Wits dental students learning, working under ’inhumane’ conditions
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Johannesburg - Wits University dental students have claimed that they are learning and working under “inhumane” conditions, with sewage spilling from the ceiling and poor infrastructure.
Last week, Wits University dental students embarked on a virtual protest “Save Wits Dental”, calling on the university to address issues regarding claims that the students are working and learning in unsafe conditions, and an alleged looming threat of the university shutting the dental school.
The complaints include a constant smell of gas in the lab, infrastructure being worn out and damaged, sewage spills from the ceiling, shortages of chairs and tables, clustering due to lack of space and no ventilation or emergency exits.
“We’re in a state of uncertainty and, as a student, it is disheartening to find yourself in a position where you don’t have much power. We can only raise awareness that we are in sub-par training facilities and we need certainty as to the completion of our degrees,” a Wits Dental Students Council (DSC) leader told The Star on Tuesday. The student leader asked to not be named.
The school was established about a century ago and was located in Braamfontein, but the School of Oral Health Sciences (SOHS) was moved – as a temporary measure – to Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (CMJAH) in 2001. The students claim that the move resulted in a loss of resources and severe space constraints.
“Wits charges our students the highest tuition fees in Africa, yet we are training under inhumane conditions, to the extent of sewage spills from the roof near clinical staff and students,” the DSC said in a statement.
It said that students have raised the concerns with the university, including in a protest in 2018, where a memorandum was handed to the dean, but said that to date nothing has been done.
The closure of CMJAH after the fire in April this year further compounded the issues for the students, as the blaze resulted in the closure of the Wits Oral Health Centre (WOHC).
“This closure of CMJAH for repairs led us to miss three to four months of clinical training. Meaning, when we returned, we needed a lot of clinical time to complete our academic year,” the student leader said.
The students had a meeting with Dean of Health Sciences Professor Shabir Madhi on August 18, where the DSC, representing the more than 200 students, raised their complaints.
The student leader added that Madhi allegedly said there wasn’t a plan drafted to relocate to a different facility should CMJAH evict the students, and that their degrees could be terminated, however, the dean retracted that statement.
The students have called on the university to create a safe and healthy training space with sufficient resources; write a contingency plan in the event of eviction from CMJAH and long-term plans for SOHS. On Monday, Wits University spokesperson Shirona Patel said the university had noted with concern the comments made by students on SOHS, and stated there was misinformation on the matter.
She added that the university was fully aware of how the closure of CMJAH has affected the students and that Wits was working tirelessly to ensure the academic programme was completed.
In response, the student leader said the dental students rejected the university’s claims that there was misinformation on the matter, and said they hoped the matter would be addressed at the university’s senior executive meeting yesterday afternoon.