Students shut down UKZN

2020-01-28 14:17
A file image of Members of the SAP keeping an eye out for any protests under the clock tower of Old Main Building at UKZN during the #FeesMustFall protests in 2016.

A file image of Members of the SAP keeping an eye out for any protests under the clock tower of Old Main Building at UKZN during the #FeesMustFall protests in 2016. (Ian Carbutt)

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Student protests demanding for fee waivers and academic leeway forced UKZN to close its Pietermaritzburg and Durban campuses on Monday. 

All operations are expected to resume on Tuesday.

On Monday, the students’ mission was clear: to disrupt university operations until all their needs have been met.

The protests are part of a nationwide shutdown following a breakdown in talks among the South African Union of Students (SAUS), the Department of Higher Education, Student Representative Council (SRC) presidents and secretaries-general of South African public universities.

Students want the university to allow those whose annual family income is below R350 000 to register without having to pay registration fees or their historical debt.

But UKZN said yesterday that the challenge the institution faces is that this constitutes about 78% of the student population at UKZN.

The student debt at the end of December 2019 stood at R1,7 billion, the institution said.

The students also want those who were academically excluded with no right to appeal but have fewer than 64 credits to complete, to be automatically readmitted. All students who were excluded and have met the re-admission criteria must also be re-admitted.

They also want the university to acquire an additional 10 000 residence beds across all campuses.

In Pietermaritzburg, students gathered at the main campus library lawns and then made their way into buildings, disrupting administration staff and forcing lecturers and students out of lecture halls.

A public order police (POP) vehicle together with the on-campus security Mi7 kept a close watch.

First-year students, who were accompanied by their parents for orientation programmes, watched in horror as protesters barged into the orientation venues, halting all operations.

At the Education building on Golf Road, the protesting students unhooked a fire hose and sprayed water all over the passage in an attempt to disrupt an orientation programme.

A motorist who had stopped to record the action with her cell phone at the intersection of Golf and Ridge roads was mobbed by angry students who surrounded her car and threatened to assault her.

The PMB campus SRC president, Unathi Dimane, declined media interviews. However, a statement on the UKZN SRC Facebook page said the student body was dissatisfied with the manner in which the institution’s management had engaged them.

“Since we entered office, the executive management committee has been nothing but a consultant structure that is unable to take decisions, instead it refers matters to Council or Senate. The SRC is defeated on a numbers game due to issues always put to a vote when the SRC position is well articulated,” read the statement.

The SRC claimed management had used the same tactic in the fee increment negotiations, which it said it had rejected with “substantive reasons and recommendations”.

“The management has failed to reply to the proposals put on the table by the SRC instead, it applied the cheap and cowardly tactic of a communiqué from the vice-chancellor on the negotiations.”

UKZN spokesperson Ashton Bodrick said discussions with student leadership were at a deadlock.

“For both financial and academic reasons, a realisation of some of the student demands would not be feasible for the long-term viability of the university,” he said. He added that the maximum amount payable towards debt had been capped at R45 000 per student with 67% of the student population being required to pay a maximum of only R15 000 per student.

“In addition, it is worth noting that 67% of the student population are eligible to register without making any payments for registration fees.

“These are students who are current beneficiaries of NSFAS, or the university’s financial aid, or sponsorships from private and public organisations,” Bodrick said.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  ukzn protests

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