'It's not our fight' – Wits international student

2016-10-07 09:37

'We're not trying to undermine Fees Must Fall' - #TakeBackWits leader

2016-10-05 10:52

Wits is preparing for a mass meeting of protesting students in favour of shut-downs, at the same time as a 'Take Back Wits' gathering at the other end of the spectrum.WATCH

Johannesburg – International students at Wits University stand to be uniquely affected by a decision to further suspend the academic programme until next week.

About 3 000 international students, representing 89 nationalities, made up 10% of the student body, university spokesperson Buhle Zuma said.

While they had no direct stake in the outcome of the Fees Must Fall protests, they would nonetheless be affected by the shutdown.

If the academic programme did not conclude on time, many of these students could face difficulties meeting their visa deadlines.

Some might not be able to legally return to South Africa to continue their studies next year.

international students at Wits
Freddy Bangelesa of the DRC, Courage Chemere of Zimbabwe and Calvin Opiti of Kenya are international students at Wits. (Photo: Cecilia Johnson/GroundUp)

Zuma said the International Education Association of South Africa (IEASA), on behalf of all universities, had asked the home affairs department for a blanket extension of student visas.

After the 2015 Fees Must Fall protests, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba authorised international students to extend their stay in South Africa. Their study visas would have expired before they had a chance to complete their examinations.

Wits was waiting to hear from IEASA if the department would grant a similar authorisation this year.

'Need to pay rent, eat'

Overstaying visas was not international students’ only concern. Like many other students, they were anxious about the financial cost of any further delay in their studies.

Freddy Bangelesa, a post-graduate student working on GIS/Remote Sensing, is from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Even if the university covered his fees for next year, extending his stay would still cost him money.

"I need to pay rent, I need to eat. If they shut down today, it will be difficult for me to stay in South Africa next year," he told GroundUp.

For students expecting to graduate at the end of the current academic year, a delay in studies would add another financial hurdle by delaying their entry into the workforce.

Calvin Opiti, a student from Kenya, said he had planned to start looking for a job in January.

"But in case they decide to extend this session to next year, I have to spend more to stay in this country, and extend my job search to March or April. It’s not affecting us right now, but eventually, it will."

International students were also worried about how the protests would affect the reputation of South African universities abroad. Opiti had advised his brother not to follow him to South Africa to study.

Bangelesa expressed similar concerns. "I think it will really impact the reputation of the university and the reputation of South Africa. I cannot see how I can advise someone to come study in South Africa."

Running out of time

Wits representative to the United States, Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi, had not yet heard any concerns from current or future American students. But the protests had clearly influenced the university’s image abroad.

In her official capacity, she said the protests were usually the first thing she was asked about the university.

Despite visa, money, and reputation worries, the primary concern of international students was their studies. They feared running out of time to cover the curriculum.

Courage Chemhere, a student from Zimbabwe, was frustrated at the lost class time. "We’ve lost weeks of academic studies. That time wasted will never be recovered."

International students expressed respect for the Fees Must Fall effort and said protesting students had legitimate concerns. But they questioned the movement’s strategies and the disruption of education.

"I do not think this strike will have a positive impact on any international students," said Bangelesa.

Opiti said protesters were not striking for them. "They need to consider us international students. It’s not our fight, but it also affects us."

Read more on:    wits  |  johannesburg  |  university fees  |  university protests

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