Protests continue to disrupt lectures at some campuses

Lectures at a few South African universities were disrupted this week after protesting students demonstrated their displeasure over allowances, accommodation woes, the denial of funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and some students being turned away from registration.

After a second wave of protests at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) this month, the senate’s executive committee issued a statement last Monday announcing the suspension of the academic programme on five Durban campuses.

The university said unacceptable levels of intimidation were not conducive to a learning environment and the academic programme in Durban would be suspended until further notice.

On Tuesday, the university announced that DUT had not shut down, staff and the administration and support services were operating and a team from NSFAS was on campus, assisting students with financial aid queries. The university said it had reached over 97% of its enrolment target and denied claims by the Student Representative Council (SRC) in Durban that 3,500 students had been blocked from registration for non-payment of fee arrears.

Student death

Protests at DUT first started about two weeks ago, leading to the tragic death of 20-year-old student, Mlungisi Madonsela, who was shot and killed by security personnel hired by the university.

The university authorities met with student representatives to discuss the unblocking of access to NSFAS funding for some students, as well as accommodation issues.

Out of an original list of 1,443 unsuccessful NSFAS applications, 443 were found to be duplicated and while 1,000 had veritable complaints, 267 of the applicants failed to meet academic conditions for funding.

The university authorities said they had plans to move students to better accommodation following dissatisfaction over two student residences, Baltimore Flats and Hertine Court.

Student arrests

At the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) on the outskirts of Durban, seven students were arrested last Monday at the uMlazi campus after protesting students blocked the entrance to the institution with boulders. A car was allegedly overturned by demonstrating students demanding fee concessions, the extension of library hours to 24 hours, more printers and the reversal of fee increments. Some students claimed they had not received allowances from NSFAS.

The university said in a statement it had agreed to fee concessions. On allowances, the university said 7,022 students had received allowances and learning material while 46 students had incorrect accounts, a problem that was being resolved.

Violent skirmishes

Violent skirmishes at both on- and off-campus residences led to MUT Vice-Chancellor Dr Enoch Duma Malaza closing the university on Tuesday until further notice.

At the University of Zululand, approximately 150 kilometres north of Durban, violent activities on and off campus forced students to vacate campuses in KwaDlangezwa and Richards Bay last Monday afternoon.

Last Sunday night, students from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in Durban threw bed frames and mattresses from windows at a South Beach residence, according to a Mercury news report.

They were demanding improved living conditions and the unblocking of access for students who have not been able to pay loans. However, lectures continued as normal on Monday.

On 13 February Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria closed its campuses after student protests were sparked by complaints of accommodation shortages and the withdrawal of meal allowances for students not residing in university accommodation.

For the second week, classes remained suspended at the Pretoria, Ga-Rankuwa, Arts, Arcadia, eMalahleni and Mbombela campuses on Monday, but resumed at Polokwane Campus.

Minister responds

After meeting on 9 February with student and higher education leaders, Higher Education and Training Minister Naledi Pandor said in a statement that her department was working with the departments of human settlements and public works to find options for off-campus social housing, and a range of private developers were also developing properties. She said over the next three years, it is estimated that 18,221 new beds will be provided.

Pandor said returning students who have qualified for NSFAS funding should sign acknowledgments of debt before being allowed to register.