Wits fight about women leaders too
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Johannesburg - For the female students at Wits, the fight is not only about the fees, but about claiming their space as women at the institution.
The nearly week-long protest against fee increases at the Braamfontein campus has been led by female student leaders like Nompendulo Mkhatshwa and Shaeera Kalla.
These young women have led the protest and at all times raised the importance of non-violence.
Incoming student representative council (SRC) secretary-general Fasiha Hassan said: “In the run-up to the protest, the majority of the preparations have been done by woman leaders and we are reclaiming our space.
“This is also an issue of intersectionality. Yes, we are fighting fees but we are also recognising that as women we have been marginalised in a certain space. We are reclaiming that.”
Hassan said that’s why students also decided to put political party differences aside to deal with the fee increase issue.
“The SRC is leading this movement and it is technically non-partisan. The important thing is that this issue of fees affects all 33 000 students at Wits. We need to be united to get what we want,” she said. But Hassan said it was worrying that white students weren’t part of the action.
“We have several white comrades who are on our side but unfortunately the proposed fee increments are going to be affecting the working-class students more than anyone else.
“The truth of the matter is that the working class in this country is black and that is why our representation has been predominately black.
“We welcome all students of all races to please join us in the picket lines.”
She maintained that at the university council, the students never agreed to the increments but were outvoted.
“We have never ever agreed to this fee increment. When student representatives sit on the council, they are one or two members out of something like 30 members.
“We are totally outnumbered and outvoted. Which is one of the calls we are making. We are also saying, the way the university’s decision-making system is set up, student leaders don’t have the voice we should have, even though we are representing 30 000 students.”
Hassan said it was important to maintain non-violence. “We have chosen a radical but peaceful protest because we don’t want to take attention from the issues. We have been subjected to violence.
“We have been tear-gassed by private security; we have had students who were run over by cars, yet we have not reacted in violence.
“We have a group of disciplined people here because we know what we are fighting for.”
Hassan said if the university didn’t adhere to their demands, they would continue with the protest.
“Should council not come to the party, we will continue this protest. Universities across the country are shutting down. Students across the country are now standing together and saying ‘no’ to exorbitant fees. If they think they can take us on just as Wits, they are wrong. We have started it at UCT, Rhodes, Stellenbosch and other universities.
“We are working together with other institutions. We are advising each other and coming together.”
But Hassan admits if the institution doesn’t listen to their pleas, they will go after Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande.
“Given the national landscape, students across the country need to march to Pretoria to call on Blade to avail more funding and look at inefficiencies within universities.
“We are saying some academics and vice-chancellors are being paid exorbitant amounts as well as bonuses. We need to look at the inefficiencies of varsity spending as well,” she said.
Hassan admits that leading the protest comes with huge sacrifices from all leaders.
“As leaders we need to be very clear that we need to be courageous for our people. Yes, it is intimidating, but we know what we are fighting for is a worthy cause and what we are willing to sacrifice for.
“We realise there is a possibility of arrest, harm and losing things but we resign ourselves to those sacrifices because we know that if we don’t do that, transformation in this country and the face of this country is never going to change.
“This is substantive transformation. The way you change the face of the country is through education. If you are going to exclude the working-class black student, we are not going to do it.”