Students at four KwaZulu-Natal universities threatened an indefinite strike from today Picture: African News Agency (ANA)
DURBAN - Students at four KwaZulu-Natal universities threatened an indefinite strike from today - day one of the academic year - until their demands are met for free education, safer student residences and increases in their food and book allowances.

Student leaders at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Durban University of Technology (DUT), Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) and University of Zululand (UniZulu) have confirmed their participation in the protest.

But the students denied co-ordinating joint action. They took their decisions individually without consulting, they said, to coincide with the start of the academic year.

Universities said they were aware of the planned student protest but could only evaluate the situation today. UniZulu spokesperson Gcina Nhleko-Mdluli said they were aware of the “pending pandemonium” but could not unpack its impact as yet.

“However, we can confirm that according to the university calendar, classes are commencing (on Monday) and first-year students are in a hive of excitement and looking forward to the start of the academic year,” Nhleko-Mdluli said.

UKZN spokesperson Normah Zondo said they would continue to engage the Student Representative Council (SRC) on all matters of concern.

SRC president at UKZN Sanele Hlongwa said students who received free education last year after an announcement by former president Jacob Zuma were asked to pay at least 50% of their fees.

Hlongwa said students were told to sign an agreement to pay “only what they could afford” on a monthly basis. However, he claimed the agreement was not properly explained and students were left with mounting debt.

“That is one of the major points of this protest because students are unable to register this year due to that agreement. They obviously signed these documents stating they could pay a certain amount but since it was not properly explained, they signed off on an amount they cannot afford,” he said.

Hlongwa added that another issue fuelling the protest was students unable to apply for jobs and internships because their results were being withheld until full payment of fees was made.

“It is not the students’ fault that fees were not paid. It is NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) that was supposed to make the payment but now qualified students are sitting at home unable to apply for jobs or register for another module,” he said.

As an example, Hlongwa said Bachelor of Education students needed to attain an SA Council for Educators certificate before applying to schools. However, they could not be issued with a certificate until they provided statement of their results.

“We will close the university until all our demands are met. These are not new issues as we have been engaging with the university management for a long time but they never complied with us.

“The university keeps pouring money into programmes that are not benefiting students,” Hlongwa said.

He added that among concerns were safety and security at residences. Hlongwa said there had been numerous break-ins, attacks and robberies at residences and the university needed to take full responsibility for them.

The concerns were similar across all universities.

SRC president at MUT Sandile Dlamini said students’ allowances were reduced from R1600 to R1140 for food and from R7000 to R5000 for books.

Dlamini added that some students were still not placed in residences and had received no word from the university on their placement.

“The university has sent out an SMS to students informing them that lectures will start (on Monday) but most don’t even know where they are going to sleep,” Dlamini said.

Fortunate Mkhize, of DUT SRC, said they had tried to meet the university management last week, adding that they would visit residences last night to notify them of the indefinite strike.

“The SRC are calling for a shutdown of the university. We will have a mass meeting at 8am and thereafter commence our protest,” Mkhize said.

- THE MERCURY