Varsity says no to disabled student
Pretoria - Lekae Combrinck-Nawa’s dreams of becoming a graphic designer were dashed when the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) told him he couldn’t study at the institution because of his disability.
Twenty-year-old Combrinck-Nawa lost his legs in an accident two years ago. At the time he was an animation student in Cape Town and had to suspend his studies to recover.
Last year, he applied to study graphic design at the TUT and he was unconditionally accepted after submitting a portfolio of his work.
The “unconditional acceptance” was withdrawn on Wednesday when his father – Dr Lance Nawa, who works at the university – received a letter from TUT acting vice-chancellor and principal Professor Lourens van Staden, informing him that his 20-year-old son could not be registered anymore because of his disability.
During the open day, his father had to carry him on his back to help him get into the buildings.
At the time, TUT promised to improve facilities but now it claims it doesn’t have the funds.
This week, Combrinck-Nawa has been unable to attend introductory course seminars because they are in buildings he cannot access.
In the letter to his father, Van Staden writes, in part: “… On behalf of the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), I therefore wish to advise you that the university has considered all possible options with the view to addressing the challenge of access for your son at TUT’s Art Campus in Arcadia.
“As no immediate solution could be found, I regret to inform you that your son can, at this time, not be registered at the university due to the facilities he is expected to use currently not being friendly to students whose mobility is impaired.”
He said that the institution was addressing the issue of accessibility “incrementally at the Pretoria, Soshanguve, Ga-Rankuwa, Mbom-bela and eMalahleni campuses”.
The other campuses, “including the Arts Campus, will be next in line as soon as funds become available”, the letter read.
Combrinck-Nawa is surprised that the institution decided to throw him out instead of giving him space in fine arts – which was his second choice. “There is a fine art lecturer who is in a wheelchair and a student as well.
“Surely, they could have given me space there because there are facilities for the disabled,” he said.
Nawa snr is a post-doctoral fellow at the arts faculty on a one-year contract. He has had meetings with the university to try to sort out the matter. The last meeting was on January 19 and he was surprised when he received the rejection letter yesterday.
Dr Nawa had already paid a R1 500 registration fee, which the institution says it will reimburse.
He has now written to the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, to help him sort out the matter or he will approach the high court for an interdict.
TUT spokeswoman Willa de Ruyter said: “Since Mr Nawa first enquired about study at TUT and his acceptance for study, the university has engaged with Dr Nawa and his son extensively to find ways of accommodating him.
“A number of alternative solutions were proposed, including assistance with rehabilitation by TUT’s centre for orthotics and prosthetics to enable him to acquire mobility on his prosthesis. All these options were unfortunately declined.”
But Nawa said he had a meeting with the institution last November and they promised to put the prosthesis option in writing but that was never done.
De Ruyter said most of TUT’s infrastructure was old and “will require substantial alterations and adaptations as well as time, to bring them to the required standard”.
South African Human Rights Commission spokesman Isaac Mangena said they were appalled by the matter. “It is not allowed that a student be told to not register because they are disabled. It is very important for higher education to accommodate all students. If they do not have the facilities, they have to build them,” Mangena said.
He said the commission would take up the matter on Combrinck-Nawa’s behalf.
Disabled People’s South Africa’s youth deputy chairman Wonderboy Qaji said: “The university cannot accept him and then tell him he cannot attend anymore because of his disability. His rights to an education are being infringed upon.”
Socialist Youth Movement’s provincial chairman Zikho Leshabane said the institution was being “arrogant”. He said: “Management does not want to find ways to deal with the situation. We cannot allow this to happen…”
Department of Higher Education and Training spokesman Khaye Nkwanyana said: “As a department we take this issue seriously. There are still many other students who are going to apply and they cannot be excluded on that basis… we encourage inclusivity.”
Nzimande will visit TUT and Nkwanyana said this issue will on the agenda.