Wits students voice anger at fee hikes

As management and student negotiators met over fee hikes at the University of Witwatersrand on Wednesday, protesting students weaved their way around the campus chanting slogans and singing songs.

South African Students Congress (Sasco) provincial leader Themba Masondo, briefing students on the progress of the meeting, said the situation between management and student negotiators was “very hostile”.

“Negotiations are ongoing ... we are finding that management is highly arrogant. The situation is very hostile,” he said.

Talks were continuing and as long as management failed to comply with the students’ demands the protest would continue.

Students carried placards reading: “Wits should be listed in the JSE” and “Higher education for all or no education at all”.

Many protesting students felt strongly about the issue and said they were concerned that the fee hikes would deny many students access to the university in 2010.

Second-year mining engineering student Jabu Sibiya said the increase would hit poor families hard.

“I don’t know whether my parents will be able to pay with such an increase,” he said.

Sibiya said he had passed maths and science “very well” and he was at the top of his class but might have to leave should his fees become too heavy a burden for his parents.

Although police were on campus the protest was largely peaceful on Wednesday afternoon.

Many students milled about making their way from one class to the next while others sat on the grass enjoying the early spring sun.

Outside the Wits Great Hall a mock image of the Berlin Wall was erected where musicians entertained students who were seemingly oblivious to the cause taken up by their colleagues.

One non-protesting student held up a tongue-in-cheek placard saying “Inflation sucks, deal with it.”

First-year student Kefiloe Pitso said she could not understand how the university wanted to implement a double-digit fee hike in the midst of a recession.

“I am supporting this because if I don’t it means that next year there’s no possibility I will be here,” she said.

Economics and finance student Tumz B said the protest action highlighted the underlying class and race divisions prevalent at Wits university.

He said while protesting students—who were largely, but not all, black—listened to their leaders talking about their cause, the largely non-black students listened to songs about the fall of the Berlin wall.

“I hate to describe it as white and black because the divide is more a class divide, but it’s a fact that poorer students are mostly black.

“Most white students won’t protest because their parents can afford the fees,” he said.

Internationals relations student Enos Phosa said although the university was divided because of the historical background of its students, the goals achieved by the protest would benefit everyone.

“If we succeed the benefits will be universal, but this does impact more on some than others”.

Achilles Tole, a BA student, said the university had placed many families in difficult financial situations and bemoaned the fact that he could not use his library card because he had not yet paid up his fees.

He said this made it difficult for him to complete essays on time and he was forced to get his friends to borrow books from the library for him.

Other students felt the fee increases were a normal part of university education.

“Everything has to go up, you can’t run away from it,” said first-year student Denise Tamagnone.

She felt the protest was “intimidating and pretty scary”.

“The protesters came into one of my lectures and jumped on our desks,” she said, adding that it was unfair that she felt unsafe on her own campus.

Health sciences student Trisha-Gean Mahon said students should rather write a letter to the dean in order to voice their concerns.

“I don’t think this will get anything done, they should think about a different way, like writing to the dean,” she said.—Sapa

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