the SRC’s induction last year as the new student representatives of the University, SRC members were sensitised to the problem of accommodation.
"Efforts were made to secure additional beds, but the loss of the South Point residence (a private off-campus accommodation) exacerbated the situation," Abarder said.
"On Friday, the SRC accompanied the Private Accommodation Sub-committee – which includes SRC and CHC leadership – to the newly-acquired residential spaces for students. On Friday, the SRC and CHC leadership indicated their satisfaction with the new spaces – provided there was an agreement on the finer details of their demands."
He said on Friday the university also secured 766 bed spaces to accommodate the students previously residing at South Point as well as new qualifying first year students. As of this morning, that number increased to 815 bed spaces.
"Students will receive a communication from UWC’s Residential Services shortly about the process to move to alternative accommodation that has been secured off campus. The move will commence as soon as the logistical arrangements have been confirmed, beginning with those qualifying students that resided at South Point."