Johannesburg – A culture of nepotism, racial discrimination and intimidation has descended on the Carletonville campus of Westcol College, where the campus manager, his wife, his daughter and his daughter-in-law all work, student protesters are alleging.
On Tuesday, protesters gathered outside the entrance to the West Rand campus, singing and burning tyres in defiance of campus administration.
Although the crowd dwindled to a few dozen by midday, organisers said they estimated more than 2 000 students had filtered through since they began at 6:30am.
In the list of grievances obtained by The Star, the students – who have been protesting since last Monday – want the campus manager to step down and are angry over withheld bursaries, nepotism and being denied access to the hall on campus, among other things.
However, a Westcol College spokesperson painted a different picture, saying it was the protesters who were denying access to other students and the staff.
She added that the protest had effectively shut down the campus, a technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institution.
“We have the situation closely monitored,” said Salome du Toit, the spokesperson. “Our main concern is the safety and security of the students as well as the staff.”
According to Du Toit, the management of the college has heard about the grievances through media reports, but has not received a copy from the protesters themselves.
The list, by the protesters’ account, was delivered to the management in 2015.
Inaction on the college’s part had forced them to protest, said Glad Malaza, the secretary-general of the student representative council (SRC) at the campus.
The college faced a shortage of qualified lecturers, and vacant positions had been empty for nearly two years, he said. This is happening despite Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande’s recent commitment to improving TVET colleges.
At the Carletonville campus, lecturers were given preferential treatment because they were white, said Mantshadi Tsotetsi, the SRC president, who described the situation as “a white monopoly thing now”.
During enrolment, black students had to wait in line but white students did not, Malaza said.
Staff were prevented from raising issues out of fear of intimidation from the campus manager, who would victimise those who do, he added.
“All we want is that students must get quality education,” he said. “If students don’t get lecturers, the core business of why we’re here is not taking place.”
At this point, the protesters no longer wanted to meet with the administration, they said.
The only way to open the campus was for the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) to meet with them – specifically, DHET deputy director-general Firoz Patel.
“They must take action, that’s what we want,” said Malaza, as other protesters shouted “Viva!” in agreement.
Approached for comment, a DHET spokesperson referred The Star to the college. An official for the college deferred comment back to the department.
“I’d like to tell you a lot of things, but I’m not obliged to,” the official said, citing fears of retribution from the DHET, which did not respond to a further request for comment by the time of publication.