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Tyres burn at Unisa’s Sunnyside campus but other Tshwane universities quiet

Unisa students blocked the entrance to the Sunnyside campus as part of the national shutdown of universities yesterday. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

Unisa students blocked the entrance to the Sunnyside campus as part of the national shutdown of universities yesterday. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 16, 2021


Pretoria - As the South African Union of Students began the nationwide shutdown of universities yesterday, institutions in the capital were fairly quiet.

At Tshwane University of Technology students said they would not be taking part in the shutdown due to the ongoing exams.

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"We will join the other universities when we have finished with our exams," said SRC president Tsudi Mdara.

But at Unisa’s Sunnyside campus students gathered in the afternoon and blocked the main entrance of the institution with burning tyres.

EFF Student Command leader at the university Simamkele Xani said they had received and heeded the instruction to take part in the shut down.

He said some of the issues did not affect them, but they stood in solidarity with others. He said they wanted the historic debt to be scrapped.

"Most students cannot cope, so scrap the debt so they deal with one struggle at a time. This applies to NSFAS [National Student Financial Aid Scheme] students as well; before NSFAS funds you, you must clear historic debt, so students are stuck in a hard place.

"We also argued the exclusion of 20 000 students in line with the need for capacity of enrolment to be increased. It cannot be that students keen and excited to further their studies are being rejected.

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“Some of us are doing final years, we want to leave a legacy for others to come, so we will fight. All Unisa campuses have closed down and communication has been sent out."

Xani said the shutdown would last until the minister responded positively.

"We will be back every day. We have tried all resorts ... for us to take to the streets is a last resort. In South Africa you have to strike. We don't like it. It's tiring, but we have to do it. Others may not understand our views but sacrifices have to be made – now is the best time to fight."

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Inga Nathikethwa, branch co-ordinator of the South African Students Congress, said they were “firm and willing to go the stretch” in the shutdown.

"We are not going to succumb; we will mobilise more numbers and render this institution ungovernable until student demands are met."

He said they would camp outside the institution and would convene early and keep fighting.

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Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Dr Blade Nzimande said they were aware that there were many students whose families struggle to keep up with fee payments.

"However, given the difficult fiscal situation, all government departments, including the Department of Higher Education and Training, have been subject to budget reductions in 2020 and 2021."

He said he was aware that many institutions were assisting students in need and allowing them to make payment arrangements to be able to register, where this was possible.

"However, institutions also have to remain financially sustainable in order to continue to operate effectively, and financial decisions are made at the level of university councils.”

He said NSFAS-qualifying students with historic debt would be able to register when they sign an Acknowledgement of Debt form, while the process was under way.

He added that postgraduate funding was an issue that required attention, as there was limited funding available from the National Research Foundation.

Another demand was the 100% return of all students to campuses under level 1 of the lockdown, especially those in homes and areas without connectivity.

Nzimande said he supported that students who have challenges with connectivity should be able to return to campuses where they would be able to access the relevant connectivity and support from institutions.

"I will be releasing directions to support and guide institutions in managing the return of students and the start of the 2021 academic year."

He said he was informed by NSFAS that they were working to finalise appeals so that students are not prevented from registering on time.

"Many of the issues that have been raised will require careful consideration and planning at the national level," said Nzimande.

At the University of Pretoria, EFF student leaders called for a mass meeting late yesterday to deal with the unrest. The outcome was not yet known at the time of publication.

Students at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University did not indicate if they would be joining the mass action or not.

Pretoria News

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