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Violent university protests continue in South Africa with no end in sight

Nyakallo Tefu 

The fight for universities to do more for students and to scrap historic debt seems to continue in South Africa with thousands of students protesting and interrupting academic activities at higher learning facilities. 

In 2019, the Parliaments Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and training announced that students in South Africa owe universities almost R10 billion.

However, since the beginning of 2020 universities in SA saw academic activities being halted due to protesting students making several demands, which includes the issue of historic debt and accommodation.

Universities SA’s Professor Ahmed Bawa says historic debt is a national issue and it cannot be resolved at institutional level.

At the time of going to press, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s (CPUT) campuses had been shut down [9 March 2020] following protests by students on Friday.

At least four people were arrested last week after they disrupted lectures and damaged cars at the Bellville campus. 

It has been reported that students are protesting over historic debt and residences. 

The university management released a statement on twitter, saying academic activities are expected to resume on Tuesday 10 March adding that the halting of all activities at the facility is for the safety of both students and staff. 

“Staff must work from home, if possible. All university operations will resume on Tuesday 10th March 2020,” says the university. 

Meanwhile at the University of Witwatersrand, the student representative council says they have come to an agreement with the MEC for health to re-open the Wit-Waters building to provide accommodation for students in urgent need. 

The SRC released a statement on Twitter at the weekend confirming this agreement

Last week, a video emerged on social media of students sleeping on the floor in the institution’s library, this led to protests at the facility, with students calling for the university to assist those in desperate need of a place to stay as they complete their studies. 

Academic activities were also halted at the school, however resumed the following day. 

However, the university remains adamant that the SRC broke an agreement they had reached on 10 February 2020, that the university will release R17 million to the Wits Hardship fund to aid students. 

Following the protest at Wits, the SRC says it was able to assist 100 students with accommodation at some of the facilities accommodation.  

This year during the state of the nation address, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that R64 billion will be spent on student accommodation in the next few years.

“The young people who are at TVET and University face serious accommodation challenges, some don’t even have places to sleep after lectures and resort to sleeping in libraries”, said Ramaphosa

The Wits SRC says the lack of funding for accommodation has become an intergenerational battle which haunts the entry of black intellectuals into the academic space as they face the disadvantages of class and historic oppression. 

However, the EFFSC was not for the shutdown at the institution saying they were not consulted as students. 

Chairperson Sivuyile Mhatu in a video on the EFFSC’s Twitter page, says the only way to have a shutdown is if and when students all come to an agreement regarding a certain matter. 

At the weekend, Higher Education, Science, and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande met with student representatives, with the aim of finding a resolution for the issues at the helm of higher learning institutions.  “Universities need to work together in order to solve the problems they are facing and not to allow their legitimate grievances to be used by political opportunists”, says Nzimande”.

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