Student fee increases at Wits have not fallen

Wits students protest fee increase. (All pictures Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Wits students protest fee increase. (All pictures Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Council of the embattled university instead proposed what it terms “substantive ideas and options to address the fee challenge[s]” facing the university’s students. 

A circular from council said these proposals included “discounts for NSFAS [National Student Financial Aid Scheme] and financially stressed students and the sourcing of additional funding from external sources”, and waiving the registration fee for students struggling financially.  

The proposals would be negotiated and presented to council at its next meeting. The date was not specified. 

Council’s circular went around to students as they awaited leadership of the structure to address them on Monday. 

Following an agreement with chairperson of council Randall Carolissen in the early hours of Saturday morning, Wits’ council met on Sunday to discuss students demand that the institution reverse its decision to hike study fees by 10.5% year. 

It was agreed council would report to students at midday on Monday. 

No-show angers students
But the thousands of students gathered at the concourse of Senate House, an administrative building of Wits, were angered when no representative of council showed up. 

The students resolved to shut down the university’s main campus again. “We’re going to barricade every single gate, we’re going to close every hole so that [vice-chancellor Adam] Habib does not fly through it,” student leader Vuyani Pambo told students.

This has forced management to abandon its plans to reopen the university on Tuesday. “Due to the ongoing protests, and concerns for the health and safety of our staff and students, it has been decided that Wits University’s academic project will be suspended for Tuesday, 20 October 2015. The suspension will be reviewed depending on further developments,” university spokesperson Shirona Patel said. 

Patel said council representatives were not going to address students at the Senate House concourse but outside the Great Hall building. 

Council representatives abandoned their plan because students stormed Senate House, Patel said. This is where students held Habib for many hours on Friday. 

“Representatives of Wits University council were ready to address students today, Monday, 19 October 2015, at noon as per the agreement that was reached on Saturday morning, 17 October 2015.

“The condition was that the council representatives would have a fair chance to report. In anticipation of large numbers of students, and for health and safety reasons, council informed the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) that this would happen on the piazza outside the Great Hall. 

“However, given the storming of Senate House on Monday morning, which runs contrary to the spirit of the agreement and the representative’s engagement, council was regrettably no longer in a position to report in person.”

‘Victory is certain’
But Mcebo Freedom Dlamini, a student leader, maintained council had agreed to address students in Senate House. He told the crowd council’s no-show was an indication that it disrespected students. 

“It is clear the university does not take us serious. The university agreed on Saturday morning that they would meet us here [at Senate House]. But today they are proving exactly who they are.”

He said this was despite “all our peaceful demonstrations. The past four days we maintained 100% discipline and non-violence.” 

“The reason we shut down Wits for this long was one: no fee increases” for 2016, Dlamini said.  

He urged the students not to surrender. “Victory is certain. Wits can’t afford to close for the next three days. We’re going to shut down this university until … our grievances are heard.”

With a rumour that police were coming to disperse students, Pambo urged them not to fear being arrested by police because the best legal brains, including senior counsels, have been assembled. 

“We’ve got the best lawyers on standby for us. Do not fear. Do not be scared. We’ve got best mind legal minds on our side.” 

Nompendulo Mkatshwa, president of the SRC that takes over reins end of this month, told the Mail & Guardian that students are rejecting the decision of council.

“Students want 0% increase. We’re not accepting it. We’re not recognising it. It’s whole lot of hogwash and rhetoric. It’s what we [SRC] have been told in council meetings. Students made it clear on Friday [when talking to Habib and Carolissen] that they are tired of rhetoric.”

Bongani Nkosi


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