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Students, your violence destroyed a man’s livelihood

Last week a student protest at the University of Zululand (UniZulu) led to a police van being petrol bombed. But this was not the only thing that was burnt down. A food truck belonging to Ndumiso Ntsele was also torched. 

Ntsele told The Mercury newspaper that his mobile kitchen cost him R6 000 and it was all he had. He said that this was not the first time his truck had been targeted during a protest. 

“This is really unfair. I have no money to buy new stuff. I don’t know how I’m going to start all over again. I am not related to what is going on at the campus,” Ntsele said. 

This week the higher education minister, Blade Nzimande, met the management and student formations at UniZulu in an effort to find solutions to their grievances. 

The students have raised issues about the university not having a student representative council (SRC), problems with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and safety and security on campus and at off-campus residences. They are also calling for vice-chancellor Professor Xoliswa Mtose to step down. 

UniZulu has not elected an SRC for three years. Instead, there have been university-appointed SRC administrators. But this week, Bongumusa Makhoba resigned as an SRC administrator, saying that he feared for his life after receiving threats. 

At a press briefing after the meeting, Nzimande said there was a “general agreement by both the parties to recommit to urgent engagements on the challenges at the institution”.

As has been the case with many other student disruptions before, eventually the protests end. Solutions are found, even if only temporarily, because the same issues will emerge again. But ultimately life is going to get back to normal at UniZulu. Students are going to go back to lectures. 

But what about Ntsele? 

Who is going to have a meeting with him or find solutions for him? How is life going to move on for him and his family?

In these protests, students cry that they cannot be financially excluded because they come from poor families and cannot afford the fees that the institutions are asking them to pay. 

This is true for most students. Some come from homes where there is no income. Often the only source of income is the pension social grant. Others earn money by selling fruit and vegetables on the side of the road or their parents, like Ntsele, make a living by selling food. 

These students live in South Africa where the unemployment rate is high, where there are few prospects of jobs and companies are having to retrench employees. 

And then you have people like Ntsele, who have turned to entrepreneurship to make a living to feed their families. It could be that Ntsele is the sole breadwinner at his home. And that for his children to be able to go to school they relied on him making money from the mobile kitchen he ran outside UniZulu. 

But now his life has been turned upside down. What does he tell the hungry mouths that look at him for food? What does he say to his children when they ask him for pocket money before going to school? How does Ntsele move on with his life now that the source of his livelihood has gone up in smoke? 

And, of course, as it has been at all other universities that have gone up in smoke, no one has been held accountable or arrested for arson at UniZulu. 

While students sit in boardrooms to find solutions to their problems, no one is going to find solutions for Ntsele. His mobile kitchen is in ashes now and he has to find solutions by himself so that he can get past this major setback. 

He cannot even approach the university and claim for damages. He cannot even ask Nzimande for a solution. He is on his own. He was caught in crossfire that had nothing to do with him, and he paid dearly for it. 

While life goes on for the students at UniZulu, may they spare a thought for Ntsele whose only sin was to try to make an honest living in tough economic times.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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